• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Paleoindian Period

 

Paleoindian Period: 12,000-10,000 BC

The Paleoindian Period refers to a time approximately 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age when humans first appeared in the archeological record in North America. One of the original groups to enter what is now Canada and the United States was the Clovis culture. They encountered and hunted many species of large, now extinct mammals. They felled these "megafauna" (named such due to the large size compared to modern beasts) with spears tipped with stone points. These animals included the mastadon, mammoth, horse, tapir, ground sloth, great bison, giant beaver, giant tortoise, American lion, short-faced bear, and saber-toothed tiger. Many fossilized remains of these now extinct creatures have been found in Arkansas. Early Paleoindian stone tools have been found with the bones of many extinct mammals in many states, but not yet in Arkansas. Archaeologists divide the Paleoindian period into three subperiods: early, middle, and late. The subperiods are well represented in Arkansas on the basis of stone tools found on the surface of farm fields and on river gravel bars. The early part of the period is identified with the fluted spear point, while the middle and late portions are represented by a succession of fluted and non-fluted spear points. In Arkansas, the paleoindian period ended about 10,500 years ago (?8500 BC) as the culture evolved into what archaeologists term the Dalton culture.

Although Paleoindian settlement patterns can only be hypothesized from the limited data for western Arkansas, sites from this period in other areas of North America reflect a settlement pattern composed of base camps and special purpose sites, such as animal-processing stations and tool manufacturing sites.

How did humans come to North America?

Evidence suggests that groups of hunters migrated across the Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska when the sea level was several hundred feet lower than it is today. Paleoindian campsites in central Alaska (dating to as old as ?11,800 radiocarbon years before present) are slightly older than sites in the lower forty-eight states. The stone tools in Alaska and Siberia are similar to those in the continental United States. DNA and analysis of the shape and nature of teeth point to central Asia as the origin of the Clovis culture. The route through the ice-free corridor in western Canada brought the first groups into what is today Montana, where the oldest known human burial associated with early Paleoindian tools was discovered in 1968 and was recently dated to about 11,050 radiocarbon years before present.

 

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