The first unequivocal evidence for widespread human occupation in the Southeast dates to shortly after 11,500 rcbp (13,450 B.P.), when assemblages characterized by fluted points appear widely over the region. While appreciable variation in size and shape is evident on local fluted forms, many of these points are indistinguishable from Clovis fluted points found on the Plains and in the Southwest, and many are called by that name. Other names sometimes used to describe Clovis-like points in the Southeast include Ross County, Eastern Clovis and Gainey (MacDonald 1983; Mason 1962; Perino 1985, 1991; Prufer and Baby 1963:15; Shott 1986a; Simons et al. 1984). Clovis points have long been assumed to be the markers of the first populations to enter, explore, and settle into the region. Since it now appears likely that at least some people were in the region prior to the widespread occurrence of Clovis technology, what may instead be represented is the radiation of a superior technological tradition, or the first successful (i.e., reproductively viable) extended settlement.
The widespread appearance of Clovis and related point forms is assumed to reflect the rapid growth and expansion of human populations within the region, with permanent settlement occurring in many areas. These peoples were highly mobile, ranging over large areas, and targeting a wide range of biota, including megafauna. There appears little doubt some parts of the region were highly favored, particularly the terrain along the major rivers of the Midsouth and Midwest, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee, and portions of Florida and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. These settings are assumed to have been staging areas, locations rich in game, plant foods, and other resources of value to these early populations, where permanent settlements were established and distinctive subregional cultural traditions emerged (Anderson 1990, 1996). These resource-rich settings, with a well established human presence, would have been ideal places from which to explore and settle the larger region. Settlement in the Southeast by peoples using Clovis and related assemblages also appears to have been shaped, to some extent, by the occurrence of high quality chert and other knappable stone types on the landscape, raw materials these populations preferred for their toolkits, which typically contained a wide range of well made, highly specialized forms, such as scrapers, gravers, and perforators (Gardner 1977, 1983, 1989; Goodyear 1979).
Few radiocarbon dates exist for Clovis and related assemblages in the Southeast (Table 2). At present, fluted Clovis and Clovis-like points are the only artifact category that can be used to unambiguously document sites created by these peoples. Another possible diagnostic artifact category, prismatic blades and blade cores (e.g., Collins 1999; Green 1963), are actually of somewhat doubtful utility. Blades and blade cores have been observed in some numbers at several presumed Clovis age sites in the Southeast, such as Adams, Carson-Conn-Short, and Wells Creek Crater, and possibly at the Pine Tree and Quad sites in Alabama and the LeCroy and Nuckolls sites in Tennessee (Broster and Norton 1996:290-293; Broster et al. 1994, 1996; Dragoo 1973; Nami et al. 1996; Sanders 1990:67). The presence of blade industries at Cactus Hill in possible pre-Clovis context (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997:111, 157) indicates that this technology may occur very early in the Southeast, and may eventually prove useful in seriating early from later Paleoindian assemblages. Given the presence of unequivocal blade technology in some extremely late Paleoindian contexts, such as at Dust Cave in Alabama (Meeks 1994), however, care must be taken to avoid equating blade industries with Clovis or pre-Clovis Paleoindian occupations. Other possible diagnostics, such as worked bone or ivory from extinct species, likewise suggest only use of these materials when these animals were still present in the region (i.e., >10,800 rcbp; 12,900 B.P.), and even then care must be taken to differentiate fresh or green material from older scavenged bone and ivory used by later peoples (Dunbar and Webb 1996).