Artifacts older-than-Clovis at the Gault site, Texas, USA

For decades, researchers believed the Western Hemisphere was settled by humans roughly 13,500 years ago, a theory based largely upon the widespread distribution of Clovis artifacts dated to that time. Clovis artifacts are distinctive prehistoric stone tools so named because they were initially found near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s but have since been identified throughout North and South America.

In recent years, though, archaeological evidence has increasingly called into question the idea of “Clovis First“. Recently, a significant assemblage of stone artifacts dated to 16-20,000 years of age, apparently pushed back the timeline of the first human inhabitants of North America before Clovis by at least 2,500 years.

This post presents information extracted from official publications on the Gault Site, Texas, Usa. The presence of Clovis technology at the site is well-documented, but excavations below the deposits containing Clovis artifacts revealed well-stratified sediments containing artifacts distinctly different from Clovis.

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The Gault Site is located in Central Texas near the small town of Florence. The site has been known to professional archaeologists since 1929 when J.E. Pearce from the University of Texas excavated one of the burned rock middens on the farm of Henry Gault. Gault is located in an ecotone near where the Blackland Prairie, Balcones Canyonlands, Lampasas Cut Plains, and Edwards Plateau converge around a small valley with a riparian forest. There is plentiful water from the Edwards aquifer which supplies most of the major rivers in Texas. The Edwards Plateau is the source of excellent quality chert for tool making and, at over 36,000 square miles is one of the larger sources in North America.

The site had been thought of as potentially important but nearly completely destroyed by looting and a later pay-to-dig operation. In 1991 an avocational archaeologist working at the site found something he thought archaeologists should be made aware of–two small pieces of limestone with engraved geometric lines on them sandwiching an Alibates Clovis point (below). A crew from the University of Texas at Austin, led by Drs. Michael Collins and Tom Hester, excavated a test unit near the find found intact paleoindian strata beneath the disturbed surface and more incised stones in situ. Incised stones found at Gault with Clovis age materials are now amongst the earliest provenienced art in the New World.

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Area 15 Excavation For the 2007 SAA Annual Meeting, the Gault School of Archaeological Research opened several stratigraphic units to introduce visiting archaeologists to the work at the site. In one of those units a large number of debitage flakes and biface fragments were found in strata we believed to be underneath the Clovis strata. The project had seen this before but not in these quantities. The decision was made to open a 48 square meter area that would step down to a 12 square meter area exposing bedrock and this lower strata. Area 15 was begun in September 2007 and substantially finished by June of 2013. The excavation turned out to have intact deposits from Early Archaic to Older-than-Clovis (OTC), a number of features and more incised stones.

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Incised Stones To date 12 incised stones and an unusual utilitarian artifact have been found in Area 15 (processing is not complete for the lithics). 3 are on limestone while 9 are on limestone cortex. The last artifact is also of limestone.

Many of the flakes found are quite small and usually only the larger ones were identified in the field and point provenienced. The rest were either found in the screens or later during the initial laboratory lithics sort. They all have lines typical of human origin–incised asymmetrical v-shaped lines which are in parallel or perpendicular to others. Though we cannot discern the larger pattern from the pieces we can see that there is an apparent pattern. Pieces with just one line evident are put aside but were not included in this sample.

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Late Paleoindian Two stones were recovered with Dalton age (Late Paleoindian) diagnostics including projectile points. The first is a small thin limestone “plaquette” with pedogenic calcium carbonate accretions obscuring part of the design. The lines are quite worn and difficult to see unless held at the proper angle (very common for the soft limestone examples). The entire stone is covered in a grid-like network of lines made up of paired parallel lines.

The second Dalton example is in the soft cortex of a chert flake and thus is easier to discern. This also has a large pedogenic calcium carbonate accretion covering about half of the design. In this case there is both a perpendicular grid as well as a diagonal lines and the paired lines are easy to pick out. A microscopic examination of the edges shows that the design was originally larger and not confined to this fragment. This is often the case with the chert samples but is rarely the case with those on limestone. The use of paired lines in grids, herringbones, and zig-zags is not only common in the stones from the Gault Site but also worldwide (Schuster and Carpenter 1996).

(Source: “Incised Stones from the Area 15 Excavation: The Gault Site, Central Texas”, by D. Clark Wernecke and Ashley K. Lemke, 2007)

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Abstract We know of 104 incised stones collected from the Gault Site between 1929 and 2007 from various proveniences and contexts ranging from Early Paleoindian (ca. 13,000-9,000 Cal BP) to Archaic (ca. 9,000-2,000 Cal BP) and perhaps Late Prehistoric (1,200-600 Cal BP). The stones share affinity with incised and painted stones worldwide in traditions dating back at least 90,000 years. Wherever these objects are produced, the end product does not seem to have retained its importance, and, in fact, the process of manufacture and the patterns employed may have been more important than the decorated object after its initial use.

(Source: “Patterns and Process: Some Thoughts on the Incised Stones from the Gault Site, Central Texas, United States”, by Daniel Clark Wernecke and Michael B Collins, 2010)

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Abstract Engraved and carved bone and stone artifacts capture our imaginations and are known worldwide from archaeological contexts, but they are seemingly rare and oftentimes difficult to recognize. While preservation issues play a role in the limited recovery of early art objects, research on incised stones and bone from the Gault site in Texas demonstrates that an expectation to find such artifacts plays a key role in their identification and recovery. The presence of incised stones found by collectors at Gault alerted archaeologists to the potential for finding early art in systematic excavations. To date, 11 incised stones and one engraved bone of Paleoindian age (13,000–9,000 calibrated years before present) have been recovered and of these, the Clovis artifacts are among the earliest portable art objects from secure context in North America. The presence of incised stone and bone at Gault led to the development of an examination protocol for identifying and analyzing engraved and incised artifacts that can be applied to a wide variety of archaeological contexts.

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Conclusion While well-known from other parts of the world, early art can still be considered rare in North America if viewed as counts and percentages in comparison to other lithic and faunal materials, but is not as rare as traditionally thought in the larger context. These objects constitute additional classes of material culture in the Paleoindian period often presumed not to exist, and we believe this is partly due to the careful excavation, handling, and expectations necessary to find these objects. The Gault engraved stones and bone area few examples among a growing inventory of portable art and personal adornment items in the Americas, and their discovery can be placed in the global context of engraved artifacts dating back as far as 100,000 years ago (d’Errico et al. 2012). The documentation of these objects allows for more detailed discussions of the creation, maintenance, and use of engraved art across the globe and enhances our understanding of shared patterns of symbolic behavior over vast amounts of time and space.

(Source: “Early Art in North America: Clovis and Later Paleoindian Incised Artifacts from the Gault Site, Texas”, by Ashley K. Lemke, D. Clark Wernecke, and Michael B. Collins, 2015)

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Excavations, 2007-2014, in Area 15 of the Gault Site specifically targeted evidence for an Older-Than-Clovis (OTC) occupation seen in two test units in 2002 and 2007. Excavation of a large block penetrated 3.5 meters from the surface to bedrock through culture-bearing alluvial fill. Physical and cultural stratigraphic evidence as well as luminescent dating are consistent in showing a coherent sequence of Older-than-Clovis, Clovis, Late PaleoIndian, Early Archaic, and Middle/Late Archaic occupations over an apparent span of more than 14,000 calendar years.

This effort addressed seven specific questions:

(1) What is the context and integrity of the Clovis component? This component, roughly 35 cm in thickness, rests in largely undisturbed alluvial deposits of high integrity. Twenty nine diagnostic stone artifacts and 30,000 waste flakes were recovered.

(2) What is the depositional context and integrity of the underlying component? This component, roughly 80 cm in thickness, is in minimally disturbed water-lain deposits that yielded 45 formal artifacts and 16,000 waste flakes. There is good separation between Clovis and underlying material across 10 of the 12 excavated squares, but clearly some mixing in one limited area; there is also an unexplained, anomalous stone pile near the eastern margin of the excavation, extending downward from the base of the Clovis component.

(3) What is the nature of an apparent depositional discontinuity between the Clovis-bearing deposit and the one below it? This discontinuity is characterized by a decrease in artifacts and an increase in soil carbonates in the 10 to 15 cm below Clovis, which appears to indicate a reduction in human activity and possibly an environmental change.

(4) What is the age and duration of the earlier component? Preliminary luminescent dates on soils suggest an age range from greater than 14,000 to near 13,200 years for the early component.

(5) What does the earlier assemblage indicate about adaptive behavior? Details are lacking, but broadly, the OTC adaptations seem to be that of generalized hunter-gatherers, a primary dependence on local tool-stone sources, and a generalized stone tool production technology. The extreme contrast in projectile point forms between Clovis and OTC indicates contrasting weapons systems. Poor preservation of plant and animal remains severely hampers interpretations of diet and perishable material culture, but meager evidence suggests Clovis fauna (bone) and flora (starch grains) resources to be similar to OTC. Use wear on stone tools are also similar.

(6) Is the earlier component a possible technological progenitor of Clovis? Evidently not. Although blade production technology seems to be somewhat similar in OTC and Clovis, the production of bifaces and flake tools are entirely different, particularly the nature of the projectile points.

(7) What do differences or similarities between the Clovis and earlier components reveal about possible alternative histories of occupation and cultural succession at this locality and beyond? Locally there seems to be a break in the cultural succession between OTC and Clovis at Gault in addition to the technological contrasts. In broader contexts of North America and the Western Hemisphere, this is not a surprising finding given the complex mosaic of archaeological manifestations older than and contemporary with Clovis.

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An underlying question in this project is, does this site meet the criteria for acceptance as evidence of “pre-Clovis?”

At Gault, there is no doubt that the more than 16,000 Older-than-Clovis artifacts are of human manufacture; though sparse and poorly preserved, all fauna from the OTC component are extinct Pleistocene species (horse and mammoth); there are more than 2.5 meters of alluvium with stratified Clovis and younger components overlying this component; in places there is a break in artifact frequencies immediately below Clovis before increasing again in the OTC deposit; preliminary OSL dating of OTC includes two results (11-03, 11-04) that appear to be reversals, that in fact, date fill in an disturbance (root?) and cut-and-fill feature and two results (11-05b, 11-06) that we consider incongruously old (further efforts at dating are underway); luminescent dates above OTC are in correct stratigraphic order, and are consistent with age estimates based on time-diagnostic artifacts; numerous professional archaeologists witnessed and/or participated in this excavation at all stages and a few have also been part of the laboratory analyses; multiple lines of evidence indicate that downward movement of artifacts has been minimal; and, other than the OTC blade technology, which is similar to that of Clovis, there are no technological or typological continuities between the lower component and Clovis, nor any typological counterparts to the OTC projectile points in any later cultures of this region.

(Source: “Evidence for older-than-Clovis at the Gault site, Texas”, by Michael B. Collins, 2018)

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Abstract American archeology has long been polarized over the issue of a human presence in the Western Hemisphere earlier than Clovis. As evidence of early sites across North and South America continues to emerge, stone tool assemblages appear more geographically and temporally diverse than traditionally assumed. Within this new frame-work, the prevailing models of Clovis origins and the peopling of the Americas are being reevaluated. This paper presents age estimates from a series of alluvial sedimentary samples from the earliest cultural assemblage at the Gault Site, Central Texas. The optically stimulated luminescence age estimates (~16 to 20 thousand years ago) indicate an early human occupation in North America before at least ~16 thousand years ago. Significantly, this assemblage exhibits a previously unknown, early projectile point technology unrelated to Clovis. Within a wider context, this evidence suggests that Clovis technology spread across an already regionalized, indigenous population.

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Introduction Current research on the early human occupation of the Americas no longer recognizes Clovis as the expression of a founding population. Increasing diversity, range, and time depths within the expand-ing database of sites predating Clovis attest to greater complexity in the early record than previously thought. Archeological opinion on the nature, timing, arrival, and peopling scenarios remains divided. Despite this, there is increasing evidence to support a number of contemporaneous and older cultural manifestations at least 2 thousand years (ka) before the appearance of Clovis. This includes the Western Stemmed Tradition, Beringian assemblages, and Eastern Seaboard sites in North America along-side the El Jobo/Monte Verde and fishtail bifacial technologies and edge-trimmed traditions in South America. These techno-logical patterns require careful and systematic evaluation to address the nature and timing of both the early occupation of the Americas and, subsequently, the origins of Clovis.

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Stone tool assemblage The stone tool assemblage recovered from the lowest, earliest deposits exhibits a small projectile point technology as well as both a biface and a blade-and-core tradition. The projectile points from the Gault Assemblage exhibit two stem morphologies: stemmed and lanceolate. One stemmed projectile point exhibits a slightly concave base, with concave lateral margins and short shoulders with beveled edges. In profile, this point is slightly curved, suggesting that it was manufactured on a flake. Two bifurcate stemmed points were also recovered; both have a deep concave base, an expanding stem, and exhibit beveling. A small proximal tip with beveled edges was also recovered. These points were likely produced on flakes and predominantly manufactured using pressure flaking to shape and finish the points. These stemmed points are technologically and morphologically distinct from any later regional cultural manifestations. Superficially, they resemble point types within the regional Early Archaic yet differ in base treatment and blade bevel. The two lanceolate projectile points are similar in size, exhibit a concave base, and share similarities in the basal flaking and finishing. Only one point is ground along the edges. Both points are snapped at the stem, but existing flaking pattern suggests comedial (midline) flaking. The lanceolate points superficially resemble Late Paleoindian types but do not fit any single point type from this period. A sixth point exhibits weak shoulders and a contracting stem. This point is made from smoky quartz and exhibits a central ridge produced from comedial flaking. Unlike the three points discussed above, the morphology of this point resembles Western Stemmed points, but its age places it outside of the known chronology for this type. All projectile points were recovered from undisturbed sediments within Area 15 with no evidence for the downward movement within their excavation units. This projectile point assemblage is unlike anything in the early archeological record of the Americas and indicates complex behavioral activities associated with a group or groups who colonized the New World.

Alongside these points, approximately 150,000 artifacts, consisting mainly of debitage, have been recovered from these lowest two units. To date, 184 flaked stone artifacts have been analyzed. These include the distinct stemmed projectile points, blades and blade cores, bifaces, and flake tools. The Gault Assemblage shares this generalized biface and blade-and-core lithic tradition with the over-lying Clovis materials but differs significantly in the following ways.

The Gault biface assemblage exhibits the prevalent use of come-dial (midline) flaking indicative of proportionally thinning a biface, which closely parallels the reductive technology used to create the Gault Assemblage projectiles. Clovis, however, demonstrates the use of full-face and overshot flaking to produce thinned bifaces. In addition, the flake striking platforms produced during manufacture are larger and less prepared than the Clovis flake platforms.

In contrast, the blade-and-core assemblage shares more commonalities with Clovis technology. Both technologies exhibit flat-backed blade cores that use a single blade face with an acute platform and unidirectional blade removals as well as conical cores that have blade removals around the circumference of the core. Evidence from the blade platforms indicates that the Gault Assemblage generally exhibits less preparation than Clovis platforms.

The similarities and differences suggest that there is no single linear trajectory toward Clovis technology within the Gault Assem-blage. Instead, parts of the technological repertoire, like the blade-and-core tradition, appear to have continued in the Clovis levels at the Gault site, while the projectile points and the biface traditions underwent significant changes. In a broader context, the tech-nologies present in the Gault Assemblage appear to represent a unique pattern within the early human occupations of the Americas that indicates a regional adaptation after the initial colonization of the New World.

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Results and Discussion The OSL ages presented here establish the presence of a cultural component, stratified below Clovis, and associated with ages older than ~16 ka. These OSL ages range from 21.7 ± 1.4 ka to 16.7 ± 1.1 ka and, within error, are in the expected stratigraphic order. On the basis of the results of OSL dating presented here, we find a mean age for the Gault Assemblage (n = 4) of 18.5 ± 1.5 ka.

Ages associated with the temporal diagnostic artifacts above the Gault component are in excellent stratigraphic agreement. This includes four OSL ages of 11.9 ± 0.8 ka, 12.9 ± 0.6 ka, 13.2 ± 0.6 ka, and 13.6 ± 0.6 ka from the Clovis component. These dates agree with the known Clovis range of ~13.5 to 12.9 ka and agree with the ages from other Clovis sites in Texas. These data emphasize the stratigraphic integrity of Area 15 and the agreement between the temporal diagnostic artifacts and OSL ages.

The OSL ages for these early levels at the Gault Site are in good stratigraphic agreement with the known, younger, temporal diagnostic artifacts and age estimates indicating the reliability of this dating sequence. The significant reduction in artifact frequencies between the Clovis and Gault Assemblage confirms the presence of an older, isolated, assemblage below Clovis. Given the SDs for these OSL ages, the Gault Assemblage is dated to at least 16 ka, which is the youngest possible age for this occupation; however, the time span suggests that the inhabitation of the Gault site began ~1 to 2 ka before.

The evidence from Area 15 at the Gault Site demonstrates the presence of a previously unknown projectile point technology in North America before ~16 ka. The physical and cultural stratigraphic evidence recovered from Area 15, as well as the associated OSL ages reported here and elsewhere, are consistent in showing a coherent sequence of the Gault Assemblage, Clovis, Late Paleo-indian, Early Archaic, and Middle/Late Archaic occupations over an apparent span of more than 16,000 calendar years. This sequence corresponds well with previous studies in Central Texas. The distinct technological differences between Clovis and Gault Assemblage, together with the stratigraphic separation between the cultural depositions, indicate a lack of continuity between the two complexes.

(Source: “Evidence of an early projectile point technology in North America at the Gault Site, Texas, USA”, by Thomas J. Williams et al., 2018)

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Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

 

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