The Clovis/Folsom Transition

Tony Baker       December 1, 2000

H. M. Wormington wrote "the true Folsom (point) appears to be a specialization that developed from the Clovis (point) in the High Plains" ( 1957:30). This evolutionary step has been the belief of most archaeologists and collectors since the discovery of the projectiles and the realization that Clovis was older. My father taught me this in the 1960's.

When one accepts this evolution, one must also have a mental image of the transition from Clovis to Folsom. Up until about 15 years ago, my image was that the Clovis points grew smaller while the grooves in the base grew longer. This mental image was simple and easy to accept if one didn't think about it too long. However, when I considered all the facts, this simple evolution was not really simple. For example, the large grooves or flake scars originating from the base were created in the late stages of Clovis manufacture but the early stages of Folsom manufacture. These large grooves were also created with two different techniques. Finally, no transition pieces had been found. These facts ultimately made it difficult for me to accept the concept that Folsom had evolved from Clovis. I could not see a beginning for Folsom. They appeared to me to have arrived in the New World from another planet.

Plastic Casts of a
Blackwater Draw Clovis
and a Cooper Folsom.

The 21st century has brought me a new understanding. I again believe Folsom evolved from Clovis and I want to share with the reader why I believe this. However, to share this understanding I have had to adopt a new vocabulary for this document. My purpose with the new vocabulary is to communicate concepts and not to propose new terms to be used beyond this document. I personally will not use this vocabulary in everyday conversation and I do not expect anyone else to. Even with that said, I know some readers will still want to take exception to what I write because of Archaeology's ingrained vocabulary. Please, do not. Don't let the jargon cloud the concepts.

Dome & Plane (D&P)
A biface reduction process that removed flakes from the proximal or distal ends with the intent of the flakes traveling the length of the biface. Examples are bifaces from the Little River Clovis Complex (LRCC) and Folsom fluting. This is the only instance I will associate the word "fluting" with Folsom in this document, and I have only done it here for clarity. In all other instances, I will use the term Folsom planing.
D&P Flake
The flake that was removed by the D&P process. An example is the Folsom channel flake. This will be the only instance I will associate the word "channel flake" with Folsom. D&P flake will be used in the rest of the document when associated with Folsom.
The single blow that removed the D&P flake.
D&P Scar
The flake scar that resulted from the removal of the D&P flake.
Channel Flake
The flake that was removed by fluting. An example is the flake that created the flute scar (flute) on the finished Old and New Clovis points. In this document, the term "channel flake" is not associated with Folsom.
The single blow that removed the channel flake. In this document, the term "fluting" is not associated with Folsom.
Flute Scar (Flute)
The flake scar that resulted from the removal of the channel flake. In this document, the term "flute scar or flute" is not associated with Folsom.
A collective term meaning both Old Clovis and New Clovis.
Old Clovis
A complex that made a bifacially reduced point with the majority of the mass removed by flakes originating from the lateral edges. Examples are the Clovis points in the Fenn Cache.
New Clovis
A complex that made a bifacially reduced point with the majority of the mass removed by the D&P process. Examples are Clovis points in the LRCC.
A complex that made a bifacially reduced point with the majority of the mass removed by the D&P process. D&P scars were not erased by later flake scars from the edges nor was it fluted. Examples are the Folsom and Barnes points.

My new understanding is the result of two events. The first occurred in the summer in 1999 and the second in September of 2000.

Event 1
Julie Morrow and I were viewing some Clovis points in the Baker collection. We noticed what appeared to be two different types of points from a single Clovis site located near Albuquerque, NM. Approximately 12 basal fragments from that site were large enough that they could be divided into the two groups that we believed we were seeing. These groups were defined as bases that had been planed during D&P reduction prior to being fluted, and bases that had not been planed but only fluted. The separation criteria we used was the presence of earlier D&P scars and/or the cross-section shape located as far from the proximal end as possible. If a base had evidence of an earlier D&P scar, it was automatically placed in the D&P group. If there was no evidence of earlier D&P scars, but the cross-section was rectangular (plate-like) in lieu of being lenticular, the base was also placed in the D&P group. Bases with no evidence of D&P scars and having a lenticular cross-section (ignoring the indention caused by the flute scar) were placed in the fluted only group.

After separating the bases into the two groups of almost equal size, we asked ourselves, "What are we seeing?" Could the two groups be our own creation and have nothing to do with Clovis people at this site? Could the two groups represent two different knappers in the same band that once camped at this site? Or, could the two groups represent two different bands that had camped at this site at different times?

Our question was answered, when we considered the lithic materials from which the bases were made. The fluted-only bases were made of a variety of local materials found in the Rio Grande Valley around Albuquerque. The D&P bases were made of imported materials. This difference in material selection strongly suggested that we were observing two different occurrences in time and probably two different cultural behaviors. An additional tantalizing fact was that one of the types of imported material was Chuska, which is extremely good quality chalcedony. In the Albuquerque area, Chuska is known to have been imported and used exclusively by the Folsom peoples.

That afternoon Julie and I began to suspect there might be two types of Clovis and that the D&P group (New Clovis) was more closely related, by the Chuska, to Folsom than the other. However, the evidence suggested in this one surface collected site with 12 bases was extremely weak. So the observations were noted and tabled.

Event 2
In September 2000, I visited some of the Little River Clovis Complex (LRCC) sites and examined some of the associated artifacts. The LRCC is located in Christian County, Kentucky and consists of four Clovis sites that were discovered and collected by Carl Yahnig. These sites are located in plowed fields along the banks of the Little River, which is cutting through a massive limestone deposit just below the surface. This is an image of Carl sitting on a limestone ledge holding a rough artifact. Notice the nodules of chert (dark spots) throughout the limestone. These sites are quarry sites and the New Clovis peoples were gathering material and reducing it here so it could be transported elsewhere.

The limestone is part of the St. Genevieve formation of the Mississippi Period. The embedded chert is known as Hopkinsville and this image is an example of it in-situ (object is a dime). The colors can range from dark blue to gray and tan. The concentric banding is common and can be seen on some of the artifacts displayed in this document (Tankersley 1989).

All the artifacts from the LRCC sites were found on the surface by Carl. None were excavated and there are no associated dates. The artifacts consisted of planed bifaces, blade cores, blades, scrapers and spokeshaves. Projectiles were found at all the sites, but they are rare and especially at Adams. Three of the four sites are single component or contain only New Clovis material. (Yahnig 2000: pers. com.)

Of the hundreds of artifacts in the LRCC assemblies, it was the D&P bifaces that caught my eye. These bifaces varied from extremely large to quite small, yet they all had been reduced by D&P. This was the same reduction process employed by the Folsom people. The reduction process of the peoples at the LRCC sites was the second connection of New Clovis to Folsom. The first was the importing of the same lithic material by New Clovis described in event 1. These two events are the genesis of the ideas presented in this document.

This concludes the introductory page of this document and I am aware that I made some sweeping generalizations about two types of Clovis. This was necessary to reduce the confusion. Hopefully, the support for the two types of Clovis will be developed sufficiently in the following pages.

Proceed to:
Dome & Plane (D&P) -- A Biface Reduction Stratigy (slow loading, lots of images),
Planing versus Fluting,
Old Clovis, New Clovis, and Folsom -- Theory and Summary,

or return to:
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