Old Clovis, New Clovis and Folsom

Theory and Summary

Tony Baker       December 1, 2000

The message of this document is that there appears to be two types of Clovis, Old and New, and New Clovis is the progenitor of Folsom. In the literature Clovis is both a tradition and a complex and Folsom is a complex (Dixon 1999; Wormington 1957). As a result I struggled with what to call these three new groups I had created and to which I had given equal status. Ultimately, I chose complex as the appropriate term. Examples of the Old Clovis complex are projectiles from Blackwater Draw and Debert. Projectiles from Little River Clovis Complex (LRCC) and Big Eddy represent New Clovis. Folsom and Barnes points are representative of Folsom.

In the following table I have listed the traits that I believe characterize these three complexes. They have been arranged chronologically as I believe they first developed. The logic for this order is most Clovis dates are older than Folsom dates, and therefore at least Old and/or New Clovis should be older than Folsom1. Based on seriation New Clovis shares lithic technology characteristics with both Old Clovis and Folsom, so I have located it between the other two. By this proposed chronology I am not suggesting that these complexes were sequential, but only that this is the order of their first appearance. It is quite possible that New Clovis, which I am suggesting developed before Folsom, may have also outlasted Folsom in time.

Suggested Traits

TraitOld Clovis ComplexNew Clovis ComplexFolsom Complex
Time ------------------>
Projectile Manufacture -- Majority of mass removed by flakes from lateral edgesYesNoNo
Projectile Manufacture -- Majority of mass removed by D&P flakes from proximal and distal ends (D&P reduction) NoYesYes
Employed FlutingYesYesNo
Cross-section midway between Proximal and Distal Ends of ProjectileLenticularRectangular or Plate-likeRectangular or Plate-like
Faces of PointNot parallel, but convex to each other.ParallelParallel
Quality of lithic Material Used VariableHigh QualityHigh Quality
Location on the LandscapeNorth American Continent (south of the 60th parallel)East of the Rockies ??Great Plains and eastern slope of the Rockies.
Made BladesNo.Yes, near quarries.No.

Paralleling the suggested time line in the above table is a suggested progression from general to specific. Old Clovis biface reduction was accomplished by removing flakes that initiated from the lateral edges, traveled across the face towards the opposite edge, and occasionally reached the opposite edge (outre passť). This type of reduction has been used to create the oldest handaxes to the most modern prehistoric artifacts. It can be considered a universal or general technology that is amenable to wide variations in lithic material and its abundance.

D&P biface reduction used by New Clovis was more specialized than that of Old Clovis. Basically, it was Old Clovis reduction with the addition of the D&P flake that ran from end to end. The D&P flake removed significantly more mass per blow than the flakes originating from the lateral edges and, therefore, reduced the number of blows required in the overall reduction process. The final product, which was flatter and straighter, was achieved with much less time and effort. On the other hand, the D&P reduction process required high quality lithic material (fault free) for the successful removal of the D&P flake. It also required an abundance of that material because of the high failure rate in removing the D&P flake. These requirements suggest that the D&P process developed at and was connected to quarries similar to the Little River Clovis Complex, Hopkinsville quarry. The requirements for a high quality lithic material for the D&P process made New Clovis more dependent on the lithic source than Old Clovis.

Folsom added the anvil to the D&P reduction process. Without an anvil, there was a minimum size biface (preform) that could be planed with free hand percussion. This minimum size was larger than Folsom preforms. By placing the Folsom preform on an anvil, the Folsom people effectively increased the preform's mass and made it possible to plane the smaller preforms.

The suggested trend in lithic material from variable to high quality is also a trend from general to specific. The evidence supporting this trend is based solely on the single Clovis site in the Baker collection, which is described in the Introduction. Prior to studying this site, I believed Old Clovis had consistently used high quality material, as did New Clovis and Folsom. However, it now appears they may have had no special requirements for the best materials. The desire for importing high quality material by New Clovis and Folsom can easily be explained by the development of D&P reduction process and the need to be away from the lithic source.

Adaptibility definitely defines Old Clovis. As indicated in the above table, their areal extent was immense. This is probably a result of duration as much as anything, but it is also indicative of the number of environments they exploited. At the other end of the spectrum, Folsom were highly specialized bison hunters and their areal extent is the smallest of the three. The more environments one exploits, the more generally adapted one has to be to be successful.

The last trait listed in the table is the making of blades. New Clovis made blades as is obvious by this blade core from the the Adams site. Blades and blade cores make up 40% of the tools found on the Adams site (Sanders 1990), and I suspect a similar percentage exits for the other LRCC sites. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

The reader should note that I indicated in the above table that Old Clovis did not make blades. Prior to viewing the LRCC and realizing that there were both the Old and New Clovis complexes, I was an opponent of Clovis making blades and this is evident by my web page, The Clovis First/Pre-Clovis Problem. This opposition came from growing up and living in the Southwest and never seeing Clovis associated with blades2. In 1999 I learned that blades were associated with Clovis at the Gault Site in Central Texas. Learning this still did not shake my belief that Clovis did not make blades. I dismissed the Gault Site as being localized Clovis behavior associated with a quarry site. In 2000 I learned that Clovis was making blades at the LRCC sites. Again, I dismissed them for the same reasons as I dismissed the Gault Site. When I finally got the opportunity to see the LRCC assemblages in the raw, I realized I was viewing a different Clovis. LRCC was New Clovis and my mental template of Clovis from the southwest had been that of Old Clovis. The paradigm walls had begun to crack.

At this writing it appears to me that Old Clovis did not make blades as I have believed my entire life. On the other hand, New Clovis did make blades. And, reader, guess what? Blade manufacture is a specialized form of the D&P reduction process. A blade is a D&P flake because it is designed to travel from one end of the blade core to the other. Every time a blade (D&P flake) is removed it automatically creates a new dome for the next blade. In different words blade technology combines Steps 1 and 2 of the D&P reduction cycle into one step. It is only logical that New Clovis would be making blades at the large, high quality quarries where they were also reducing bifaces with the D&P process.

The implication of Old Clovis not making blades and New Clovis making them is that Clovis blade technology is a New World invention. It is not connected to the Old World Upper Paleolithic. I am aware that this concept is in conflict with the strong desire by most archaeologists to establish a connection to the Upper Paleolithic, but I suggest that blades are not that connection.

This concludes the document. I have suggested a very weak theory on the evolution of Old Clovis, New Clovis and Folsom. The theory is weak because it is supported by very little archaeological data. On the other hand, the theory derives strength from its internal consistency. Additionally, the flake mechanics embedded throughout the document are strong and supported by computer simulations.

I want thank Carl Yahnig for introducing me to the Little River Clovis Complex. If Carl had not contacted me in the spring of 2000, I would still be wondering what was the origin of Folsom and ignoring the New Clovis blades. If the reader would like to contact Carl Yahnig, he can be reached at cyahnig@commandnet.net.

Proceed to:

or return to:
Introduction -- The Clovis/Folsom Transition,
Dome & Plane (D&P) -- A Biface Reduction Strategy (slow loading, lots of images),
Planing versus Fluting,

Paleoindian & Other... Home Page


1 I have purposely avoided citing actual C14 dates because they are not necessary to present my theory. Additionally, I am not aware of all the dates that are in existence, nor could I take them at face value.

2 I am aware there were some blades found at Blackwater Draw, which I believe represents Old Clovis. However, the percentage of blades in the assemblage is probably less than one tenth of one percentage and I don't believe there are any blade cores. In my opinion an occasional blade in a lithic assemblage is not a cultural trait.