A Century of Paleoindian Archaeology

George McJunkin
George McJunkin. Photo courtesy of Georgia and Bill Lockridge, former owners of the Crowfoot Ranch.

1908

George McJunkin, a self-educated African-American cowboy and former slave, discovers unusually large bison bones in an arroyo near Folsom in northeastern New Mexico. He recognizes them as remains of an extinct species; later, he shows them to Carl Schwachheim, a local blacksmith and relic collector.


1926

During an excavation of McJunkin’s find, workers find fragments of two fluted stone spear points in loose fill, and a third among the ribs of a bison. Jesse D. Figgins, director of the Colorado (now Denver) Museum of Natural History and sponsor of the dig, confirms the discovery, which is greeted with skepticism by the Eastern academic establishment.Byron Cummings and archaeology students from the University of Arizona (Emil Haury, Lyndon Hargrave, and John McGregor) excavate a mammoth skull found by picnicking schoolchildren in the bank of Whitewater Draw in southeastern Arizona. In a deposit below the skull, the archaeologists find grinding stones and the bones of Pleistocene species of bison and horse.


1927

National experts are invited to visit Figgins at Folsom. Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., Barnum Brown, and Alfred V. Kidder observe additional fluted spear points—still in their find spots—in indisputable association with bones of a Pleistocene species of bison. The three report the discovery at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Consensus about the authenticity of the association begins to develop, and the beginning of New World prehistory is pushed back many thousands of years.


1929

William A. Bryan of the Los Angeles Museum confirms amateur archaeologist Roscoe P. Conkling’s discovery of human bones with the bones of camel, horse, ground sloth, antelope, wolf, cave bear, and condor below a layer of cemented sand in Conkling Cavern (Bishop’s Cap) in the Organ Mountains of southern New Mexico. These are the first Pleistocene-age human skeletal remains found in southwestern North America. A team from the Los Angeles Museum continues the excavation.


1931

Edgar B. Howard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology finds a fluted spear point near a hearth surrounded by charred bones of Pleistocene musk-ox, caribou, camel, horse, and bison in Burnet Cave in the Guadalupe Mountains of southern New Mexico. Additional hearths and three bone awls are found in deposits that also contain burned and unburned bones of extinct Pleistocene fauna.


1932–34

Bones of twelve mammoths with two large Folsom-like spear points are found at Dent, Colorado, by Father Conrad Bilgery of Saint Regis College and a team from the Denver Museum of Natural History. This is the first discovery of fluted spear points with mammoth remains—and the first discovery of what will later be called “Clovis” points.


1933

At Tule Springs near Las Vegas, Nevada, paleontologist Fenley Hunter discovers jaw bones of an extinct Pleistocene camel and an obsidian flake. He reports the find to George Gaylord Simpson of the American Museum of Natural History. The site is revisited by Mark Harrington of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, who finds more artifacts and several hearths amid bones of extinct animals.


1933–37

Howard and his student John L. Cotter excavate at a gravel pit along Blackwater Draw near the town of Clovis in eastern New Mexico. The distinctive type of fluted point discovered at the Dent site is found with mammoth bones below a stratum containing Folsom points and bison bones. This stratigraphic separation demonstrates that “Clovis” points predate Folsom points.


1935

Cummings belatedly announces the Whitewater Draw find to the national archaeological community. The “Moab Mastodon” petroglyph in southeastern Utah is first reported in scientific literature.


1936–37

In Sandia Cave in northern New Mexico, Frank C. Hibben and Wesley L. Bliss of the University of New Mexico find—below a stratum containing Folsom points—shouldered spear points or knives, scrapers, and other flaked stone tools mixed with bones of mammoth, mastodon, and bison.


1937

Looking for Pleistocene fossils, Howard S. Gentry of the American Museum of Natural History discovers a human cranium in a deposit containing bones of extinct Pleistocene fauna in the Arroyo Chinabampo in Sonora, Mexico.


1942

In the deepest cultural stratum of Ventana Cave, in the Castle Mountains of southwestern Arizona, Julian D. Hayden and Emil W. Haury of the University of Arizona discover two spear points resembling Paleoindian types and other flaked stone artifacts. In the same layer as these “Ventana Complex” artifacts are bones of extinct Pleistocene fauna.


1943

Katherine Bartlett of the Museum of Northern Arizona reports the discovery of surface sites in the Little Colorado River Valley of eastern Arizona. These sites exhibit crude percussion-flaked stone tools similar to Lower Paleolithic artifacts in Europe. She names this industry the “Tolchaco Complex.”


1951–52

Shopkeepers Marc and Fred Navarette discover Clovis points with the remains of a mammoth in the banks of Greenbush Draw near the town of Naco in southeastern Arizona. Haury directs an excavation at the Naco site, uncovering eight Clovis points associated with the nearly complete skeleton of a mammoth. Cattle rancher Ed Lehner tells Haury of his discovery of mammoth bones in an arroyo bank 10 miles northwest of Naco.


1954

Hibben announces the discovery of a Sandia spear point with mammoth bones at a site on the shore of a dry lake bed in the Estancia Valley about 50 miles from Sandia Cave. His student William Roosa conducts excavations at what becomes known as the “Lucy” site.


1954–55

Haury’s excavations at the Lehner site document two hearths and recover thirteen Clovis points, as well as bones of mammoth, horse, and bison..1955Results of some of the first radiocarbon dates are reported by chemist Willard F. Libby. They indicate that the Sandia artifacts are more than 20,000 years old, and that a “hearth” at Tule Springs is almost 24,000 years old..

Charles C. Di Peso reports the discovery—by a couple vacationing on the coast near Guaymas—of the first Clovis points found in Sonora, Mexico.


1962

Charcoal from the deepest stratum in Ventana Cave provides a radiocarbon date of 11,300 ± 1,200 years b.p. for the Ventana Complex.


1966–68

The Murray Springs site is discovered in Curry Draw, near the Naco and Lehner sites, by Peter Mehringer and C. Vance Haynes, Jr., of the University of Arizona. Excavations by Haynes uncover bones of butchered mammoths and bison in the vicinity of a possible well. Artifacts include Clovis points and a mammoth-bone shaft wrench or spear-thrower. Haynes and his student E. Thomas Hemmings report rancher Louis Escapule’s discovery of two Clovis points in a mammoth skeleton at the Escapule site, two miles southeast of Murray Springs.

Haynes determines that the radiocarbon-dated material from Tule Springs was not charcoal, and that the “hearths” at the site were the result of natural processes.

Based on reexamination of the stratigraphy, as well as new radiocarbon dates and uranium-series dates, Haynes and George A. Agogino of Eastern New Mexico University conclude that the Sandia artifacts in Sandia Cave are redeposited from contexts between 14,000 and 10,000 years old..Robert H. Weber of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Agogino conduct investigations at Mockingbird Gap, a Clovis site covering 35 acres..

W. James Judge of the University of New Mexico documents thirty-three Paleoindian sites (mostly Folsom) during his survey of the central Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico.

Gerald Dawson of the University of New Mexico directs excavations at the Rio Ranch site near Albuquerque, New Mexico, uncovering a Folsom campsite.


1969–71

New excavations by Haynes at the Murray Springs site uncover a Clovis campsite. Eight associated radiocarbon dates average about 10,890 b.p.


1970

Alexander Lindsay and Bruce Harrill of the Museum of Northern Arizona discover the Badger Springs site (see related story).


1971

Manuel Robles of the Museo Regional de Sonora discovers the El Bajío Clovis site (see related story).


1975–75

In addition to more Clovis flaked stone tools, new excavations by Haynes and Haury at the Lehner site yield burned and intentionally split bones of extinct Pleistocene animals. Twelve associated radiocarbon dates average about 10,940 b.p.


1976

Based on his surveys in the Sierra Pinacate region of northwestern Sonora, Mexico, Hayden revives Malcolm Rogers’ “Malpais” term to refer to flaked stone chopping and scraping tools made by hard-hammer percussion. Heavily coated with “desert varnish,” these tools are found throughout northwestern Mexico and southwestern Arizona. Hayden refers to radiocarbon dates on sea shells at Malpais sites to claim that the industry may be more than 30,000 years old..Reexamination of Tolchaco Complex assemblages lead Donald R. Keller and Suzanne M. Wilson to the conclusion that the artifacts probably represent initial reduction of alluvial cobbles by Archaic, Basketmaker, and Pueblo groups.


1978

Bruce B. Huckell of the Arizona State Museum finds a Clovis point fragment and other artifacts with mammoth bones during a highway salvage excavation at the Silktassel site near Payson in east-central Arizona. The Lime Ridge site, a Clovis campsite, is found by Laurie Blank-Roper near Bluff, southeastern Utah, during an archaeological clearance survey for a mining claim.


1984

William E. Davis investigates the Lime Ridge site and the Montgomery site, a Folsom campsite near Green River in southeastern Utah.


1986

Reexamination and radiocarbon dating of the Whitewater Draw contexts by Michael R. Waters of the University of Arizona indicate that the bones Cummings found in 1926 were redeposited, and that the strata date to the early Holocene.


1993

Richard S. MacNeish and colleagues announce the discovery of a pre-Clovis occupation sequence in Pendejo Cave, near Orogrande in southern New Mexico (see related story).

Ronald I. Dorn and D. S. Whitley publish radiocarbon dates of about 18,200 and 16,600 b.p. on the desert varnish that coats a petroglyph in Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. They also report radiocarbon dates between 26,600 and 13,700 b.p. on desert varnish found on flaked stone artifacts from the Pleistocene shoreline of Lake Manix in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California.


1995

Huckell and Haynes report new radiocarbon dates from the lowest artifact-bearing stratum of Ventana Cave (see related story).


1996

Radiocarbon dates on “human hair” between 12,400 and 12,200 years old from Pendejo Cave are reported by MacNeish and others.


1997

David J. Meltzer, Vance T. Holliday, and Lawrence C. Todd begin new investigations of the Folsom site.


1998

Bruce Huckell’s dog Chuska leads him to discover the Boca Negra Wash Folsom site..A group of eight scientists challenges the validity of Dorn’s sampling technique and conclude that his radiocarbon dates on desert varnish are unreliable.


1999

The “Clovis and Beyond” conference is held in Santa Fe, New Mexico (see related story)..An investigation by an Arizona State University faculty committee concludes that Dorn did not commit “scientific misconduct” in his treatment of rock varnish radiocarbon samples. Dorn files a lawsuit against his challengers. The National Science Foundation continues its own investigation..

In advance of a highway improvement project, William Doleman and Janette Elyea of the University of New Mexico Office of Contract Archaeology begin archaeological mitigation at several sites with Paleoindian occupations along Chupadera Arroyo in the vicinity of the Mockingbird Gap site (see related story).