Puget Sound Clovis

In Red: Surface Finds of Clovis Projectile Points. After Croes et al. 2008.

I posted yesterday about the Manis Mastodon site and its possible status as a pre-Clovis site on the Olympic Peninsula.  Clovis projectile points are so distinctive that most archaeologists have no problem assigning even an isolated find of such a point, lacking in any kind of stratigraphic context or any associated dates, to the Clovis archaeological culture.  We know from sites elsewhere in North America that Clovis dates to a pretty narrow window, perhaps only 13,200 to 12,800 calendar years ago.  It has always been very closely associated with the ice-free corridor route for the First Peopling of the Americas and is predominantly known from classic sites in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. So it may come as a surprise to some that Clovis is pretty well represented in Puget Sound and north to Bellingham Bay, although only from surface or other finds without provenience.

The diagram above is adapted from a paper by Dale Croes et al. (2008).  The East Wenatchee site (Richey-Roberts) is a famous cache of Clovis artifacts, well-researched,  in Central Washington State on the Columbia River.  The red dots are all surface finds of Clovis projectile points.  Presumably this makes eight, 13,000 year old sites in Puget Sound, plus another two just east of the Cascades.   As you can see, East Wenatchee is not exactly a distant western outlier of Clovis culture.  Indeed, Clovis looks like it had a pretty substantial coastal presence.

Clovis Point from Yukon Harbor (45-KP-139), near Bremerton, central Puget Sound. Source: Croes et al. 2008.

Some might postulate that it is a late backwash of the First Peopling of the Americas, a little corner where Clovis lingered longer or  arrived late.  With this concentration of Clovis, and an absence of Folsom, maybe this is the origin of Clovis, which after all has been likened by Jim Dixon in a masterpiece of cheekiness, to a sort of degenerate harpoon technology.  Down the Puget Lowlands, then up the Columbia and across the Rockies is pretty viable way into eastern North America from the coast – Clovis is then the derivative terrestrial adaptation of a coastal peoples as they start to infill the continent from the west.   OK, so maybe this is stirring the pot a bit, but my sense is the World’o’Clovis is in pretty serious disarray these days so, hey, lets consider all options.  That’s the scientific way, right guys?  Right?

Clovis slotted, thinned base, composite hafting compared to harpoon technology. Figure from Dixon (1999): 253.

Interestingly, the Wenatchee site includes a large number of bone artifacts, which some researchers (Lyman et al. 1998 PDF)  have suggested are specialized hafting elements.  However, despite trying (perhaps just a little too hard!) they do not completely rule out  the possibility that these bone “rods” include some bone projectile points – shades of the anomalous object embedded in the 13,500 year old Manis Mastodon site.  Deeply penetrating, resilient projectile points or killing lances may have been a vital part of a big-game hunting toolkit, yet ignored because of the fetishism surrounding the charismatic Clovis points.  Bone working technology is also commonly seen as a necessity for a maritime adaptation. And, frankly, the elaborate bone hafting elements described by Lyman et al. also conjure up the gadget-orientation so typical of maritime societies, and sailors more generally.

"Bone rods" from East Wenatchee Clovis site. Don't let me catch you calling any of these projectile points, Mister. Especially not (h) even though it seems to have an impact scar. Source: Lyman et al. 1998: 892.

For reference, I also include in the top figure the Ayers Pond bison site,  a Bison antiquus dating to 13,600 years ago which may have been butchered.  The oldest known sites in southwestern British Columbia are in the Stave River watershed, with two sites returning dates around 11,900 years ago.  All in all, the Pleistocene archaeology of the Salish Sea is starting to take shape, and we have barely started to look.

Charismatic Clovis bifaces from the Richey-Roberts/East Wenatchee site. Source: umt.edu. Yes, these are real.


Croes, Dale R., S. Williams, L. Ross, M. Collard, C. Dennler and B. Varge 2008.   The projectile point sequences in the Puget Sound Region. In: (R. Carslon and M. Magne eds.) Projectile point sequences in northwestern North America. Simon Fraser University Archaeology Press, pp. 105-130.

Dixon, E. James 1999.   Bones, Boats, and Bison: Archeology and the first colonization of western North America. University of New Mexico Press.

Lyman, L.,  M. O’Brian and V. Hayes 1998.  A mechanical and functional study of bone rods from the Richey–Roberts Clovis Cache, Washington, U.S.A. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 887–906.

19 responses to “Puget Sound Clovis

  1. This map ties in nicely with the one at the Burke Museum that you linked to in an earlier blog which is a movie of the extent of glaciation in Puget Sound.


    It is pretty remarkable that there are so many fluted points in this area – not something that is at the forefront of BC archaeologist’s thinking, probably because we are north of the maximum extent of the continental glaciers. It is a very useful thing that Dale Croes has done to map these sites out, and of this blog to bring it to our attention. Would be interesting to see equivalent data for areas on the coast that are further south. With your recent blog on fluted points on the Seward Peninsula in Alaska, you have very nicely bracketed much of the NWC and kind of placed the Alaska panhandle and Prince Rupert areas dead centre of a target.


    There is the very real possibility of several areas free of ice in BC during the late Pleistocene not just in well established outer coastal contexts including in the “target area”, but also in some parts of the interior including possibly areas not far inland of Prince Rupert. Most of those areas have not been looked at systematically, if at all. Even Haida Gwaii has only seen a few quite small excavations at not that many locations and it has been a focal point of interest and research for more than 10 years now.

    With the cooperation of granting agencies and perhaps some luck in the CRM front it is very likely that our understanding of this time period on the NW Coast will expand greatly over the next 10 or 15 years.

    One example of CRM work that does not require lucky placement of a development or of a test unit which is going to provide vital information is BC Hydro’s recent reservoir impact management program. It is turning up a lot of interesting earlier sites. With the kind of focus and intellectual interest that have been in evidence at, but not necessarily limited to, the Stave, Elsie and Williston reservoirs these management projects which are all over BC will undoubtably continue to expand our knowledge of this time period.

    Hopefully more intact dateable early period deposits will be found in these and other reservoirs and the distribution of fluted points will become well enough understood that questions about the origins of this technology in the northwest can be better addressed. Even if it is just to say with considerable certainty that no fluted points are found on the shores of a whole bunch of lakes widely distributed around BC.

    Gotta love those pointed bone objects from East Wenatchee. Drop that collection into an shell midden assemblage being analysed by an experienced coastal archaeologist and see how many would be catalogued as projectile points. Not *if* any would be, but how many.


    • “Origin of Clovis” studies, no longer synonymous with the ‘First Americans’ studies, are going to need to consider all aspects of the origin and dispersal of this highly unusual archaeological culture. I am only half kidding when I suggest they might look to the west coast. Anyone got a better idea?

      The find of a Clovis point on, say, the Gulf Islands would probably be met with much more surprise than it would warrant given the Puget Sound data which Croes has so usefully put together, and what we know of the open, grassland, bison-rich environment of that time.

      (edit): and yes, kudos to BC Hydro for having a very progressive and forward-thinking archaeological mitigation program.


  2. BTW, those clovis points from East Wenatchee aren’t so much “charismatic” as they are a kind of archaeological porn, and acheive that status without any gold in sight.



    Back on – topic, I was having the some of the same thoughts as APM and qmackie looking again at that map. It is striking that there are so many of these points just to the south; but none have been found on southern Vancouver Island or the Fraser valley. I presume most of these were found in farmer’s fields. The Yanks have more fields, but still we have quite a few; I suspect the land use history is similar enough and the land under cultivation enough to have ensured there would have been at least a couple found here, if they were here in equal density. That might be an interesting little paper for a GIS student….
    measure the arable land in the two areas and try and figure out what the statistical chance was of NOT finding any points this side of the border assuming equal density.


    • I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them was found at Stave Lake reservoir drawdown, for example: several Scottsbluff points from there. And yes, Hydro is doing a nice job on their archaeological responsibilities.

      There was the pseudo-fluted point from Coquitlam Reservoir reported by Milt Wright in the Carlson & Dalla Bona book on “early human occupation in BC” – I guess the consensus on that was impact fracture?

      Anyway, good idea on modelling – or just have a more concerted effort to go talk to farmers and look at their shoe boxes full of goodies….


  4. A great read on the The East Wenatchee site (Richey-Roberts) site in my opinion is the report done by R.M. Gramlyin the journal of the American Society for Amature Archaeology. Volume 10(1) 2004 issn 1096-3871
    Some great info on the topic if your interested.


  5. About 40 years ago I found a spearhead in a pasture that was being cleared for development, located in Silverdale Washington. The pasture area had a layer of peat about 24 inches in depth, which had been removed down to a layer of sand and gravel. It is made of black rock, and approximetly 2 & 1/2 inches in length. I have always wondered about the history behind it, and how old it may be. Is there an email address that I can send a photo to for identification?


    • Rex — on the off chance you read this, by all means send me an email: qmackie @ gmail dot com. If you found it in peat it might be significant. Sorry for the late reply: the blog was on hiatus or severe slow down for a year or more.


  6. Looks like there is a new Puget Sound paper of relevance published in a new journal:

    Preliminary Findings from Testing and Data Recovery at the Bear Creek Site (45KI839), a Late Pleistocene-Holocene Transitional Occupation in the Puget Sound Lowland, King County, Washington

    Robert E. Kopperl Kenneth M Ames, Charles M Hodges, Amanda K. Taylor, and Christian Miss

    PaleoAmerica: A Journal of Early Human Migration and Dispersal

    the paper does not appear to have been published yet but the table of contents is listed here:

    Click to access PAL-ToC.pdf


    • also that same issue has new(?) data on Bluefish cave fauna in the Yukon:
      Bluefish Cave II (Yukon Territory, Canada): Taphonomic Study of a Bone Assemblage
      Author: Lauriane Bourgeon


  7. Thanks for that, twoeyes. I wonder what will be revealed about Bluefish Caves II. Hope that Canadian universities pick up the journal.


  8. I wouldn’t get too concerned with the lack of Folsom technology in the Pacific Northwest. In the southeast Clovis is followed by a fluted and eared style called Dalton and in southern Idaho the unfluted Humboldt types (with transverse oblique flaking) seem to follow on Clovis footsteps. Even on the Plains Folsom’s northern extent seems to be the southern edge of the prairie provinces and I don’t know of any examples from the front ranges of the Rockies in the ice-corridor. What I’ve seen from Williston certainly indicates a Clovis presence in northeastern BC. As work continues there I expect more early materials will be recovered.


  9. Just to note that there is a nice Folsom point that was surface collected in the mid-90s south of Grande Prairie, Alberta in what is “ice free corridor” territory. I just checked, the Royal Alberta Museum website has it here: http://www.royalalbertamuseum.ca/research/culturalStudies/archaeology/aspects/flutedPoint.cfm

    And I believe Eugene Gryba reports a couple more Folsom points in various publications and in his unpublished Fluted Points of Alberta report (ca 1985).


  10. Report on the Bear Creek site in Redmond, Wash. is now available. It would appear this dig holds the potential to fill in a lot of details about PaleoAmericans in the Puget Sound region. As I recall, the oldest radiocarbon date from the site so far is 10,780 years BP.



  11. Comments were closed on the Paisley Cave post, so I guess this interesting find down in Oregon might well go here:





  13. I lived on Lummi Peninsula for a few months last year, and in doing some yard maintenance for the place I was renting from, found an out of context quartzite cobblestone chopper, sitting on a small pile of rocks culled out of a garden. How old would something like that be and when would they have stopped being used?


  14. I found a point on Mayne Island. Similar to the first one shown but no distinguishable Clovis scoop.


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