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New Dates for Clovis Sites Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Mike Toner

Clovis Sites • North America

(Courtesy Michael Waters)

New radiocarbon dates kept the controversy over the peopling of the Americas simmering in 2007. An analysis of dates for the best-documented Clovis sites suggests the culture arose later and was shorter-lived than once thought, a finding that some say deals a blow to the "Clovis first" theories that maintain the big-game-hunting people were the first immigrants to the New World. Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans, and Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado, used modern radiocarbon methods to re-date more than 20 previously known Clovis sites which had been dated with older, less precise techniques. All of the sites now seem to fall between 13,050 to 12,800 years ago. Most archaeologists still believe the Clovis people inhabited North America for at least 500 years, starting about 13,300 years ago.

Waters and Stafford contend this new 250-year window for Clovis in America is too brief for any founding population of hunter-gatherers to have dispersed across the Americas. Instead, they argue, such tightly spaced dates reflect the spread of Clovis technology and its signature fluted points through a preexisting population. But in a letter to Science, more than a dozen prominent archaeologists, including some who are open to the notion of a pre-Clovis culture in the Americas, insist there is no basis for Waters and Stafford's theory that technology may have spread more swiftly across the continent than humans themselves. What's really needed, they say, is more rigorous dating of all Paleolithic sites in the Americas.

"We'll be happy to date any Clovis site anyone wants," says Waters. "But the idea that Clovis was first just doesn't make any sense. Unless they had a time machine, there isn't any way for them to have spread across two continents that fast."

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© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America