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Siberian Fluted Point Volume 49 Number 6, November/December 1996
by Andrew L. Slayman

[image] Eight thousand-year-old point from Siberia, seen here in four views, may be linked to New World Clovis points. It is the only fluted projectile known from the Old World. (Courtesy Maureen L. King) [LARGER IMAGE, 45K]

Discovery of a fluted bifacial point at the site of Uptar in northeastern Siberia may force archaeologists to reconsider the origins of the Clovis point, a hallmark of the New World Paleoindian tradition. Named after the New Mexico town where they were first unearthed in the 1930s, Clovis points have been found throughout North and Central America. All have been dated between about 11,200 and 10,900 B.P. (before present), making Clovis the earliest well-defined culture in the western hemisphere. No fluted points, Clovis or otherwise, were known from the Old World.

Archaeologists Maureen L. King of the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas and Sergei B. Slobodin of the Department of Education in Magadan, Russia, reported the discovery of the Siberian point in a recent issue of Science. Similar but not identical to Clovis points, the artifact was found in two fragments, the first in 1985 and the second five years later. A number of unfluted stone bifaces that resemble Clovis points in basic shape were found nearby. The entire assemblage lay atop an undated layer of sand and gravel and beneath a volcanic level radiocarbon-dated to 8260 330 B.P.

King and Slobodin say that Uptar "offers a tempting link" with the Paleoindian tradition. The origins of Clovis are debated, with opposing camps arguing either that it evolved out of a much earlier American tradition or that it developed quite rapidly from a Siberian tradition imported with early migrants just before 11,200 B.P. That the Uptar point might help clarify this matter and the date of the peopling of the New World (see "Colonizing the Americas") is generating excitement among scholars.

But there are problems. Though the point must be older than 8300 B.P., as King and Slobodin observe, how much older remains undetermined. Uptar could be earlier than the Clovis sites, and its fluted point a progenitor of Clovis; contemporaneous with them; or even later, in which case the fluted point might have been invented in the New World and carried back to Siberia before the land bridge was submerged ca. 11,000 B.P. Unfortunately, the underlying sand and gravel are not easily dated, so it is unlikely that the age of the point will ever be known more precisely.

Furthermore, the Uptar collection differs in many respects from Clovis assemblages, and the fluted point is a far cry from the elegant Clovis points. It could even be a unique piece that was never part of a coherent tradition. Answers to questions about the point await the discovery of similar points in secure, datable contexts. "What does it mean?" asks Paleoindian specialist David J. Meltzer of Southern Methodist University. "Who knows? It's a puzzle."

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America