Collection Description

Tradition Name

Early Paleo-Indian

Tradition Description

The Early Paleo-Indian Tradition, which includes the initial colonization of the Western Hemisphere from Siberia by foot and/or by boat, occurred from more than 14,000 until 10,200 BP (radiocarbon years, or circa 15,500–12,500 BP calibrated). The people were highly mobile nomadic hunter-gatherers, with some fishing and some exploitation of Pleistocene megafauna. They created stone, bone, and ivory tools; evidence for baskets, cordage, and wooden tools exists where preservation is good. High quality tool stone is found far from its sources, indicating exchange between groups and/or high group mobility. Some regional variation in tool types and preferred raw materials appears circa 11,100 BP (13,000 BP calibrated), around the time that the Clovis complex begins.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


New World --New World










United States



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF Archaeology and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Early Paleo-Indian tradition is located in North and South America, excluding the Caribbean. It occurred from 14,000 to 10,200 BP, (radiocarbon years 15,500 to 12,500 BP calibrated). Regional concentrations of archaeological sites, as seen along the Mississippi River Valley or in Argentina, reflect the history of archaeological investigations; a dearth of sites would be expected in areas previously covered by glaciers. Further insights into the Early Paleo-Indian tradition can be gained by also searching various documents in the Late Paleo-Indian collection in eHRAF Archaeology.

No single document provides an overview of the archaeology of the tradition, as most authors concentrate on either North or South America. Early Paleo-Indian overviews of North America can be found in Anderson (1990), Dixon (1999), and Goebel, Waters, and O'Rourke (2008). Waters and Stafford (2014) discuss the earliest evidence in North and South America. Overviews of the evidence in South America are covered by Dillehay et al. (1992), Dillehay (2000, "South American Regions: the Pacific and Caribbean.…”; 2000, "South American Regions: the Atlantic…"), Gruhn (2004), and Miotti (2004).

Overviews of the Clovis subtradition on are found in Anderson (2004), Bryan (2004), Davis (1993), Dincauze (1993), Fiedel (2004), Frison (1993), Haynes (1993), Huckell (2004), Meltzer (1993), and Tankersley (1994, 2004).

Numerous documents discuss environmental data for the end of the Pleistocene, mostly concerning climate change: Barnosky et al. (1988), Dansie and Jerrems (2004), Erickson (1988), Erlandson and Moss (1996), Frison and Bonnichsen (1996), Gaudreau (1988), Jacobson and Grimm (1988), Karrow and Warner (1988), King (1988), Morgan (1988), Shane (1994), Waters (2004), and Webb and Bartlein (1988).

Descriptions of the fauna and changes in faunal communities are found in Fisher (2004), McAndrews and Jackson (1988), McDonald (1994), Overstreet (2004), Saunders (1988), and Semken (1988).

Many reports detail the findings from important sites: Adovasio (1993), concentrating on Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pennsylvania; Brose (1994) for Paleo Crossing, Ohio; Fisher, Bradley, and Hooge (1994) on Burning Tree Mastodon site, Ohio; Graham and Kay (1988) on the Kimmswick and Barnhart sites, Missouri; Jackson et al. (2007) on Quebrada Santa Julia, Chile; Meltzer et al. (1997) on Monte Verde, Chile; Morrow et al. (2012) on the Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas; Seeman et al. (1994) on three sites in Ohio; Storck and Tomenchuk (1990) on the Udora site, Ontario; Tomak (1994) on the Alton site, Indiana; and Yesner (1996) on the Broken Mammoth site, Alaska.

The Hiscock site in New York State is analyzed in detail, including its geology, climate, vegetation, and fauna by Fisher (1988), Laub et al. (1988), Miller (1988), Muller and Calkin (1988), and Steadman (1988).

Discussions surrounding settlement patterns, land use, and band territories are found in Boisvert (2004), Borrero (1996), Cochran, Richey, and Maust (1990), Custer and Stewart (1990), Deller and Ellis (1988), Gramly (1988), Jackson (1990), Kornfeld (2007), Morse, Anderson, and Goodyear (1996), Smith (1990), and Tankersley (1990).

Specialized and regionally-focused topics include: Adovasio, Hyland, and Soffer (2004) on plant fibers; Binford (1993) for ethnographic analogies to modern arctic populations of North America; Bradley (1993) on High Plains projectile point technology; Budinger (2004) on early evidence of colonization from the Lake Manix basin, California; Dunbar and Hemmings (2004) with a typology of projectile points in Florida; Goodrich and Bonnichsen (2004) with frame analysis of stone point variability; Haeussler (2004) on dental morphology as it relates to the origins of Clovis; Hemmings, Dunbar, and Webb (2004) on bone and ivory tools in Florida; Roberts (1988) on lithic sources in southern Ontario; Schurr (2004) on mitochondrial DNA as evidence for episodes of migration; Shott (1990) on projectile point assemblages from eastern North America; Storck (1988) for a discussion of fluted points and colonization from the perspective of the Parkhill Complex, Ontario; Tratebas (2004) on petroglyphs in Wyoming and their northeast Asian analogues; Vickery and Litfin (1994) on the classification of projectile points from the eastern United States and Ontario, Canada; and Yahnig (2004) on Solutrean-like lithic technologies in Clovis assemblages.

Additional documents are introductory and/or concluding comments for edited volumes. Tankersley and Isaac (1990) add concluding remarks to Early Paleoindian Economies of Eastern North America (essays by: Anderson; Cochran, Richey, and Maust; Custer and Stewart; Jackson; Shott; Smith; Storck and Tomenchuk; Tankersley). Straus (1996) introduces and Jochim (1996) concludes Humans at the End of the Ice Age (chapters by: Borrero; Erlandson and Moss; Frison and Bonnichsen; Jochim; Morse, Anderson, and Goodyear; Yesner). Lepper and Bonnichsen (2004) provide introductory remarks for New Perspectives on the First Americans (papers by: Adovasio, Hyland, and Soffer; Anderson; Boisvert; Bryan; Budinger; Dansie and Jerrems; Dunbar and Hemmings; Fiedel; Fisher; Goodrich and Bonnichsen; Gruhn; Haeussler; Hemmings, Dunbar, and Webb; Huckell; Miotti; Overstreet; Schurr; Tankersley; Tratebas; Waters; Yahnig).

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Biological adaptation, human – use "FUNCTIONAL AND ADAPTATIONAL INTERPRETATIONS (182)"

Comedial Flaking – A type of flake removal used in the production of stone tools where flakes are perpendicular to the long axis of the tool and meet along the middle.

Esker (eskar, eschar, serpent kame) – A ridge of stratified sand and gravel, frequently several kilometers long and looking like railway embankments, that occurs in glaciated and formerly glaciated areas of North America.

Glacial till plain – An extensive flat plain of unsorted glacial sediment that forms when a sheet of ice becomes detached from the main body of a glacier and melts in place, depositing its sediments.

Kame – An irregularly shaped hill or mound composed of sand, gravel and unsorted glacial sediment that accumulates in a depression on a retreating glacier, deposited on the land surface as the glacier melts. Kames are often associated with kettles.

Kettle – A shallow, sediment-filled body of water formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters.

Limace – A long, bipointed stone tool that can be resharpened until too small to use.

Middle Paleoindian – Period from 11000-10500 RCYBP, characterized by larger and smaller fluted points and by fluted or unfluted points with broad blades and constricted haft elements such as Cumberland, Redstone, Simpson, and Suwannee.

Pièce esquillée ("splintered piece") – A type of flaked stone tool made by bipolar percussion with both ends showing bifacial scarring as a result.

Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) Field – sedimentary stratum indicating drastic climate change circa 12,900-12,800 BP, with colder temperatures and drought, coinciding with the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna and the end of Clovis – use "CLIMATE (132)"

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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