Saturday, October 20, 2018

Native Americans's 13,000 years ago: Part 1


           Recently I read "Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America" in which Craig Childs, the author, re-travels the routes that the original settlers to the American continent took.  Many of these first Native American's came across the land opened between Asia and North America as the ice age was melting. Evidently they came in stages over thousands of years.  Some may have come 20,000 years ago, but they didn't build enough numbers to leave historical remains until about 13,000 years ago.  By then they were spread across the  continent living among the tremendous number of giant animals that existed at that time.

           I have visited a number of sites where the Clovis People left artifacts telling us about their life style: in California, Colorado, Missouri, Florida and Ohio.  To take over this much area they had to reproduce in large numbers. Childs says the magic, minimum number for human colonization is one hundred and sixty people, more would be better.  This means they came to this part of the world in large numbers to avoid the problem of inbreeding.

I believe what happened was that over the centuries they came in relatively small groups, at different times and different routes met and interbred until a 12,000 years ago they had pretty much taken over the continent. 

These Native Americans over the years had developed excellent tools and ways of  coordinating their attacks that mammoths became one of their chief foods and supply depot for other things they needed to survive.

The best nearby site for seeing a full-sized replica of a mastodon is at the Mastodon State Historical Site, 20 miles south of St. Louis on Interstate 55. The museum holds a large collection of bones, tusks and human artifacts from the Kimmswick Bone Beds, which are located a brief walk from the museum.

An Ice Age Mastodon

A dramatic finding was made there in 1979 when archaeologists excavated a spear point made by members of the Clovis culture (14,000 – 10,000 year ago) among the mastodon bones.  This was early solid evidence that early Indians coexisted with these giant prehistoric beasts. This has now been confirmed numerous times.

           In the Clan of the Cave Bear program we took in Colorado we learned about early man and his hunting skills.  In an area near Fort Collins multiple spearheads have been found indicating the bringing down of a mammoth by native hunters.  This gave another expert the opportunity to show us not only now to make spearheads, but also how to throw a spear with a spear thrower.

           The first day at Yosemite National Park, the Elderhostel group we had joined took a walk with a naturalist, an expert on the Miwok Indians who had lived in the area. The naturalist demonstrated how the tribe’s members made fire, chipped arrowheads, constructed bows and removed the tannin from acorn meal. He almost had a heart attack starting the fire and cut his finger rather badly showing us how to chip an arrowhead.

           We need to remember that there was no way to preserve information or to share it widely, so their tool kit developed over thousands of years without the advantages of books or metal.

Good stone weapons were needed for survival

Chipping was an art and over time the products improved and became almost perfect for the job of  killing big game.  Many museums have examples of Clovis spears and arrowheads.  The spears heads are large and sharp and of course deadly.  But they can't just be made anywhere.  You must have special material and this if often hard to come by.  

           At Flint Ridge in Ohio on the 525-acre site, visitors can take trails past various quarries dug by the Indians. The first in the area to mine flint were the Paleo-Indians, who came here as long as 15,000 years ago.

           In addition to weapons, other items made from flint included hide scrapers and drills. One of the displays pointed out that flint tools can be recycled — you just made a smaller item by flaking off pieces to create a new shape.

           As flint was not readily available in many places, tribes such as the Adena and Hopewell had a source of trading goods. They were probably among our country’s first traveling salesmen as they took their valuable flint products around the country trading for copper, sea shells, food, hides, pottery and other items of worth.

           Childs points out that Clovis was a way of working in stone that while developed in the East was almost identical coast to coast.  Tool makers in some cases had to make long hundreds of mile trips to get the kind of stone they needed.  The giant animals, including the Mammoths disappeared and other tribes replaced the Clovis.  I talk about that in Story 2 on the Clovis Native Americans.

My daughter Debra admires an Ice Age giant sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits.

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