The Clovis Mystery : What Happened To Clovis Man

A broken atlatl or spear throwing weight of the type used by Clovis man in the Americas.
A broken atlatl or spear throwing weight of the type used by Clovis man in the Americas. | Source

A Day In The Life Of A Clovis Hunter

It was approaching daybreak when the small group of men reached the proper waiting place. At the edge of a slope surrounding a flat area of forest roughly twenty acres or so, they stopped and scattered out along the decline. The forested area was bordered by the slope on three sides, with the fourth side being shallow water filled swamps. This same wooded plot had been used for hunting for thousands of years before this day and would be used for thousands more. With plenty of water and grazing, it was an ideal spot for the animals now feeding close by.

When the signal was given, a shout or whistle, the hunters converged on the herd and launched their spears into the bodies of several of the huge elephantine creatures. If they were lucky, they would get at least one of the animals which would feed the hunter’s families for a week or more. Many of the herd would escape into the swamps, but they had to come out again sometime. That is, unless the huge alligators smelled the blood of those wounded by the hunters spears and finished them off in the shallow water of the cypress swamps.

Deadly Works Of Art

Pristine Clovis point-approx 6 inches long
Pristine Clovis point-approx 6 inches long | Source
Edges still sharp after 12,000 years
Edges still sharp after 12,000 years | Source
Exquisite Clovis point of unusual color and material
Exquisite Clovis point of unusual color and material | Source

The Mystery!

The hunters were seldom disappointed as the veterans would point out a particular animal to concentrate their efforts upon. The points of the hunter’s spears were as sharp as razors, the atlatls used to propel the projectiles were cutting edge technology for this time in early man’s history.

We know these mysterious people today as Clovis Man. They were the first immigrants to explore the Americas, eventually spreading from Alaska to parts of South America.

For several thousand years they lived and throve on both continents enjoying the abundance of game and other food sources there for the taking.

But about 13,000 years ago they suddenly disappeared, along with several species of the animals they hunted. Some of the predators, which also fed upon the teeming herds of giant bisonand mammoths, disappeared also.

What happened to them is still a mystery today. Their whole existence is shrouded in controversy with many possible answers to the ongoing mystery.

It is surmised that native American tribes encountered by early explorers are descendents of these mysterious people, but for now we do not know. Perhaps scientific research will eventually solve this part of the mystery and the missing mega fauna also.

Bad News For Large Grazing Beasts

Giant Bison were once hunted by Clovis people. Now extinct.
Giant Bison were once hunted by Clovis people. Now extinct.
The smaller species of bison survived the mass extinction
The smaller species of bison survived the mass extinction
The mammoth was not so lucky, nor was the mastodon
The mammoth was not so lucky, nor was the mastodon
The American horse vanished until the Spaniards reintroduced them
The American horse vanished until the Spaniards reintroduced them

Did Clovis Man Cause The Extinctions?

The Overkill Theory

Since the disappearance of the mega fauna coincided somewhat with the immigration of Clovis Man, many scientists believe the giant animals were hunted into extinction by these efficient hunters.

Mammoths and mastodons are believed to have had a gestation period similar to their modern ancestors, the Indian and African elephant.

With a 22 month gestation period, this would make it harder for the mammoths or mastodons to reproduce fast enough to keep pace with the hunter’s needs.

Or so the supporters of this theory claim. But would they devastate the entire herds of giant bison too? Their gestation periods were not as long as the mammoths or mastodons adding even more suspicion to the overkill theory.

The giant ground sloth, along with several other species of large creatures vanished at the same time. So what gives?

Many of the giant creatures were herd animals. Giant bison, camels, mammoths, mastodons, and the American horse, all disappeared from both North and South America. So why didn’t the smaller bison vanish also?

When the first Europeans explored North America the bison herds were enormous, taking days to pass by the explorer’s camps. If the hunter’s killed the other species why not the smaller bison also? Some parts of this theory just do not add up.

A Change In Weather

Warm weather promoted fast foliage growth
Warm weather promoted fast foliage growth
A sudden climate change was catastrophic
A sudden climate change was catastrophic

From Cold To Warm

Climate change

An abrupt climate change at the end of the late Pleistocene era is another reason stated for the mass extinctions . Colder weather affected  the huge mega fauna of the Pleistocene, some scientists believe, with food being more difficult to find.  This event is called the Youger Dryas period.  The cooler climate is thought to have affected not only the herd animals, but those creatures feeding on them. Thus the saber tooth cat and giant wolves, along with the American lion and others, would suffer and die because they depended on these large animals for a normal source of food.

The vegetation would also change with some animals unable to adapt quickly enough to survive the transition. It is possible the plants themselves went through periods of adaptation which prevented some of the creatures from using them as a food source as they had in the past. But then why did Clovis Man suddenly seem to vanish along with the
giant creatures. Again, this theory doesn’t fully explain why some species disappeared while others went on seemingly unaffected. Perhaps time will tell us more about this climate change and its victims.

Disease Wrecks Havoc On Herds

Bacteria passed from herd to herd spreads quickly
Bacteria passed from herd to herd spreads quickly
Some species quickly became extinct
Some species quickly became extinct

A Virus Could Have Been The Culprit

Disease

There is also the old faithful exterminator of living things, disease. Although no identifiable strain of virus or other contagious diseases have been found thus far, this theory could explain the sudden end of the mega fauna and Clovis Man. The herd animals would be especially vulnerable to this type of disease as they congregate in large groups and come in contact with other herding species.

The predators, including Dire wolves, short faced bears, saber tooth cats, and Clovis Man, would feed upon the infected animals, ingest the meat containing the infectious disease, and the cycle was complete. In a short time the entire food chain would be affected and extinctions would be a matter of course.

But once again, why did the smaller bison and other grazing animals survive? Antelope, deer, moose, caribou, bear and the list goes on and on. Were these creatures immune to the killing disease? Even if the large animals vanished, Clovis Man still had other food sources to choose from. Did he quit using the large projectile points he was named for because the animals were smaller than the megafauna, or did he almost disappear like the huge animals he formerly hunted?

It is true he may have adapted his hunting techniques for the smaller game still around after the Pleistocene, but it is doubtful this would have happened all at once. There should be a period of transition between the two different distinct flint knapping styles instead of a complete change. This theory, like the first two, leaves too many questions unanswered at this point in time. But it could have been a contributing factor of both megafauna and Clovis Man disappearances.

The Outer Space Connection

50,000 years ago a meteor made this crater in Arizona
50,000 years ago a meteor made this crater in Arizona
13,000 years ago a comet is suspected to have caused the extinctions
13,000 years ago a comet is suspected to have caused the extinctions
Forests and grasslands were burned across the continent
Forests and grasslands were burned across the continent
The bigger beasts couldn't survive the catastrophe
The bigger beasts couldn't survive the catastrophe

Cosmic Theories

The latest and most intriguing theory involves a meteor or asteroid explosion over North America spawning forest fires and burning plains from coast to coast.  This would have especially impacted the grazing animal species and the predators that fed upon them.  Perhaps the smaller bison and other grazers could find enough food for a few of their number to survive long enough for the trees and grasses to rebound. 

Without the large predators to thin their numbers they managed to regain and perhaps eclipse their former populations.  A small group of the Clovis hunters may have eked out a scant living long enough to adapt to the new environment.  Never again would they hunt the mammoth or mastodon.  The Clovis points would never be used again.  There is some evidence of this vast conflagration, according to some scientists.

This group of theorists include archaeologists who claim a very thin layer of ash separates the last Clovis/mega fauna layer from a layer in which no trace of these creatures can be found.  Recently, six Clovis sites have yielded microscopic diamond dust, known as nanodiamonds, only caused by extreme pressure normally associated with comet or asteroid impacts or explosions. 

This gives support to the theory of a string of exploding comets causing the Younger Dryas period which lasted approximately 1,300 years.  This cold spell is thought to have affected both the giant animals and Clovis Man’s means of survival.  This event corresponds, almost exactly, with the extinctions indicated by the Younger Dryas Boundary layer contents.  This theory just gets better as we learn more from the excavations of the Clovis sites.

We Just Keep Digging

The many Clovis Culture sites may eventually give us the answer
The many Clovis Culture sites may eventually give us the answer

The Answer Is?

Conclusion - Actually, there isn't one yet! The answer may be a combination of any or all of these theories or, something entirely unexpected. Science has a way of uncovering odd and wonderful things if given enough time.

So it is only a matter of time before we finally know the answer to the mystery of the late Pleistocene extinctions. Our technology will finally allow us to understand more about the past thousands of years of our existence and survival. It is one story of the ancient people who inhabited our fascinating world, a tale both wonderful and tragic in the telling. But it will be a story well worth waiting for, I am sure.

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Comments 30 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

I love these types of mysteries. So many clues with twists and turns and I for one would love it if they decipher them for a conclusive answer. Thanks for a great read. CC


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I agree, ralwus! This mystery is so intriguing to me and many others who enjoy America's ancient past. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Mit Kroy profile image

Mit Kroy 6 years ago from Georgia,USA

Great hub Randy.

Keep on hubbing!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks Mit. Always good to hear from you!


cojaqmarketing profile image

cojaqmarketing 6 years ago from Carmel, Indiana

They say you learn something new everyday...and I just did. Thanks for sharing.

Jeremy


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you found the hub interesting,Jeremy. The Clovis Culture disappearance is especially interesting to me as a collector of Native American artifacts. Thanks for commenting.

Randy


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Several folks have told me that big spear point I have is a Clovis, but I'm not so sure. I do know it's a paleo, however.

Great hub! I enjoyed the read! Thumbs up!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I've just joined a new site dedicated to arrowhead and artifact collecting. They also help to identify any finds. I'll give you the link. Thanks as usual Holle!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Fascinating stiff!

I have read some very interesting books about the effects of comets on history.

This, too, was very enlightening and enjoyable :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

It is a fascinating subject, Trish. The earth's oceans were probably formed by the impact of many comets when the universe was young. The night sky was once full of comets.

Thanks for your interest!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Coincidentally, I watched a documentary about the role of comets and asteroids, in the formation of the earth, only last night ~ its waters and, possibly, even its life!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

We do do live on a fascinating planet, Trish! As they say "truth is stranger than fiction!" Thanks again!


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 6 years ago from SE MA

Well done.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for your time, Pcunix!


Castlepaloma profile image

Castlepaloma 5 years ago from Saskatchewan, Canada

You got my imagination going on some new art displays, those may turn into something else.

very interesting


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks, CastleP! I love this type of stuff! I suppose it's because of all the artifacts I find on my land. Some are 12-14000 years old!

Thanks for stopping by!

Randy


Pandoras Box profile image

Pandoras Box 5 years ago from A Seemingly Chaotic World

Came here from your new Carolina Bays hub, Randy, and thoroughly enjoyed reading both. I always learn something new from your hubs!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

This stuff fascinates me, PB! Glad I'm not alone in enjoying the mysteries of our planet.

Thanks for your time and comments!

Randy


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Randy, outstanding. I like how you start with a vivid narrative before leading us into the equally fascinating facts and theories. Love this stuff.

One point, though, Clovis man was not the first! The fact that "Clovis first" was the prevailing dogma for decades helped to keep Clovis on top. Some scientists were even ridiculed for suggesting anything might be earlier than Clovis. Sounds more like ego than science. And some scientists were afraid to dig below the Clovis horizon, because what they might find there could jeopardize their careers. Thanks to a few brave mavericks, Clovis has now fallen. But ego is still thumping around.

The impact event you mention is fascinating, but still controversial. As you said, we still don't know what laid waste to North American megafauna and ended the Clovis culture. The date that I've seen for the impact event is about 10,950 BC (12,900 BP). Most current dates for the end of the YD (Younger Dryas) center on 9,620 BC (11,570 BP). But hey, dates are forever being refined. Thirty years ago, the YD was dated at about 8,050 BC.

The current date for the end of the YD is particularly fascinating. More on that in a moment.

The climate change at the end was just as abrupt as it was at the beginning of the YD. Something like the impact theory is compelling in this regard.

But several other events coincide with the current prevailing date for YD's end. A moderately large volcanic trace in the GISP2 Greenland ice cores (9620.77 BC), an approximately 2-meter drop in sea levels worldwide (right at the end of the YD, 9620 BC), and the sudden tectonic collapse of Plato's legendary Atlantis.

While it is true that the sudden end of the YD and the volcanic traces in Greenland could have been caused by other events, they could also have been caused by a sudden tectonic collapse. And Plato's Atlantis was located in a volcanic region known as the Azores-Gibraltar tectonic plate boundary. The large, submerged Azores plateau could have been the heart of that landmass. But the 2-meter drop in sea levels could only have been caused by an Atlantis-sized body of land collapsing about 1000 meters somewhere in the oceans of Earth. The cause? Tectonic instability (which exists along all tectonic boundaries), but also the reverse glacial rebound from the melting of all that Ice Age white stuff. North America and Europe were all bouncing back from the crushing ice being melted, while in-between, the Azores region was sucked down to compensate.

The killer tsunami of 2004, India Ocean, was nothing compared to what might have happened with the collapse of a Texas-sized island in the middle of the Atlantic. Waves the size of mountains!

Add to this the refugees fleeing that island, both to North America and to Europe. Today, some Native Americans and the Basques share the same rare mtDNA.

A lot was happening at the end of the last Ice Age. And we keep learning more.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Just read your caption about American horses disappearing until the Spaniards reintroduced them.

Eohippus died out 45 million years ago. That's not even close to any of the events mentioned in your article. And I don't think these original American horses were big enough to ride. Well, maybe the kids could've ridden them, if Homo sapiens had been around that long ago, but I don't think we'll be finding any human bones quite that old.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for the interesting details, Lone77Star. I didn't intend to give the impression "Clovis" were the very first people here in the New World. Yes, I know the Clovis culture was named after a projectile point found near the New Mexico town of the same name. Just the same as the Folsom points.

Yes, we are finding out new dates and times for early man in the Americas. The Topper site on the Savannah river in South Carolina has caused much controversy among those who cannot fathom man being here over 20,000 years, much less over 40,000.

Your interest and comments concerning the Atlantis myth is very intriguing. There may be something to the ancient tales of the sunken continent.

Have you ever heard of the Carolina Bays we have down here? Check out the satellite photos on the linked hub below if you like impact theories.

http://hubpages.com/hub/Georgias-Mysterious-Caroli...

Thanks for your time!

Randy


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Lonestar--No, you are wrong about the horses. I have personally found fossil horse and camel teeth while snorkeling in the Flint river near here.

The horse, as we now know the species, developed here and migrated to Europe just as early man migrated here. Those left here became extinct along with other mega-fauna during the Late Pleistocene.

Why would animals and humans only travel one way across the exposed land bridge? What would have kept horses from crossing the strait to Siberia?


Guest 4 years ago

Well, since we're all on board these days with evolution, it seems unlikely Clovis fell extinct(considering all the evidence that these were intelligent and resourceful critters) but those few that were lucky and smart enough to have survived the living hell that took out the megafauna, probably became part of the ancestral gene pool American Indians (as with the Maya, then Aztec I suppose)

Scientists tend to focus too close at the nail and forget about the hammer. I suspect The Yellowstone calderon or other great volcanism can probably explain the micro-diamonds and carbon at the Younger Dryas (and subsequent 1000 yr climate change), but It seems the creation of the great lakes (or shall I say "filling") climaxed at around that time as well as the grand canyon not to mention lake missoula.

Like it wasn't bad enough trying to survive on glaciers 3km thick! -and no damn horses to get around on, darn!

Extinction from hunting? ...Most likely what happened to the Neandertals.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Guest--The "what ifs" and "perhaps" is what makes this event so interesting and mysterious to us now. Yes, there may have been some survivors after the Clovis culture seemed to disappear from the scene. They really had to be tough sorts, at any rate.

Thanks for your insightful comments!

Randy


eppie 2 years ago

I was just wondering Randy, would you consider this to be the new location for the poisonous ones? It is deep in your hub listings. I think its ideal.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I'll create a new hub for our group, eppie. I know the other hub is getting full and loads slow by now. Give me till after Christmas to finish the one I've already started working on. :)


eppei 2 years ago

Thanks Randy, Merry Christmas. Great hub by the way.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Merry Christmas to you too, eppie! I hope you get your thyroid problems under control. :)


Blackspaniel1 profile image

Blackspaniel1 18 months ago

I favor the cosmic event, but it a remain a mystery for years to com.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 18 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

I do too, Blackspaniel. Yes, it still remains a mystery until we get more info about the event. Thanks for the comment! :)

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