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Prehistoric Oklahoma: The Tale of An Discovery In Burnham, Oklahoma

Updated on September 14, 2017
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Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.

Clovis and Pre-Clovis sites have been found all across the United States. One such site, discovered in Burnham, Oklahoma, provides many clues that help scientists learn more about how these ancient Clovis peoples lived, and how their migrations across the US and into Oklahoma affected later generations. Through careful study, scientists now understand more fully how these ancient peoples lived...

10,000 B.C.: The Dawn of Man in Oklahoma

The lumbering beast thundered across the open plains, waving its massive head back and forth in fear. Thirteen foot long tusks pushed aside gnarled pine trees as if they were flimsy blades of grass. Seven bronze-skinned men raced after the woolly beast brandishing long spears and echoing roaring shrieks. More waited in the distance. The men knew their role as they fanned out in a half moon. The earth shuddered each time the beasts feet hit the ground, but as the men’s' hearts shuddered with fear at each rolling wave; they knew what had to be done.

The beast threw up a great cloud of dirt as it slid to a halt, eyes wide with fear as the tiny men began to circle it. The spears they used were crude, merely lengths of wood tipped with rock, but they were deadly just the same. The beast felt the impact of one spear in its hind leg, then another in its side. The men were roaring, but the beasts own battle cry drowned them out. Towering nearly three times as large as the men, the beast should have easily been able to fend off such a brute attack. Still, those thin shafts of wood did their damage just the same.

Clovis Hunter in Oklahoma
Clovis Hunter in Oklahoma

Pain lanced through the beasts side as another shaft stood quivering inside its flesh. It reared back and swung its head, its massive tusks picking up two of the men and flinging them across the ground. They lie as still as stone, lifeless. Drunk with rage, the beast lumbered forward another two steps, intent on crushing the men beneath its feet. Another shaft hit the beast, this time in the chest, before the men swiftly darted out of the way. They were like wasps, quick to sting, and quicker yet to fly away.

Weary now, the beast knew that time was drawing near. It felt no regret as its lifeblood drained from its body. It was simply part of the great circle of life.

Another step, but the searing pain was no longer bearable. The men seemed to rise up from the ground as the beasts front knees buckled. An eerie silence swept across the land as the men slowly backed away. It's eyes felt heavy, and it's body weak. The men’s roars were silenced as they knelt as one, offering thanks to the great creators for its life. The beast closed its eyes as it toppled over like a landslide, ready to embrace whatever lie on the other side.

The Mammut, a close kin to the Mammoth.  The Clovis Hunter in Oklahoma used these and other Big Game animals to Sustain their Way of Life.
The Mammut, a close kin to the Mammoth. The Clovis Hunter in Oklahoma used these and other Big Game animals to Sustain their Way of Life.

Discovery of Prehistoric Man in Oklahoma

This scene has been played out over a million times since the dawn of history.  It is part of the endless struggle to survive, to thrive against all odds.  Our prehistoric ancestors depended on animals such as the woolly mammoth.  To them, the mammoth was not only a source of food, but also provided them with shelter.  Every part of the ancient beast was used.  Tusks formed the frames for their housing, bones were sculpted into tools or ornaments, even the intestines were put to use for fuel.

Nearly 10,000 years ago a large tribe was centered on what would eventually become modern day Burnham, Oklahoma. 

In 1986, Dr. Don Wyckoff, now with the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, visited the site at the request of the landowner.  The landowner, Mr. Vic Burnham, had uncovered unusual bones while bulldozing a stock pond. 

After studying the unusual bones, Wyckoff concluded that the bones were from a now-extinct bison from the period called the Pleistocene.  The Pleistocene Epoch lasted from 2 million to 12,000 years BC.  During this time, glacial ice covered half of North America, including much of present day Oklahoma.  It was also during this time that a land bridge opened up between Siberia and Alaska, enabling the first humans to migrate into North America.  Arrival of these early humans could have been as far back as 30,000 years ago.

Other prehistoric animals found at the Burnham site include native camel, mammoth, extinct forms of bison and horse, and even alligators.  When these animals died, their bones were preserved in the marshy clays.   Plant remains attest to the presence of pawpaw trees, which in the twentieth century were not found nearer than 150 miles east of the site. Hackberry trees were also present, although the modern ranges of those species do not overlap.

Perhaps more interesting to Wyckoff and other archaeologists was the chert flakes that were found among the bones.  These flakes proved to be evidence from human tool making.

Excavations at the Burnham site continued for five years.  During this time, shells and bone recovered from the site have been dated to around 33,000 years ago.  In addition, more evidence has been found supporting the theory that there was a pre-Clovis culture living in and around the area.  Parts of two chipped-stone tools, a flaked cobble, and numerous flakes were found in association with the bones of the extinct animals, further supporting this theory.

There is still much to be done to prove without a doubt that there was a pre-Clovis culture living in the area, but archeologists all agree that it is almost certain.

Clovis Points: These Points were strapped to the end of a long stick and used to spear large game animals.
Clovis Points: These Points were strapped to the end of a long stick and used to spear large game animals.

The Clovis

The Clovis people were the earliest well-established human culture in the North American continent. They were considered big game hunters, existing mainly by hunting mammoth and other extinct forms of large bodied animals like bison, horse and camel. They hunted using a highly mobile hunting strategy.

These people were direct descendants of the Pre-Clovis peoples, which migrated across the land bridge between Asia and North America. Whether the site in Burnham, Oklahoma is Clovis or Pre-Clovis is hard to tell, but records of both peoples exist in the area.

Clovis archaeological sites are dated 12,500 to 12,900 B.C., and they are found pretty much throughout North America. They are named after the town in New Mexico near where they were first identified.

The end of the Clovis people as a whole came about sometime shortly after 10,000 B.C. It was during this time that the last of the large mammals began to die out. Scholars aren’t certain why the large mammals became extinct, but most agree that it was a large natural disaster combined with a dramatic climate change.

Despite the brevity of the culture (between 300-500 years), Clovis sites are found throughout the United States, northern Mexico and southern Canada. Very few large Clovis sites are known-the largest is the Gault site in Texas.

© 2010 Eric Standridge


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    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      I enjoyed reading this Hub. Thanks very much.

      Love and peace



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