Published online 21 October 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.1034

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Prehistoric Clovis culture roamed southwards

Stone tools and bones of an ancient tusker found at extensive Mexican site.

gomphothereThe gomphothere was likely hunted by the Clovis people.Michael Long/NHMPL

Scientists have discovered a site containing the most extensive evidence seen so far in Mexico for the Clovis culture. The find extends the range of America's oldest identifiable culture, which roamed North America about 13,000 years ago.

The bed of artefacts in the state of Sonora in northwest Mexico also includes the bones of an extinct cousin of the mastodon called a gomphothere. The beast was probably hunted and killed by the Clovis people, known for their distinctive spear points, who mysteriously disappeared within about 500 years of leaving their first archeological traces.

Intact Clovis camp sites and extensive evidence of hunting has been found across the United States, with the highest concentration of sites just north of the Mexican border, in the San Pedro River basin of southeastern Arizona. But relatively little is known about their activities in what is now Mexico, despite about 25 discoveries of Clovis tools and other artefacts being made in the region during the past decade.

A team led by Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona in Tucson, in collaboration with Guadalupe Sanchez-Miranda of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, uncovered the new Clovis site at El Fin Del Mundo — which translates to 'the end of the Earth' — roughly 100 kilometres northwest of Hermosillo, on isolated ranch land.

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Team member Susan Mentzer of the University of Arizona presented the findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America this week in Portland, Oregon. Radiocarbon dating and other analyses of buried artefacts and bones suggested that they were left there nearly 13,000 years ago, and that the site was once close to a stream.

The gomphothere was a juvenile, Mentzer said, and was a kind that had two rather than four tusks. Chips of rock were discovered in the bone bed, and the site included a variety of tools, including scrapers and blades. More dating and analysis is under way on specimens from the location. 

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