Kill Sites Sacred Sites

It seems we are reluctant to blame our fellow men for a prehistoric offense against modern conservation ideals and would rather blame climate or the animals themselves. The simplest explanation is to attribute all late Holocene extinction [in New Zealand to] the profound changes brought about by man with fire, rats and dogs.

Charles Fleming, "The Extinction of Moas and Other Animals during the Holocene Period"

Some archaeologists believe that they can dismiss the overkill theory with field evidence. They point out that very few New World archaeological sites have yielded evidence of the killing or butchering of extinct animals, or even intimate associations of the remains of these animals with early artifacts. If early humans killed off the megafauna, should there not be numerous kill or butchering sites, or at least numerous other associations of megafauna remains with contemporaneous human artifacts? Where is the smoking gun—or, in this case, the smoking spear—to indict the alleged murderer of the megafauna?

The best evidence for repeated association of Clovis hunters with extinct large animals involves mammoths. Over 50 years ago Marc Nava-rette and his father, Fred, residents of the town of Naco on the Arizona-Sonora border, discovered a remarkable kill site. Weathering out of the bank of Greenbush Draw on the north side of Naco they found bones of an adult female mammoth with Clovis points in or near the bones. Kill sites typically involve butchering but that was not the case here. The animal appeared to have escaped its assailants. Fresh erosion revealed the carcass in what archaeologist Ken Tankersley (2002) considers "perhaps one of the most mysterious of the Clovis kill sites." The Navarettes very properly left most of the site undisturbed and called the Arizona State Museum.

Led by Arizona's most experienced archaeologist of the time, Professor Emil Haury, a team from the museum excavated the site. Team members found more well-crafted and perfectly preserved Clovis points made of fine-grained rock. Five were in place and three had been removed by the Navarettes, making a total of eight. There was no doubt that the mammoth had been speared by Clovis hunters. But there was no evidence of butchering or processing of the carcass—no other stone tools or flakes, no hearths, and no charcoal (Haury 1953). Apparently the mammoth, possibly the matriarch of subadults that would be found at the Lehner site and Murray Springs, died out of its attackers' reach. Otherwise they might well have butchered it, or at least recovered their spear points. Clo-vis hunters reused points when they could, resharpening them if necessary. Unbroken fresh Clovis points are rarely found around a carcass. Unless in the case of the Naco mammoth they remained hidden in an un-butchered part of the body, it is safe to assume the hunters would have retrieved them had they been able. The early flint knappers recognized the best outcrops of cryptocrystalline (hard, fine-grained rock) they needed for working preforms into blades and blades into points. Ideal rock was widely traded; Knife River flint from North Dakota has turned up in Ohio, 900 miles away (Tankersley 2002).

Lacking organic remains, the Naco mammoth could not be dated by radiocarbon. But within a few years three other Clovis kill sites with mammoths and other extinct animals, and one with bison, were found and excavated in dry wash tributaries of the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona. Immediately to the north of Naco, archaeologists found mammoths associated with Clovis points and other artifacts as well as charcoal. One example is the Lehner site, reported to the Arizona State Museum by Ed Lehner, a longtime resident near Hereford, who saw the Naco site when it was being excavated and realized that he might have something similar on his ranch. There, Professor Haury and his field team found what would eventually prove to be 13 juvenile mammoths with Clovis points, other artifacts, and charcoal (Haury, Sayles, and Wasley 1959). This and other datable sites were estimated to be around 13,000 years old (Taylor, Haynes, and Stuiver 1996), suggesting not only that the undated Naco mammoth was the same age but possibly the matriarch of the animals at the Lehner site. All were Mammuthus columbi.

In general, one or a few Clovis points in or near a mammoth carcass, along with other artifacts, are the most archaeologists can expect to find. The Greenbush Draw mammoth is, to my knowledge, unique in being speared but unbutchered. Field evidence of mammoth butchering or processing is also relatively rare, certainly compared to the abundant evidence of hunting and butchering of extinct taxa of bison in the High Plains by people armed with Folsom points (which are a few hundred years younger than Clovis points and have a longer flute). Bones of butchered or processed mammoths are found at kill sites such as Blackwater Draw, New Mexico; Dent, Colorado; Colby, Wyoming; and Murray Springs and other sites along the San Pedro in Arizona. Their absence from Folsom sites suggests that by 12,500 calendar years ago, mammoths were extinct in the western United States. While lacking even one unbroken Clovis point, the oldest Clovis site, Aubrey, in Denton County, Texas, is rich in workshop evidence and is 13,500 calendar years old (Ferring 2001).

Based on what they knew of other Clovis sites in Cochise County, Vance Haynes and Pete Mehringer discovered a particularly informative site, Murray Springs. To the best of my knowledge, Vance and Pete are the only scientists to discover a Clovis butcher/kill site with extinct animal bones. Almost invariably it is amateurs—cowboys, hunters, farmers, hikers—who make the initial discoveries.

Murray Springs is a superb example of a crucial feature lacking in the search for pre-Clovis archaeology: site replication. It displayed many of the major features of the Lehner site in addition to a few of its own.* Between 1966 and 1971, with National Geographic Society grants, Haynes and his field team uncovered and excavated a partly butchered mammoth and discovered fossil proboscidean tracks and bones of eleven young bison in adjoining kill sites. In addition they found stone knives, scrapers, 16 Clovis points (many broken or reduced in size beyond the point of re-sharpening), and a dire wolf skull, all buried just beneath the Clanton Clay deposit, a "black mat" or stratigraphic marker which blanketed the site like a shroud. Possibly the Clovis hunters guarding their meat cache dispatched the dire wolf, which was attracted by the butchering. The most

*Both the Lehner and Murray Springs sites are held by the Bureau of Land Management San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, with headquarters in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The bureau can provide information on a self-guided nature trail at Murray Springs (for information consult the nearby San Pedro River interpretive center). A master plan exists for a state-of-the-art interpretive center, but it will only be realized if the public comes to appreciate the importance of Arizona's mammoths and their hunters. The proboscidean ghosts of the San Pedro River have a long way to go to catch up with the interest the public has in the ghosts of the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.

Plate 15. Clovis artifacts. Photo by C. Vance Haynes.

remarkable find was a shaft straightener made of mammoth bone with a hole in one end, like a giant needle. Called batons de commandant, these were well known in the Paleolithic of the Old World, but this is the only shaft straightener to have been found with a mammoth at a Clovis site.

Murray Springs yielded a more detailed stratigraphic record than the other Clovis sites. (All are known or thought to be contemporary; see table 7.) Unfortunately, it did not yield a fossil pollen record, which had been of great help in interpreting stratigraphy at the Lehner site. These results intrigued pollen analysts attending the first International Paly-nological Conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1961. While Pete Mehringer was able to extract pollen at the Lehner site, he could not recover a pollen profile of the environment associated with the Murray Springs mammoth. His pollen profiles at the Lehner site indicated somewhat wetter conditions in the time of the mammoth hunters. Some drying out occurred subsequently, with the fossil pollen revealing the invasion within the last 4,000 years of a Chihuahuan Desert shrub, Indian tea (an Ephedra species in the same genus as Mormon tea in the Grand Canyon).

The first Clovis site, rich not only in Clovis points but also Folsom material and younger archaeology, was found near Clovis, New Mexico in the 1930s (Boldurian and Cotter 1999). An apparent frozen meat cache

Plate 16. Shaft straightener made from mammoth bone, found at Clovis site. Photo by C. Vance Haynes.

Plate 16. Shaft straightener made from mammoth bone, found at Clovis site. Photo by C. Vance Haynes.

has been excavated by anthropologist George Frison near Colby, Wyoming (Frison 1998; Frison and Bradley 1999), and a remarkable cache of Clovis blades (much larger than Clovis points and probably their preforms) with mysterious beveled rods of bone embedded in red ochre was discovered in an apple orchard at East Wenatchee, Washington (Mehringer and Foit 1990). The site may be contemporary with an eruption of Glacier Peak in the Cascades; Glacier Peak ash is associated with it. Just possibly, those who left the cache hoped it would propitiate their gods and stop the ashfall. Like hidden treasures, the caches contain materials that were precious to Clovis people, such as red ochre and some of the highest quality tool stone in the Americas, often obtained hundreds

TABLE 7 Clovis Archaeological Sites with Proboscidean Bones and/or Teeth


Taxon and minimum number of individuals

Cultural associations and radiocarbon dates


mammoth, 6

Clovis lithics

Draw (NM)

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