12,000 BC - 8,000BC

SYNOPSIS: The Paleo Period is the oldest of American time periods and lasted from around 12,000 BC to 8,000 BC. While the pre-history of other continents, such as Europe, Asia, and Africa date back many millennia further, American history begins with Paleo man. Paleo man walked in upright form. They followed and hunted herds of animals, many species of which are which are now extinct. These species included larger mammals known as "Mega-Fauna" which included the mastodons, bison antiquus, and ground sloth. Small nomadic bands of Paleo people in groups of ten to twenty, subsisting mainly on a diet of meat, were known to hunt these large and dangerous animals, as well as many smaller game animals. These animals provided the basic necessities of life - that being food and hides to use for clothing and coverings.


"Tusker," the 12,000 year old Woolly Mammoth greets visitors as they enter the museum. 

Wooly Mammoth - "Tusker"

This large skeleton is from an extinct species of elephant called mammoth. Mammoths, or mastodons, had shaggy coats of hair and are ancestors of our modern elephants. Traveling slowly, herds of mastodon were followed and hunted by early man as a very important food source. These large elephants disappeared in late paleo times, around 10,000 years ago.

Mammoth Hunting

In the Paleo Period, man hunted primarily large game like the mastodon, mammoth, and large versions of bison, known as antiquus, and Occidentalis. These large animals are sometimes called "Mega-Fauna." You often see depictions of the hunters running up to these large mammals with a thrusting spear, trying to dispatch it. This is a scenario that was likely rare and more the exception than the rule. Early hunters made use of natural traps, or situations to help acquire food. Places that had sandy river bottoms, like the Arkansas River, or marshes were a natural trap for large lumbering animals. These large animals could not maneuver well in the soft, unsteady terrain and often became mired down, which made them easier to dispatch of. Another tactic used on herd animals, such as the Bison Antiquus, was for a group of men to chase the animals over a steep drop off. The hunting party would then descend to the animal and butcher them on location.


The Americas are sometimes referred to as the “New World”. The Clovis and other fluted points are considered New World inventions due to the fluted technology that occurs only in the Americas. When you look at the Clovis point, you will notice a groove, or flute channel, running down the middle. This channel makes it easier to attach it to a spear or knife. Clovis fluted projectile points are one of the hardest point types to make with any degree of success, and were often broken during the manufacturing process. Artifacts have been discovered at sites in Monte Verde, Chile, that have dates which Archaeologists believe could be even older than the Clovis, exceeding 13,000-14,000 years.

Various fluted Clovis points from all over the United States.

Agate Basin, ca. 8500 BC - 8000 BC, from Wyoming. 

Paleo Tools and Knives

Once an animal was brought down by hunters, there was still work to be done. The animal, being too large to carry back to camp, had to be butchered on site. Then, the meat was transported, and the hide prepared for future use as clothing or blankets. For this task, Paleo man used knives flaked from flint. These knives may differ largely in appearance from our modern day utensils, but the design and purpose were essentially the same. Often held in hand, without the use of a handle, and made from bone, antler, or wood, the knives would have a sharp cutting edge along at least one side. This was created by the removal of small flakes along the blade's edge. Through heavy use cutting hide, meat, and bone, these knives would become dull. Another row of flakes would then be removed along the edges to re-sharpen it. The overall size of a knife would eventually become greatly reduced by multiple re-sharpenings, rendering the knife unusable. It would then be discarded. Paleo man would then fashion a new knife from whatever flint type material was available nearby.