Humans arrived in the Americas 24,000 years ago. A butchered horse mandible shows human activity in the Yukon circa 22,000 BC. This upends everything we know, and suddenly my camping at Blackwater Draw doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did.
That tribe may have been stranded there for a hundred centuries, blocked by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Maybe they aren’t even the ones who made their way south 14,000 years ago, that could well have been another wave from East Beringia.
And there’s Wrangel Island, the last place mammoths survived. Humans and mammoths mixed in that area for three times the length of recorded history and all we know of them is deduced from bone and stone in occasionally preserved middens.
Those Exceptional Americans learned something by observation that we’ve only just come to understand. These are Clovis Points, graceful, fluted flint spear tips that were the key technology that let the Beringians spread.
Archaeologists have debated for years as to why the Clovis added this flute feature to their points. Basically, it is a thin groove chipped off at the base on both sides, perhaps first made by accident, which logically makes it very thin and brittle. However, after several types of testing, the researchers have reported that this thinning of the base can make it better able to withstand and absorb the shock of colliding with a hard object, such as the bone of a mastodon or bison.
This fluted point turned out to be an invention that allowed these colonizers to travel great distances with some confidence that their weaponry would hold up at least long enough until they could find the next rock quarry to make new points.
Years ago I had a job in Wyoming and the only way to get there was a drive down highway 2 through Nebraska’s sand hills. I met a man climbing Courthouse Rock and he showed me the trick for finding flint tools – wearing sun glasses. When you cut the sun’s glare worked flint shines, it’s easily visible from a dozen steps away. The hand axe, spear point, arrows, and the tiny bowl are the best of his finds from a lifetime of walking the dunes.
The treasures he kept rolled in a soft cloth, and this jar of fragments rode in a cushioned box behind the seat of his truck.
Like so many things in the 10,000+ photos I took in the first decade of this century, these two have sat for twelve years, until I recalled that I had them, halfway into writing this article.
I’ve wanted to go back to the Sand Hills, like Bilbo wanting to see the Lonely Mountain again before he died, to walk among the dunes and the columns at Carhenge. It comforts me to know that there is a place in America where “used windmill dealer” is an actual job description.
Someone collected those windmills, just like the man with the flint tools, but this dated technology was collected for its utility, not its beauty. I wonder how long it will be before our descendants are again making projectile weapons with whatever materials nature leaves close at hand.