The First Americans

By: E. B. H.

Originally Published in 1936

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JOINT work of the University Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Carnegie Institution was continued in New Mexico during the past summer. The work was of two kinds: exploration of caves in the Guadalupe Mountains and a continuation of the excavations at the gravel pit between Portales and Clovis, New Mexico.

The group that explored the cave country was composed of R. M. Burnet, of Carlsbad, New Mexico, C. T. R. Bohannan, of Washington, D. C., and Thurman MacRea, of Houston, Texas. Some two hundred caves and shelters were explored and charted on this survey. The object was to find caves containing deep dirt and debris, similar to Burnet cave, which, several years earlier, had yielded so many interesting specimens of human and animal remains. Unfortunately most of the caves were rather shallow, and as a result the only evidence brought forth was similar to that already recorded by our previous reports, namely objects commonly left in caves by people of the Basket Maker-Pueblo cultures, though in some of these caves no pottery was found.

A spear found in the skeleton of a mammoth
Plate IX — Bone Spear point found in the gap between the leg bones of a mammoth.
Image Number: 141403

The second group, composed of Jack Cotter, graduate student of the University of Pennsylvania, Lincoln Godfrey, Jr., student at Harvard University, Alexander Brock, student at Williams College, Malcolm Bull, student at West Texas State Teachers College, Canyon, Texas, and myself, returned to the gravel pit and the basin deposits, near Clovis, New Mexico, where work had been carried on Jointly for several years past by the Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Carnegie Institution.

Our first day at the gravel pit yielded interesting results and determined the work that kept us there all summer. In making an examination of this pit, where I had not been since the summer of 1934, it was obvious that much weathering had taken place since then. The vertical sides in some places had caved off, and the fill on the east side was several feet deep. Rills and small trenches, a few inches deep, had formed in the dumps around the sides of the pit, where the bone-bearing blue sands had been piled by the road company while seeking gravel three years before. One of these little trenches had cut down enough into the hard bluish sands to expose the tip end of a large vetebra. A few minutes work revealed the fact that this was a large mammal, and since we had found other elephant remains on previous occasions, we were quite certain that we had encountered another mammoth.

A mammoth vertebra in the ground
Plate IX — Vertebra of Mammoth with fragment of a Folsom type stone point in situ.
Image Number: 141403

After much digging we discovered that there were two elephants at this site, and to our great delight, we found stone tools in direct association with them. Most of the summer was spent in their removal. The bones being very fragile upon exposure to the air, great care had to be exercised in removing them, and this consumed time and exercised our patience. We were, however, rewarded in discovering not merely one artifact in place, but several, two of which were new to the so-called Folsom complex. These were long bone tools, pointed at one end and bevelled at the other, and presumably used as points in spears.

The stone tools consisted of spearpoints, flake knife, and scrapers, and the types of spearpoints indicated contemporaneity, at least in this place, of what has been described as the Folsom-like or Folsomoid point, the ungrooved leaf-shaped point, and the true Folsom point, several examples of which had been found previously at the gravel pit as well as during the past summer. Most of the finds of tools during the 1936 field work, at this place, were made by Malcolm Bull, to whom we are much indebted for his keen powers of observation.

The elephants represent probably the same species as those discovered previously here, namely Parelephas columbi (Falconer). How long ago these animals died out cannot be determined at this time except as an approximation. Dr. Ernst Antevs, who made two visits to the gravel pit in separate years, places the time of the deposition of the bone-bearing sands at 12000 to 13000 years ago, basing his conclusions on studies of climatic fluctuations in the Southwest as a whole, and upon the geological evidence of the immediate region. We have been estimating the time represented as dating back to about 8000 B.C. which allows a little longer time for the extinction of the elephants. There is no longer much doubt that man lived at the same time as the elephant, at least in that region, and that he was the maker of Folsom points, knives and scrapers. That, so for, is about all that we know of him. By deductions and comparisons with Old World cultures and by the use of a fertile imagination, no doubt, a more complete picture of the North American of that period can be built up, which means that there is still much to be done in actual field work upon this fascinating problem.

E. B. H.

Parts of a mammoth skeleton in the ground

Cite This Article

H., E. B.. "The First Americans." Museum Bulletin VI, no. 5 (November, 1936): 22-25. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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