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The Americas

Early Cultures


Folsom Tradition / Lindenmeier Culture (Palaeo-Indian Era)
c.9000 - 8000 BC

The term Palaeo-Indians or Palaeo-Americans is applied to the first peoples who entered and afterwards inhabited the Americas during the concluding glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period. The prefix 'palaeo-' originates in the Greek adjective, palaios, meaning 'old' or 'ancient'. The term 'Palaeo-Indians' relates precisely to the 'stone-tools' period in the western hemisphere and is different from the term 'Palaeolithic'.

The prehistoric Native American Folsom tradition occurred during the over-arching Palaeo-Indian era in North America. It was located across the Great Plains of western North America and in adjacent areas of the west and south-west, in time extending eastwards of the Mississippi into the Great Lakes area and across to New Jersey.

Also known as the Lindenmeier culture, the Folsom is classified as a successor to the Clovis culture. It is named after artefacts which were found in 1927 at Folsom, New Mexico, and which are characterised by their fluted projectile points which are generally rather smaller (and more efficient) than Clovis points.

The earliest well-dated fluted projectile-point forms have generally been Clovis in origin and, for a time in archaeology, virtually all projectile points were labelled as Clovis or Folsom. Clovis points were made for only about six centuries before they disappeared, along with the culture which created them.

As Clovis people had settled into different ecological zones, their culture had already divided into separate groups, each adapting to its own individual environment. A sudden shift in climate around 10,900 BC triggered a thousand-year cold spell which terminated the Clovis, although the contemporary Western Fluted Point and Western Stemmed traditions were able to survive, as was the Post Pattern culture. Replacement cultures, such as the Folsom, only began to appear after the catastrophe.

Most known Folsom sites are kill sites at which bison have been slaughtered and butchered. Some contain the remains of up to fifty beasts. A more substantial site at Hanson, Wyoming, has evidence of three hard-standings which may have been the sites of dwellings. In addition to bison remains, the bones of mountain sheep, deer, marmot, and cotton-tail rabbit illustrate the diversity of species which were exploited by groups within this culture.

Buffalo on the North American plains, by Dave Fitzpatrick

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Languages. Handbook of North American Indians, Ives Goddard (Ed, W C Sturtevant, General Ed, Vol 17, 1996), and from External Links: Origins and spread of fluted-point technology in the Canadian Ice-Free Corridor and eastern Beringia (PNAS), and How the Folsom Point Became an Archaeological Icon (Discover), and What's Not Clovis? An Examination of Fluted Points in the Far West (Taylor & Francis Online), and Spear tips point to path of first Americans (AAAS), and Folsom Tradition (Oxford Reference), and Folsom Traditions (Manitoba Archaeological Society).)

c.9000 BC

Around seven hundred years after the ending of the Younger Dryas cold spell which had terminated the Clovis culture, the ice sheets are gradually retreating. The Western Fluted Point and Western Stemmed traditions which had survived the cold spell are now also fading, while the Post Pattern culture continues.

More land to the north is now becoming available, and for the next millennium the people of the Folsom or Lindenmeier culture likewise expand northwards to exploit the fresh resources.

Wasden Owl Cave site, eastern Idaho
Not all important Folsom sites have beautiful tool collections - some collections are relatively small and not always in great shape even though they are no less significant, such as finds from the Wasden Owl Cave site in eastern Idaho

It is principally grasslands which appear across the north once nature recovers from the Younger Dryas of 10,900-9700 BC. These grasslands replace the spruce forest habitat of the mammoth with territory which is more suitable to large numbers of bison herds.

The Folsom people are able to adapt and modify their tools and techniques to follow the bison and to thrive by hunting them. Historical information which can be interpreted in light of Folsom archaeology sites indicates that Folsom people engage in the careful planning and coordination of their hunting.

They are able to carry out successful communal activities in which large groups work together for their common advantage. After the hunting season has come to an end, it is likely that the groups break up and each clan returns to its preferred wintering location.

Oneida settlement at Green Bay
The Folsom culture gradually spread across the Great Lakes region and even reached as far east as New Jersey

8000 BC

The Folsom culture now fades as the Palaeo-Indian period itself is terminated. The contemporary Post Pattern survives for another millennium.

Now North America is dominated by Archaic Period cultures, traditions, or complexes such as the Plano, Dalton, and Cody, while the Eastern Woodland is half a millennium away from igniting.

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