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The Americas

Early Cultures


Post Pattern Culture (Palaeo-Indian Era)
c.11,200 - 7000 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 Post Pattern culture occurred as part of the over-arching Palaeo-Indian era in North America. Located in north-western California, it forms part of the Western Pluvial Lakes tradition. It appeared at approximately the same time as the Western Fluted Point tradition to its south and the Western Stemmed tradition which stretched all the way down the coastline into South America and as far as Argentina.

In fact these three traditions or cultures all have very similar start dates based on the current understanding of archaeological finds (albeit that this understanding is constantly being refined and may well creep back farther in time). The Post Pattern outlasted both of them though, and by about two thousand years. It even outlasted the subsequent Great Plains-dominant Folsom by a thousand years.

Excavation sites are located around Clear Lake in California's Lake County (claimed to be the oldest lake in North America, having been formed around 2.5 million years ago), and Borax Lake around which have been found notable Clovis tool remains. The people of this culture are believed to have entered history as the Yukian-speakers of western California (a now-extinct language since the late twentieth century AD). The name itself is for its discoverer in 1938, Chester C Post.

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).)

c.10,900 BC

While Clovis populations undergo a collapse at the time of a proposed ice age blast known as the Younger Dryas, the Western Fluted Point and Western Stemmed traditions survive alongside the Post Pattern culture.

Temperatures in parts of the northern hemisphere plunge to as much as eight degrees Celsius colder than they are today. This cold snap lasts 'only' about twelve hundred years before, just as abruptly, Earth begins to warm again. But many of the giant mammals are dying out and the Clovis people have apparently vanished.

The cause of this sudden cold spell is a mystery. Most researchers suspect that a large pulse of freshwater from a melting ice sheet and glacial lakes flood into the ocean, briefly interfering with Earth's heat-transporting ocean currents.

North American large mammals
The Younger Dryas cold spell hit North America hard, just when things were starting to warm up at the end of the ice age - not only did many of the large mammals die out but so did the Clovis culture (click or tap on image to view full sized)

FeatureA more radical and controversial theory states that a comet - or perhaps its remnants - hits or explodes over the Laurentide ice sheet which covers much of North America (see feature link).

7000 BC

The Post Pattern culture has outlasted its contemporaries and even the late-arriving Folsom tradition. Now it fades a millennium after the Palaeo-Indian period has already terminated.

Now North America is dominated by Archaic Period cultures, traditions, or complexes such as the already-defunct Dalton, and the still-extant Plano, Cody, and Eastern Woodland.

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