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Evolution of Projectile Points

Toward the end of the Ice Age, early Americans were producing hunting technologies that enabled them to kill mammoths and other large Ice Age mammals. Hunting tools were made of bone, ivory, stone and antler, and used the wood, hide, and fiber of a variety of plants and animals. One of the most commonly used hunting tools was the spear point.   

Clovis, Folsom and Plano Points

Spear points were made of stone and appeared in a variety of sizes, for use in hunting small and large mammals. Smaller spear points could be used as darts, while larger points could be used on spear shafts. The earliest known spear points were known as Clovis points. Clovis points appeared around 12,000-13,000 years ago and were in use while Ice Age mammals roamed North America. 

Clovis points were followed by Folsom and Plano points around 10,000 and 9,000 years ago, respectively. These names come from the places where each point was originally found, and they refer to both the projectile point and the associated cultural period.
Clovis points are generally larger than Folsom points. Both Clovis and Folsom points have a unique “fluted” style, which was exclusive to the Americas. The fluted style can be recognized by an arching groove, cut horizontally at the base of the point. The grooving on fluted points may have been a symbolic or stylistic technique, or could have allowed easier mounting on a spear. Fluting also allowed easier penetration of the animal’s hide.

Clovis Points used for Megafauna

Using simple chipped stone tools, these Clovis point were used for megafauna such as the Mammoth.
butchering the bison kill

Using simple chipped stone tools, these hunters begin the bloody process of cutting the dead animals into smaller pieces for skinning and butchering. Illustration by Charles Shaw, courtesy of University of Texas, Austin.

Clovis and Folsom Points
Clovis (top) and Folsom (bottom) 
Points, have a unique fluted style,
an arching groove cut at 
the base
of the point.

Why did projectile points change?   

As the Ice Age mammals disappeared, early Americans began relying on small mammals and other food sources. Many scientists believe this created a need for new hunting technology and “non-fluted” points became the dominant projectile point style after 10,000 years ago and through the Early Archaic Period. 

Plano points are the earliest non-fluted points. The smaller, more notched design of the Plano point provided an efficient way to hunt smaller mammals. Plano points are also referred to as Hell Gap, Midland, Eden, Scottsbluff, and Agate Basin in the Plains, and Windust, Haskett, Lake Mojave, and Parmann in the southern Plateau and Great Basin. 

Some scientists propose that the change in projectile points could represent different waves of human migrations, instead of, or in addition to the need to hunt smaller creatures. 

Check out the explanation of projectile point parts and shapes.

More Links

Summary of Early Idaho Archaeologic Sites

Cultural Chronology of the Lower Salmon River (pdf), DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Measuring Late Quaternary Geoecological Relationships In The Lower Salmon River Canyon, Idaho, DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Geoarchaeological Perspectives and Archaeological Interpretations of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Cultural Behavior in the Lower Salmon River Canyon, Idaho, DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Central place foraging and the winter village: a settlement pattern analysis in the Lower Salmon River Canyon in Idaho, CARLISLE, Kendra, (pdf thesis) Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

More research by Loren G. Davis

Our Cultural Heritage (967kb. pdf) A Fragile Record of the Last 12,000 Years along the Lower Salmon River