Paleo: A Greek word meaning old
Who were the Paleoindians?
Archaeologists believe that 12,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, people migrated from Asia into North America. At this time, much of the water was frozen in glaciers and sea levels were lower than they are today. They crossed the Bering Land Bridge between Russia and Alaska which seems to have been teeming with life.
|Illustration by C. B. Dupree (courtesy of the Alabama Museum of Natural History)|
About Paleoindian Life...
Small, nomadic groups of people, known as Paleoindians, were some of the first humans to live in Alabama as early as 11,000 B.C. They hunted megafauna such as bison, mammoth, and mastadon and smaller game such as deer and rabbit. When an animal was killed, all of its parts were used. The meat was eaten, the hide tanned and used for clothing and shelter, bones were made into awls, pins, fish hooks, and other tools. Nothing was wasted.
Paleoindians were hunters and gatherers. They supplemented their diet by gathering berries, nuts, and plants.
Look at the map of the Paleo sites in Alabama. Most have been found in the northern portion of the state, along the Tennessee River.
Finding Paleoindian sites can be difficult. Paleoindian sites appear to be small and scattered across the Alabama landscape. These Native Americans set up temporary, open-air camps. As hunters and gatherers, they moved frequently searching for food and following migratory animals. This lifestyle limits the amount of material goods that can be carried and also restricts community size.
|Artist's reconstruction by Martin Pate, courtesy of the Southeast Archaeological Center, National Park Service.|
About Paleoindian Artifacts...
Most Paleoindian sites are identified by a presence of projectile points, or arrowheads. Projectile points vary in size and shape and this variation has been used to set up a relative chronology. This means that archaeologists can identify the time period a projectile point was made in relation to cultural stages, in this case the Paleoindian Stage. Some of the projectile point types associated with PaleoIndians include Clovis, Beaver Lake, and Cumberland. These projectile points are relatively large and were some of the most time consuming and difficult to produce.
Paleoindians used other tools in addition to projectile points. Artifacts that have also been found in association with Paleoindian sites include tools for butchering and working hides, such as scrapers and knives. Additionally, drills, gravers, and hammerstones have been found in Paleoindian contexts.
|Illustration reproduced from Handbook of Alabama Archaeology: Part 1 Point Types.|
Scrapers, used for butchering and working hides. Photographed provided courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.
|A drill. Photograph provided courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.|
|Gravers, used to cut into wood and bone. Photograph provided courtesy of the Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama Museums.|
|Illustration of a hammerstone by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil : The Archaeology of Georgia.|
Lithic tools, like the ones pictured above, are often one of the few types of artifacts that survive in the archaeological record in Alabama. If you are interested in finding out more about how some of these tools were used and how they were made
The Quad Site, a Paleoindian Site in Alabama
Discovered by Frank Soday in 1951, the Quad Site has arguably become one of Alabama's most informative sites about Paleoindian culture. Situated on the Tennessee River, the Quad Site is actually a grouping of a number of smaller sites that all share similar characteristics. They seem to represent a group of camps that were concentrated in the same area over an extended period of time, perhaps the people were coming to the same spot when large and predictable food sources were available.
The Quad site is situated in an excellent hunting environment. Located between shoals downstream and bluffs upstream, the lakes and sloughs of this area would have provided Paleoindians with excellent opportunities to ambush animals. Based on the animal bones that have been recovered from the Quad Site archaeologists surmise that this area was inhabited in the late summer to early fall. Hunting would be at its peak during this time of the year with animals migrating into the area.
A large quantity of lithic artifacts has been recovered from this area. Interestingly, there is very little evidence for lithic tool production. Few unfinished tools have been found at these sites and there is a low ratio of debitage to tools, suggesting that the inhabitants of this area were making tools elsewhere and then bringing the finished tools with them.
Of the tools that have been recovered from the Quad Site, most seem to have been used for butchering and working hides; however, there is also evidence that wood working and fiber shredding occurred at the site. These tools suggest that the Paleoindians in this area exploited a wide range of resources in their forest-riverine environment.
So...What does it all mean?
One of the purposes of archaeology is to interpret the stories of people from the past based on the objects they have left behind. Sites like Quad have enabled archaeologists to form a clearer image of Paleoindians in Alabama. The artifacts and features that have been recovered have provided clues as to where Paleoindians lived and how their communities were set up. Paleoindians lived in temporary, open-air campsites.
We know that Paleoindians moved frequently in small bands, probably representing family groups, such as grandparents, parents, children, and perhaps aunts, uncles, and cousins. These family groups may have only consisted of eight to fifteen people. With the large number of sites that are apparent in the vicinity, it seems that this area had been visited over the course of many years, and perhaps by several bands at the same time. This might have been a time when the environment provided enough food sources for groups of bands to come together and share in each other's company, exchange ideas, and perhaps find a mate.
Paleoindians exploited their environment and the resources it provided. The area around the Quad Site, for example, provided excellent opportunities to ambush large prey. Hunters roamed the land searching for large animals, such as mastadons and bison, with large lanceolate projectile points attached to spears.
Anderson, David G. and Kenneth E. Sassman (eds.)
1996 The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Cambron, James W.
1956 The Pine Tree Site: A Paleo-indian Habitation Locality. Tennessee Archaeologist. 12(2):1-10.
1958 Paleo Points from the Pine Tree Site. Tennessee Archaeologist. 14(2):80-84.
Cambron, James W. and David C. Hulse
1960 An Excavation on the Quad Site. Tennessee Archaeologist. 16(1):14-26.
1975 Handbook of Alabama Archaeology: Part 1, Point Types. Alabama Archaeological Society:Huntsville, Alabama.
Faulkner, Charles H.
1989 The Quad Site Revisited. Tennessee Anthropologist. 14(2):97-101.
Hubbert, Charles M.
1989 Paleoindian Settlement in the Middle Tennessee Valley: Ruminations from the Quad Paleoindian Locale. Tennessee Anthropologist. 14(2): 148-164.
Hulse, David C. and Joe L. Wright
1989 The Pine Tree-Quad-Old Slough Complex. Tennessee Anthropologist. 14(2):102-147.
Sody, Frank J.
1954 The Quad Site: A Paleoindian Village in Northern Alabama. Tennessee Archaeologist. 10(1):1-20.
Walthall, John A.
1980 Prehistoric Indians of the Southeast:Archaeology of Alabama and the Middle South. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
| Archaic | Woodland |
Lithics | Rock Art | Pottery | Southeastern Ceremonial Complex