About 17,500 years ago, there was dramatically abrupt warming that brought the Ice Age to a close. So, beginning about 16,000 years ago, the indigenous people inhabiting the Chukchi Peninsula and the shores of the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea region of the Arctic Ocean migrated from Asia to North America during a Beringian maritime exodus. This was done by paddling canoes over the kelp forests of the Pacific, which contained all of the plants and animals that they needed in order to survive, so the entire journey was always at sea level, in essentially the same coastal environment. These boats started out as crude dugouts but eventually became much more refined and streamlined vehicles, like those pictured below. In this way, the ancient explorers were able to systematically settle the entire New World rapidly trailblazing from the Bearing Land Bridge all the way to Patagonia, using the riverways. Within a hundred generations, the Native Americans had completely colonized everything from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. However, rather than dividing up nationally, they established regional types, such as the peoples of the Arctic, the peoples of the Tundra, the peoples of the Great Lakes, the peoples of the Great Plains, the peoples of the Plateau, and so on and so forth, as one moves further south. As part of this, many people moved inland to stop hunting seals and to start hunting mammoths instead. So, from 15,000 to 13,500 years ago, the megafauna were all nearly hunted to extinction, with bone-tipped spears. Then, by 13,500 years ago, rock-tipped spears had replaced them, ushering in the American Stone Age. Along with this, land-based immigration and emigration also began around 12, 600 years ago, when an open corridor through the ice-covered North American Arctic allowed Stone Age people to walk to the New World from the Old World and vice versa.
At the end of the last Ice Age, what is now Canada, America, and Mexico was all Clovis country to the people of the First Nations. In line with this, the archaic wave of land migrations occurred during the Younger Dryas, which was a period of rapid cooling in the late Pleistocene from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago. So, prehistoric people spread far and wide, and by the end of this period, there were populations of hunter-gatherers from coast to coast and all the way down into South America. What happened was the nomadic Chukchi gradually evolved into the Inuit and the Navajo and so on and so forth as time went on, giving rise to one tribe after another after another. So, by 10,000 years ago, buffalo beef jerky had become a staple part of the barter system in the Great Plains of ancient America, which was part of a trade network with the Plateau and Great Lakes people, linking the extensive intercontinental economy of the entire New World. In line with this, indigenous people continued to use the “atlatl” well into the Common Era. This was a spear-throwing stick that allowed Native Americans to achieve the greatest accuracy at the longest distances possible in their day and age. In Central America, the Aztecs even used the atlatl to fish with. In fact, the word is an Aztec term meaning “water thrower”, but they were also used to hunt prey on land. This technology was central to the Clovis culture of the earliest Stone Age Paleo-Indians and it continued to be used for millennia as people spanned the New World. Their flint-tipped bamboo spears could be hurled toward something at a top speed of around a hundred miles an hour. So, the atlatl was an absolutely lethal Stone Age tool that was critical to their overall survival.
As I said before, there was a shift from Bone Age to Stone Age spearheads around 14,000 years ago. This gave rise to what is known in academia as Clovis points, which are incredibly sharp fluted bi-beveled flint blades. As shown in the images above, these were used in conjunction with the aforementioned spear-throwing atlatl crooks. As one would expect, since it takes a great deal of force to hurl one of these spears, the hunters all had very muscular right arms and left legs. They would all fling the projectile weapon with their right arms and then land on their left legs, thus producing a normalized asymmetrical male physique that became sought after. Think about it, they had already wiped out the megafauna with the technology that they arrived with from Asia, but they still kept innovating to create the oldest invention in America. Even though the Stone Age began much, much earlier in Europe, it happened a lot later in North America. Nonetheless, it was just as important in that time and place for those indigenous people, like any other. Technological revolutions are always major game-changers for anyone involved. The thing is that this was long before the days of Indians on horseback with bows and arrows. In many ways, life was just beginning for them, so society was kind of rebuilt from scratch in the New World at the end of the Ice Age, and spear-throwing technology served them well for millennia. Native Americans also began forming new languages and naming their children things like “Chasing Bear”, an Apache woman that I know. The point is that the New World was so much different from the Old World, but yet so similar at the same time. For instance, people still gathered around fires to tell stories just like they have for hundreds of thousands of years.
The problem was that the New World was still very much a dangerous and foreboding place 15,000 years ago. So, when people first arrived in the heart of North America they had to live among a whole host of wild animals. To make matters worse, many of these creatures were massive beasts. There used to be dire wolves, saber-toothed tigers, and woolly mammoths here. Plus giant beavers, giant bears, and giant sloths. Still, the Native Americans were determined to get themselves established, so they gradually killed off all the competition in the area. The largest most intimidating of these animals were made out to be monsters and subsequently treated as such. However, the Paleo-Indians were not intentionally trying to dominate nature, they just wanted their children to be safe, but things got out of hand and the megafauna was all driven to extinction. Nonetheless, these were very spiritual people. Of course, 13,500 years ago the Clovis culture was still based on animistic shamanism. By that time, people had already colonized the Yucatan Peninsula and the forest-dwelling clans would bury the remains of the most important people in special caves that were deemed to be sacred sites. When one woman in her twenties died her remains were taken 40 miles away and interred in a cave half a mile away from the nearest entrance, at a time when sea levels were hundreds of feet lower than they are now. All the rest of the water was still locked up as ice at the poles. Regardless, back then, shamans would venture all the way to the center of the cave to consume psychotropics and commune with the spirit world. These members of society were just as important as the chief, who was often a medicine man himself.
In the end, though, antiquity began to give way to modernity and the widespread Clovis culture was replaced by several more localized regional societies from the Younger Dryas onward. Post-Clovis cultures include the Fulsom tradition, Plainview-Goshen, Gainey, Suwannee-Simpson, Cumberland, and Redstone. Each of these derived directly from the Clovis culture, in some cases differing only in the length of the fluting on their projectile points. Still, the Clovis people are the direct ancestors of roughly eighty percent of all living Native American populations in North and South America, with the remainder descended from ancestors who entered in later waves of migration. So, a decline in the availability of megafauna, combined with an overall increase in a more sedentary human population, led to local differentiation of lithic processes and products across the Americas. After this time, Clovis-style fluted points were replaced by other fluted-point traditions with an essentially uninterrupted sequence across North and Central America. An effectively continuous cultural adaptation proceeds from the Clovis period through the ensuing Middle and Late Paleo-Indian periods. Along with this, ultimately, a millennium and a half long “cold shock” affected many parts of the world, including North America. This was triggered by a vast amount of meltwater, from Lake Agassiz, which emptied into the North Atlantic, thus disrupting the thermohaline circulation and disturbing the local food chains. So, the end of the Ice Age and the beginning of the Stone Age in the Americas was a time of great upheaval that broke apart society itself. As the millennia came and went so too did the major cities like Caral around 5,000 years ago, Teotihuacan around 2,000 years ago, and Cahokia around 1,000 years ago. During the time of the last of those great cities that I mentioned the Scandinavians and Polynesians came to North and South America, respectively. Then, around 500 years ago, the Spaniards arrived to convert everyone in the New World. At that point, everything completely changed for the worse. Finally, the British invaded and the rest is history.