World History

Back to North America: Clovis Culture


The Clovis Culture

How Early Cultures Fit Together

Back to North America: Clovis Culture

After the Pre-Clovis culture disappeared from North America, the Clovis people showed up. They, too, are thought to have originated in Siberia. (What was it about Siberia? And where did Siberian people come from?)

Instead of wandering through Europe, the Clovis people traveled through Mongolia to Alaska, possibly over a land bridge between Alaska and Asia.

Their presence is noted in fifteen hundred locations across the United States (except Florida) and also down into Central, then South America. They, too, disappeared.

Like the Soluteans, the Clovis people are known for a unique weapon “point.” They flint knapped and pressure flaked their points.

But Clovis points, made from flint, jasper, chert, and obsidian, have a concave base with a groove on each side extending one-third of its length. This is called “fluting,” and it allowed the point to be fastened onto the arrow or spear shaft rather than just being tied onto it.

Because these points have not been found in Siberia or Mongolia, it is thought the points were developed in North America. Maybe they found Pre-Clovis points and they inspired the Clovis people?

Clovis tools also included end scrapers (tools with the scraper on the end) for processing hides, gravers and burins for engraving, spokeshaves for woodworking, and “wrenches” for straightening shafts.

The disappearance of the Clovis people coincided with a return of cold weather that destroyed the plant food of both animals and people.

During this time, a number of animals became extinct: giant bison, mastodon, gomphotheres (elephant-like mammals with four enormous tusks: two upper and two lower), giant sloths, tapir, camelops (a camel seven feet tall at the shoulder), horses, and some smaller animals.

Their disappearance was probably a combination of climate change and overhunting.

One grave containing two teenagers was found with grave goods. Powdered red ochre was found on the remains.

So, what happened to the Clovis people? Did they starve?

How Early Cultures Fit Together

Traditional DatingCulture

40,000 BCarcheological site lowest level at Kostenski, Central Russia

23,000 BCSolutrean culture established in Europe

19,000 BCZarzian culture appears in the Caucasus and Zagros regions

18,000 BCSolutreans arrive in North America? Pre-Clovis culture

14,500 BCSolutreans disappear

13,000 BCEnd of the last Ice Age

11,300 BCClovis culture appears in North America

11,000 BCSwiderian culture appears in Central Europe

10,500Swiderian culture enters eastern Anatolia?

10,500Zarzian culture vanishes

I’ll bet you have guessed which culture we will look at next time!

Suggested Reading:

Collins, Andrew. Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, Bear & Co., Rocherster, Vermont, 2014, p.372-375, “Appendix: Useful Dates” from which the table above is drawn.

Photo credit: Brian_Brockman at

World History

Zarzians: Full of Surprises!


Wandering Life

Hallan Ϛemi Settlement


Zarzians Vanish

Zarzians: Full of Surprises!

Wandering Life

Signs of this culture are first seen along the Don River south of Moscow and flowing into the Bay of Azov. This empties into the Black Sea.

We also find them in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and south into the Armenian Highlands, then farther south to the Zagros Mountains of northern Iraq and northwestern Iran.

The Armenian Highlands gave them control of multiple sources of obsidian: a rock highly desired for tools and weapon points.

In general, though, they kept moving. They were early Middle Eastern users of the bow and arrow. They hunted red deer, onager (wild ass), wild cattle, wild sheep, and wild goats.

Zarzians domesticated dogs early in their culture. Quite possibly the dogs were protectors and hunters.

Hallan Ϛemi Settlement

The clock was ticking.

A dam was being built to regulate the Batman River in eastern Turkey. When finished, an entire area north of the near-joining of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers would form a lake.

Archaeologists had little time to discover and recover any sites of interest. One site they saved was Hallan Ϛemi. (That’s pronounced H + the name Alan, Semi as in semicolon.)

Hallan Ϛemi is the oldest permanently settled village in the area, possibly in the world. And it was built by Zarzians.

They lived there for a long time. There are three building phases. In the center is a natural three foot diameter pit used for garbage and possibly ceremonial purposes. Huts were built around this pit.

The huts had stone foundations, which were below ground. The walls were of wattle and daub construction (wooden rods woven with twigs and plastered with clay). The roof was woven branches. The nearby forest was one reason why this location was chosen.

Earlier huts were made with sandstone block foundations six feet in diameter. Each hut was surrounded by a plastered wall creating a space about three feet wide for domestic activities. Because the huts were so small, they were probably used only for sleeping.

Later structures were constructed with stone from the nearby river. Had skills been lost?

Besides huts, there were two larger buildings, each eighteen feet in diameter, with stone benches and plastered hearths. The presence of exotic materials and a skull of wild cattle that had hung on the wall indicate that these structures had community ceremonial use.


A true village, the quantity and quality of work indicates separation of labor.

  1. Engineering and building trades (supervisors and workers) for constructing the site.
  2. Gatherers of bitter vetch, wild lentils, seeds, almonds, and pistachios.
    1. Surprise! No cereal grains were harvested. This was a blow to the theory that settlement was invented by farmers.
  3. Gatherers of turtles and clams from the nearby river.
    1. Surprise! It is the year-round gathering of clams, as noted by shell growth rings, which proves that people stayed all year: a permanent village.
  4. Hunters of wild sheep, wild goat, wild cattle, onager, and red deer.
  5. Trainers to teach dogs to protect the village and help the hunters.
  6. Pig farmers who caught wild pigs outside the village or ones nosing the garbage pit and domesticated them.
    1. Surprise! The second domesticated animal was the pig, not a sheep or goat.
  7. Stone carvers to create elaborate bowls and pestles decorated most often with vipers (Here’s the serpent again!), and also mundane tools and weapons points.
    1. Surprise! No one expected elaborate stoneware.
  8. Miners who went to the highlands to extract obsidian.
  9. Traders of obsidian and crafted weapon points and tools.
  10. Care-givers/teachers of babies and small children.
  11. Possibly spiritual/religious/celebration leaders.
    1. Surprise! The purpose of the settlement was trade between the Zarzians and the wandering people to the south.

This is the first time we see a true culture!

Zarzians Vanish

Zarzians are around longer than most cultures, but then vanish!

Suggested Readings:

Collin, Andrew. Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, Bear & Co. Rochester, Vermont, 2014, p.197-201.

Photo Credit: Photo by Forest Simon on Unsplash

World History

Lascaux Cave

cave painting - aurochs bulls

Treasure Discovered!

The Art

Touring the Cave

Horse: a Closer Look

Lascaux Cave

Treasure Discovered!

It’s September 12, 1940. You are fourteen year old Rascal Ravidat. You and your dog Robot are walking and romping in the crisp autumn air.

Robot runs toward an uprooted tree. He noses the ground. With a yelp, he disappears!

“Robot!” you shout while dashing after him. You can hear Robot whining and barking.

You rush to the spot. There’s the hole! And somewhere down there in the darkness is Robot. His bark sounds far away. There’s no way you can reach him.

“Robot, I have to get help. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Dashing back to your house, you locate three older friends and explain the situation. Everyone urgently packs for underground exploration, adding shovels to enlarge the hole.

When you and your friends return to Robot, he barks ecstatically. You shine a powerful flashlight down the hole. Robot is about fifty feet down!

“We’re coming for you, Robot!”

Shovels dig into the edges around the hole, throwing dirt in all directions.  

The most experienced spelunker inspects the shaft. “It’s an easy climb back up. Maybe it’s the secret tunnel to Lascaux Manor. The tree grew over the hole and hid the entrance. That’s why it’s never been found.”

“The tunnel that leads to another tunnel, then treasure?” you ask excitedly.

He nods. “I’ll go down first.” He lowers himself a few feet then scrambles back up. “Yes, easy.” He disappears down the shaft.

Silence. More silence. Agonizing silence.

“Are you all right down there?” you shout.

“You fellows have to see this!”

You wriggle into the shaft, your heart pounding. Down you go into the darkness. At the bottom you squirm around and out of the shaft.

Robot is wriggling his whole self, jumping up on you and licking you. You kneel and hug him fiercely. “You’re okay, Robot. We’re here to get you out.”

You look toward your friend. His flashlight reveals the drawing of a horse on a cave wall. At the edges of the light, parts of other animals fade into the darkness.

“Whoa!” you say, switching on your flashlight. The walls are covered with a variety of animals.

After your other friends arrive, your group explores the cave. There is room after room of drawings! Walls and ceilings are covered with six thousand figures representing animals, humans, and geometric art.

After resurfacing with Robot, you and your friends rush to the authorities.

The curator of the Prehistory Museum, a sketcher, and two other men return to the shaft site with you and your friends. You lead the first guided tour of Lascaux Cave.

The authorities, stunned by the art work, declare that this is the oldest art found yet. Its value is infinitely more than the treasure chest you were seeking.

The Art

Lascaux Cave, made of limestone, is located near Montignac, France.  The art work is traditionally dated at 15,000 B.C.

Damage was extensive during the fifteen years the public was allowed access. The cave was closed and the art work restored. A series of replicas were made for the public so they could still experience the art and, in some cases, the feel of entering the cave.

The art is not the same throughout. In some places, the rock is softer than others allowing etching instead of painting. Unfortunately, the etchings have not survived well.

Most areas have been brush painted with the common colors of red, yellow, and black. Ochre and hematite were used. So was goethite, which is reddish-brown or yellowish-brown. Manganese-containing pigments delivered silver-gray results. Charcoal may have been used, but if it was, it was used sparingly.

The art on some walls may have been painted with pigment suspended in animal fat or calcium-rich cave groundwater or clay. This suspension was applied by swabbing or blotting it on the wall instead of using a brush. We haven’t seen these techniques before!

The source of the pigments has been traced to a site two hundred miles away! Surely, this is not graffiti. The art had great importance to those who drew it and those who saw it.

Touring the Cave

Let’s take a tour.

We are in the Hall of Bulls (actually they are aurochs bulls). Some figures are immense: up to sixteen and a half feet long! Does their size indicate importance? Or is it actual life size? That’s something we have not seen before.

Two rows of aurochs face each other. On the north side of the wall, two aurochs are accompanied by ten horses and a large unidentified animal with two straight lines on its forehead, affectionately called “the unicorn.”

On the south side, three large aurochs are next to three smaller ones painted red. They are accompanied by six small deer and the only bear in the cave. For some reason, the bear is drawn on the belly of an aurochs.

One of the bulls is seventeen feet long, the largest cave art yet discovered! Also, the bulls seem to be in motion. (Why only the bulls?)

Now we enter the Axial Diverticulum. Here, the bulls, horses, deer, and an ibex cover the walls. One running horse was brushed with manganese pencil. On the ceiling, animals seem to roll from one wall to the other. Among the figures are many geometric shapes: sticks, dots, and rectangles.

The Passage is too damaged to examine.

The Nave has four groups of figures accompanied by geometric shapes. The groups are the Empreinte (Footprint) panel, the Black Cow panel, the Swimming Deer panel, and the Crossed Buffalo panel.

The hind legs of the Crossed Buffalo (actually a Bison) are crossed, giving the impression that one leg is nearer the viewer than the other. Although primitive, this is the oldest example of the use of perspective!

The Feline Diverticulum seems to be an area of practice or experimentation. Named for a group of felines, engravings of wild animals can be seen in naïve style. A figure of a horse is unique because of its head-on pose.

The Apse contains more than a thousand engravings, some of which are superimposed over paintings. The Apse contains the only reindeer in the cave. This is odd because reindeer is thought to have been the main staple of the people’s diet.

The Well is the site of a mysterious scene. A man with a bird’s head and erect penis seems to lie on the ground. At his side is either a long-legged bird or a bird on a pole. To the man’s right is a buffalo facing the man and transfixed by a spear from its anus through its belly. Intestines hang out. A geometric sign runs from the spear point to the bird. To the left of the man, a rhinoceros moves away.

Horse: a Closer Look

Let’s look closely at the horse painting above.

The first thing that strikes us are the proportions of the horse. Compared to today’s horse, which is the result of thousands of years of breeding, this horse has short legs and a bulky torso.

The yellow coloring gives rounding to the hip and rib cage. Black highlights the mane, face, and legs. There is attention to detail even to the feathering over the fetlocks!

Perspective is artfully shown between near and far legs.

What I find amazing is the artistry of movement. The legs show activity, probably a trot. The tail does not hang downward as in a walk, but neither is it streaming behind as it would be in a gallop.

The characteristics of the rock is used for the path. A path always indicates travel. It inclines upward and seems to turn away from us.  This change of view is emphasized by the shorter front legs and the tiny head.

Movement is represented in art by diagonal lines. This technique is used copiously by this artist. The longest diagonal reaches from the horse’s poll to the end of the tail. All legs and the neck are diagonal, as is the mane. The horse is moving through a field of grain, perhaps wheat, represented by individual stalks, all of which are bent diagonally.

I am awestruck at the quality of this art!

Suggested Reading:

Photo credit: found on Adobe