Paleoindian and Archaic Culture

Archaic Sandal

The sandal above was found in the Grand Gulch area. It is made of yucca and grass and is typical of the middle to late Archaic period.


In North America, the Paleoindian period begins during the Ice Age around 13,000 BCE. Paleo means “ancient.” During this time, hunter-gatherer people followed animal herds, which they relied on for food and tools. This period is also famous for humans hunting mega fauna that are now extinct, like mammoths and mastodons. In addition to meat, these nomadic people also ate a variety of wild fruits, nuts, and leaves.

Paleoindian people lived in temporary structures that suited their nomadic lifestyle. Most of these homes were small, circular, and made with poles that leaned into the center. They would have been similar in style to the tipis seen in later times. The poles were then covered in brush, mud, or animal hides. Rocks were sometimes used to support the bottoms of the poles. These structures were simple, but they had to be strong to withstand the harsh weather of the Ice Age.

The artifacts most often discovered at Paleoindian sites are projectile points. The most famous of these points are the Clovis and Folsom spear points. Some other rare artifacts discovered at Paleoindian sites include moccasins, sandals, bags, baskets, and mats. A Clovis point, the base of a Folsom point, and a Plano (Plainview type) point have been found in the Durango area according to Philip Duke and Gary Matlock in the book "Points, Pithouses, and Pioneers."

The Paleoindian era ends at different times in different areas, but the most agreed upon time is 6,000 BCE.


The Archaic period starts directly after the Paleoindian period. This time ranges from 6,000 BCE to 500 BCE. During this time, the Ice Age ended and the climate became warmer and drier. The mega fauna that humans hunted during the Paleoindian period became extinct.

During the Archaic period, people were still nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they began following herds that are more familiar to us now: elk, deer, and big horn sheep. With the warmer temperatures, more wild plant species were able to grow in North America. These were added to human diets. In the Southwest, these new plants included pinon nuts, yucca, and amaranth. Late in the Archaic period, people also began experimenting with the domestication of plants and animals.

As the people who lived during the Archaic period were still hunter-gatherers, their homes remained similar in style to those used during the Paleoindian period. During this time period, Archaic people leaned poles around a depression that they dug into the ground.

The most famous new tool from this time period is the atlatl. The atlatl is a spear thrower that allows hunters to throw spears with more force and greater accuracy. Projectile points attached to spears used on an atlatl were smaller than the great spear points found during the Paleoindian period. This is because the game being hunted was also smaller. During this time, people also started using manos and metates to grind seeds, nuts, and grain. Manos from this time are usually small enough to fit in one hand, and metates from this era are referred to as “basin metates.” Some additional artifacts discovered at Archaic sites include yucca sandals, baskets, buckskin clothing, and even figurines made of twigs.

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