Paleoindian Period (before 8000 BC)
Paleoindians belong to the oldest known cultural period in North America. Archaeologists
think they arrived in North America during the last Ice Age by crossing a land bridge connecting
Siberia and Alaska. Called Beringia, this bridge was sometimes exposed when enough of the
oceans' waters were locked into glaciers to drop sea levels.
Archaeologists aren't sure when Paleoindians first arrived from Siberia. But by 10,000 BC,
they were living throughout North America. Some had made it to the southern margin of South
Within the Paleoindian period, North Carolina archaeologists recognize two main cultures:
Clovis culture (9500 to 8500 BC) and Hardaway-Dalton culture (8500 to 8000 BC).
Paleoindians were nomadic hunters and gatherers who moved regularly through vast
territories. In western North America, Paleoindians survived, at least in part, by hunting large,
now-extinct animals called megafauna. They used spears to kill the mammoth and extinct forms
of bison. They probably also ate a wide variety of other foods, but little evidence remains to say
just what these foods were.
Archaeologists think Paleoindians in North Carolina and in other places east of the
Mississippi River probably did not eat much "big game." Although the occasional mastodon or
bison may have been hunted, by 8500 BC most megafauna species were extinct or quickly dying
out. The Ice Age was ending and the eastern ecosystem was changing. Deciduous nuts trees were
replacing straggly stands of cold-loving boreal forests, and modern animals like deer were
becoming abundant. So eastern Paleoindians apparently ate a variety of nuts, wild fruits, and
smaller, modern game.
Even though the Paleoindian period ended about 8000 BC, it laid the groundwork for
subsequent cultural developments.
- The Ice Age (or Pleistocene) is in its last centuries. In North Carolina, the weather is
wetter and cooler than today. But it is warming enough that deciduous, nut-bearing trees
are replacing most remaining stands of cold-loving boreal forests.
- People migrate to North Carolina for the first time. Their ancestors came from Siberia,
having crossed the now submerged Bering land bridge (called Beringia) into Alaska.
- People live in small family groups archaeologists call bands; they are nomadic.
- Subsistence comes from hunting and gathering wild foods.
- Local people do not depend on big game like mammoths for meat; by the time people
arrive in the East, megafauna herds are small and quickly becoming extinct. Instead,
people rely on deer and other small animals living in the deciduous forests.
- Spears tipped with stone points are the main hunting tool. In North Carolina,
archaeologists find ancient people made two styles of spear point. One style dates to
between 9500 and 8500 BC, and archaeologists call it Clovis. Slender, with a long
channel (flute) chipped from the base for attaching a spear shaft, the Clovis point is what
people living across North America then used to hunt. Presumably, the first people
arriving east brought this style with them. But by 8500 BC, those who settled in North
Carolina start making a differently styled spear point. This regional variety has no flutes,
but has shallow indentations on each side of the blade near the base. Archaeologists call
this point Hardaway-Dalton; people made Hardaway-Daltons until about 8000 BC.
- Baskets as well as leather and bark containers are used; there is no pottery. Possessions
are lightweight and few, suited to a life on the move.
- Shelters are temporary, perhaps tents covered with hides or lean-tos made of brush.
- Archaeologists call these first people Paleoindians. They are the founding population for
all later Indian groups.