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Vignettes in Time: Bureau of Land Management Collections at the Arizona State Museum
Arizona Through Time
Southern Arizona Culture History


Although the timing of the initial occupation of the Americas remains a matter of considerable discussion among archaeologists, it is clear that southern Arizona was occupied by bands of hunter-gatherers by the end of the Pleistocene, ca.9000 B.C. These nomadic populations hunted large mammals such as the Mastodon, Bison, and Great Ground Sloth. Several locales where these animals were killed and butchered by early hunters have been identified in southern Arizona, particularly in the San Pedro River valley.

Clovis points from Southern Arizona sites.
Clovis points from Southern Arizona sites. »Enlarge

A distinctive style of spear point known as a Clovis Point and other stone tools used for butchering are typically associated with these “kill sites.” Among the best known of these kill sites are the Naco and Lehner Sites in the San Pedro River valley near the modern border with Mexico. Two ranchers discovered mammoth remains at Naco in 1952 and alerted archaeologists, whose excavations uncovered eight points, some embedded and others mixed among the butchered mammoth bones. The Lehner Site, located on the west side of the San Pedro River valley along Mammoth Kill Creek, showed evidence of repeated hunting episodes and a campsite where the hunters probably processed and cooked the meat. The remains of nine mammoths and horse, bison, and tapir were present in the area. Similar kill sites have not been found in the Santa Cruz River valley, although several isolated spear points have been recovered. Archaeologists refer to this era as the Paleo-Indian Period.

As the environment became drier at the end of the Pleistocene, bands of hunter-gathers began to hunt smaller game such as deer and rabbit, and increasingly relied on plant resources such as mesquite and cactus fruits. These changes are marked by the use of smaller styles of projectile points , and an increasing number of grinding stones for crushing and milling seeds and pods. Archaeologists call this era of nomadic hunting and gathering the Archaic Period.

Sixteen projectile points representing the middle and late phases of the Archaic Period. Basin metate with a one hand mano made from a river cobble.
Selected projectile points representing the middle and late phases of the Archaic Period. »Enlarge
  Basin Metate with a handstone mano. »Enlarge

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