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Planet Earth

More Than a Pointy Rock

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The fluted point--a finely crafted, oblong flaked stone, with a groove, or flute, carved down the middle, presumably to fit the haft of a spear--is the hallmark of the Clovis culture. Most archeologists believed it was invented in North America, after the Clovis people crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia sometime toward the end of the last ice age. But this past August, Maureen King of the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, along with Russian archeologist Sergei Slobodin of the Department of Education in the Magadan region, reported the discovery of a fluted point in Siberia--the first ever found outside the New World.

King and Slobodin found the two-inch-long point (right) at a site called Uptar, 1,000 miles west of the Bering Strait. It was buried along with 36 other stone tools beneath an 8,300-year-old layer of volcanic ash. These artifacts are heavily wind abraded and weathered, says King, so my guess is that they are considerably older--around 10,000 years before the present. No matter what the exact age, it seems that the Beringians, who probably hunted big game like caribou, invented the fluted point on their own. By 10,000 or 11,000 years ago, the Bering land bridge was completely submerged, so King thinks it’s unlikely that the technology crossed back over the strait.

It’s unclear whether the point was brought by the Clovis people from Beringia to America, or whether it was invented later on both continents. With so few people working in northeast Russia, and so many logistical problems, says King, it will probably be a long time before we have an accurate understanding of the prehistory of the region.

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