Folsom Traditions

9,000 - 8,000 BC

The course of the Palaeo Period was marked by a gradual warming trend and the retreat of the glaciers and eventually of the large bodies of water, such as Lake Agassiz, formed by their meltwaters. Environmental changes led to the extinction the mammoth and other megafauna and encouraged changes in hunting strategy, technology and social organization of hunting groups. About 11,000 years ago (9000 B.C.), the Folsom culture, also known as the Lindenmeier culture, replaced previous Clovis ways of life.


Environmental Conditions

In Manitoba, the warming trend had a major effect on vegetation and the herd animals that depended upon it. Lake Agassiz still dominated the southern landscape and its shape and extent changed frequently in response to glacial retreat over the course of thousands of years. On the land, the grasslands which were supported by dry, warm conditions, expanded northwards, replacing the spruce forest habitat of the mammoth with one more suitable to bison herds. The species of that time, Bison antiquus, was larger than the modern Bison bison and had longer horns.

fossil bison

Bison antiquus fossil

Artist's reconstruction


During the brief thousand year period of Folsom occupation, Native peoples were able to quickly adapt to a changing environment through modifications in resource use, weaponry and hunting strategy and to effectively exploit the giant bison which then roamed the grasslands in large numbers.

The Folsom tool kit maintained many of the characteristics of the previous Clovis tradition. The new projectile points had thinner blades and were smaller, possibly in response to the efficiencies of bison hunting or to facilitated hafting to a spear point. (See Tony Baker's Folsom Point pages for information on the complexities of manufacture.)

Folsom points may also have been a response to the advent of a new weapon. Although direct evidence is lacking, some archaeologists believe that the atlatl or spear thrower was introduced at this time. This hunting accessory served to increase the length and leverage of the hunter's arm, causing the spear to be thrown further and with increased velocity. More Folsom points than Clovis have been found in Manitoba but are still concentrated in the southwest, coinciding with the northerly range of bison distribution.

Subsistence and Settlement

While archaeologists are not certain how bison were hunted 10,000 years ago, historical accounts of bison hunting by Natives on the Plains can be be interpreted through ethnographic analogy to suggest techniques which may have been employed. For example, the Jones-Miller site in Colorado is a 10,000 year old bison kill site where remains of about 300 animals were found in an arroyo ( Wedel 1986:66 ). The animals were mainly cows with nursing calves suggesting a late fall kill site. Later historical accounts relate that bison were driven into snow filled arroyos where they they became mired, so that they could be more easily dispatched by the hunters. Thus the historical information indicates that Folsom groups engaged in careful planning and coordination of their hunting and were able to carry out successful communal activities in which large groups worked together for their common advantage. As with historically documented communal hunters, the Folsom bands likely dispersed after seasonal game resources were depleted.

Very little is known regarding the settlement organization of Folsom people. Archaeological sites from the Folsom period usually consist of numerous discrete scatters of bone fragments and chipping debris. These distribution patterns suggest repeated short-term seasonal occupations. ( Kelly and Todd 1988:237 ).

Ritual and Belief

Evidence for Palaeo religious life is quite sketchy. One suggestive feature was recovered from the Jones-Miller site mentioned above. A large post mold was discovered in the centre of a bison bone bed. Associated with it were an antler flute, a projectile point, and butchered dog remains. These artifacts are reminiscent of the medicine post ceremony which was used among some historic northern Plains people to ensure successful hunting ( Wedel 1986:66 ).


© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
Web Development: Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Text and Graphics: Brian Schwimmer, Virginia Petch, Linda Larcombe
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