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Understanding the Evolution of Human Tools

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  • 0:01 Stone Ages
  • 1:04 Flake Tools
  • 2:06 Clovis Points
  • 3:04 Folsom Points
  • 3:59 Clovis vs. Folsom Points
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high History and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in Education.

This lesson will seek to explain the use of tools during the Stone Ages. In doing this, it will highlight flake tools, Clovis points, Folsom points and the archaeological theories surrounding all three.

Stone Ages

When mentioning the Stone Ages, many of us, or at least those of us over the age of about 20, might picture Fred Flintstone tooling around in his cool little car. Although this is a fun childhood memory, it's really not an accurate picture of the Stone Ages.

In fact, it gives no hint to the fact that the Stone Ages are eras of prehistoric times, between the origin of man and the year 3500 BC, categorized by the degree of complexity of tools used. Since most of these tools were made with stone, history has cleverly coined these eras as the Stone Ages.

With this focus on tools at the forefront of our mind, today's lesson will seek to give a brief history of the evolution of human tools. Since this is such a broad topic, we're going to focus on the three most common tool types usually highlighted in most anthropological texts and tests. They are flake tools, Clovis points, and Folsom points.

Flake Tools

Usually considered the oldest of the three, we'll start with flake tools. Very simply, flake tools were small, hand-held tools created by flaking off small pieces of rock, usually flint.

Although flake tools were sometimes made of other rocks, like quartz, it's theorized that prehistoric man favored flint. This was probably due to the ease in which flint can be broken apart. Also, as anyone who ever spent any time as a kid throwing rocks for fun can tell you, flint rocks have a tendency to break into very small yet sharp pieces. In other words, flint has the propensity to break into almost ready-made little knives or even arrowheads of sorts.

Apart from the relative ease of making them, flake tools were also easy to repair. To explain, when a weapon made from a larger rock broke, there wasn't really a way to fix it. Poor prehistoric man couldn't just jump down to the local hardware store for some superglue. However, when a flake tool weapon was damaged, the natural layering of the flint made it much easier to simply shave down or even crack off the broken part of the weapon or tool.

Clovis Points

Next, we come to Clovis points. Unfortunately, these aren't quite as straightforward as flake tools. Just like our hammers have evolved into some pretty fancy nail guns, the tools of prehistoric man also evolved in complexity.

Stated simply, a Clovis point is a spear point with a groove at its base. Interestingly, these small spear points derive their name from Clovis, Nebraska, the site at which they were first discovered.

Unlike the more crude flake tools, Clovis points were shaped on both faces of the stone, then given riveted edges, as well as pointed bottoms. As previously mentioned, they were also shaped to include a groove at the base, which many assert was used to attach the points to pieces of wood, thus making a spear. So effective were these Clovis points that some archaeologists claim they were capable of piercing the hides of large animals, even elephants!

Folsom Points

With this, we come to our last tool of the day, the Folsom point. However, just because I have placed it last, please don't assume it came after the Clovis point. To be honest, there really isn't agreement on which actually developed first. For this reason, most archaeologists' compromise by saying the first implementation of each sort of coincided. This may have a lot to do with how similar they both look, and the proximity in which they have been found.

To explain, the Folsom point is a spear point with a groove going from its base to its tip. However, just like a Clovis point, Folsom points were shaped on both faces of the stone, then given riveted edges, as well as pointed bottoms.

Folsom points were also named after the town in which they were first discovered, Folsom, New Mexico. With all these similarities in mind, it's pretty easy to see why Clovis and Folsom points are often confused. To help us out a bit, we'll spend a few minutes comparing them side by side.

Clovis vs. Folsom Points

Clovis point, left, and Folsom point, right
Clovis point and Folsom point

First, notice the groove going down the middle of the Folsom point. Notice how it goes all the way up to the tip. Compare this to the groove in the Clovis point that only goes about half of the way up. For archaeologists, this is a dead giveaway which point tool they are dealing with. Not being an archaeologist, I just like to remember that the groove in the Folsom point is more FULL going all the way to the top. Whereas, the Clovis' groove is CUT off at the middle.

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