Continent-wide or region-specific? A geometric morphometrics-based assessment of variation in Clovis point shape

Briggs Buchanan, Michael J. O'Brien, Mark Collard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)


Researchers have debated the existence of regional variation in Clovis points for over 60 years. Here, we report an attempt to resolve this argument using a large sample of Clovis points from dated assemblages and a suite of shape analysis methods known as geometric morphometrics. The study tested the two main hypotheses that have been put forward in the debate: the continent-wide adaptation hypothesis, which holds that Clovis points do not vary regionally, and the regional environmental adaptation hypothesis, which holds that there is regional variation as a consequence of Clovis groups adjusting their food-getting toolkits to local conditions. We used discriminant function analysis and a multivariate extension of the t test to assess whether differences in shape exist at two scales. The first set of analyses compared points from the most obvious environmental regions in North America, the East and the West. The second set of analyses investigated differences among points from subregions within the East and West. The analyses revealed significant differences between points from the East and the West and among points from some subregions. Follow-up analyses demonstrated that these differences are not the result of the most common confounding factors, raw material quality and resharpening. As such, the analyses support the regional environmental adaptation hypothesis rather than the continent-wide adaptation hypothesis. We conclude from this that Clovis people modified their points to suit the characteristics of local prey and/or the habitats in which they hunted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-162
Number of pages18
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments We thank the following institutions for permission to access collections: Eastern New Mexico University; University of Arizona; Arizona State Museum; Smithsonian Institution; Washington State Historical Society; Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture; Museum of the Great Plains; Canadian Museum of Civilization; Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology; Peabody Essex Museum; Maine State Museum; State of New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources; University of Iowa; Montana Historical Society; and the Herrett Center for Arts and Sciences. We also thank L. Bement, J. Gingerich, D. Kilby,
D. Simons, R. Maske, W. Rummells, and two anonymous reviewers for their assistance with the paper. BB's work was supported by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, postdoctoral fellowship grants from the National Science Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and by funding from the University of Missouri and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. MC's work was supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund, and Simon Fraser University.


  • Clovis points
  • continent-wide adaptation
  • regional environmental adaptation
  • geometric morphometrics
  • Paleoindian projectile points
  • Buttermilk Creek Complex
  • North-America
  • Bull Brook
  • terminal Pleistocene
  • site
  • technology
  • variability
  • Texas
  • age


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