Clovis hunting an African elephant


Clovis points, some showing signs of damage and retouching, by  Billwhittaker at en.wikipedia

One of the advantages of having entered academia after the internet revolution is that the majority of my library is virtual. My laptop PDF paper collection is currently at 6,288 items (and there are another 1,000 or so waiting to be sorted in my download folder). I generally download anything that interests me on a theme of ancient DNA, felids, Pleistocene mammals, extinction, archaeology etc. and everything is renamed by first author surname to be easily searchable.

I was flicking through some of the papers the other day when I came across an article by George C. Frison from American Antiquity titled “Experimental Use of Clovis Weaponry and Tools on African Elephants” vol.54 p.766

It is like no paper I’ve ever seen before and a riveting read.

In it the author recounts his use of replica Clovis points during collaboration with Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to cull African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). The elephants are deemed a suitable substitute for the woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) and mastodon (Mammut americium) of the Nearctic late Pleistocene, known to the Clovis culture. Frison seems to have been slightly obsessed with the notion of “true hunters”, hunters who would only select mature, healthy individuals to kill. To me this seems a slightly romantic notion and I am sure that palaeoindians, cro-magnons, and other modern human groups that encountered and hunted mammoth in difficult conditions would not have taken so noble a path.

Frison created replica socketed thrusting spears and throwing spears (using an atlatl). He started with 7 Clovis points. One was accidentally broken before any use. One shattered on impact with an elephant rib on its first use. Five others survived the experiments (and one of those five broke on the last day of use). Quite an incredible attrition rate for serious chunks of stone. Almost all the tips broke off and the points had to be reshaped.

In the paper Frison recounts using his Clovis points on elephants that had been “mortally wounded or killed” during culling operations. He used his atlatl to hit elephants from a distance of 15m, 17m, 20m. He achieved penetration of the stomach, the lung, and various muscled parts, easily penetrating the thick skin and producing woulds that would have been lethal in living animals. He also brought large biface-reduction flakes for experiments in skinning the animals. Apparently one of these Clovis tools was lost while the group was chasing a herd of elephants. Frison mischievously comments “This may someday come as more than a small surprise to someone, because there are no known artefacts of this nature in this part of Africa”.

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