In search of the origin of Alaska's Mesa projectile points

Marjolein Admiraal, Master student, Arctic Centre

Approximately 10.500 14C years ago there lived a people in Arctic Alaska that made a typical kind of projectile points. These points were hafted on spears and used to hunt migratory animals such as bison. We refer to these points a Mesa points. These stone tools are the only remains of these people for nowadays archaeologists to find. The main question I ask in my thesis is 'where did these people come from?'. In order to find an answer to this question I study the technology these people used to manufacture the projectile points.

Further to the south projectile point complexes have been discovered that closely resemble the Mesa projectile points. Could these complexes be connected to the Mesa complex? And if so, can you reconstruct a migration pattern by looking at the dates from the various complexes? Four projectile point complexes are discussed: the Mesa complex as the starting point, the Agate Basin complex of the northern Great Plains, the Haskett Complex of the northern Great Basin region and the El Jobo complex from Venezuela. These complexes were selected because all these projectile points have important characteristics in common. The points are lanceolate in form, relatively thick and have many similar technological traits.

When examining the radiocarbon dates of the various complexes something strange stands out. It seems that the points are oldest in the south and youngest in the north. Could it be that this reflects a northward migration? For decades it has been generally believed that people entered the American continent via the Arctic and migrated south from there. However, if people were making projectile points in Venezuela at 12.500 14C years ago with no ancestral technology to be found in the Americas, where did they come from?

Perhaps this is a story that confirms the idea of independent invention of stone tool technology. Perhaps there is more to it. This is the search for the origin of the Mesa projectile point. Others have looked to Siberia for answers but up to this day have found none. I am exploring the possibility of a northward migration and origin in the south.
Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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