The Paleoindian Component at Charlie Lake Cave (HbRf39), British Columbia

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Fladmark, Knut R., Driver, Jonathan C., and Alexander, Diana. The Paleoindian Component at Charlie Lake Cave (HbRf39), British Columbia. American Antiquity 53(2):371-384.

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Charlie Lake Cave
Paleoindian artifacts

Charlie Lake Cave (HbRf 39) is a stratified site in northeastern British Columbia, Canada, containing a flutedpoint component at the base of the excavated deposits. The small artifact assemblage includes a fluted point, stone bead, core tool, and retouched flake. A diverse associated fauna includes fish, birds, and mammals, indicating a more open environment than exists today. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the artifact assemblage was deposited about 10,500 years ago.


Article Summary by Jonathan C. Driver, May 2015

            This was the first major publication about Tse’K’wa and it focuses on what for many people was the most exciting find at the site – a very early occupation of so-called “Paleoindian” people.

            There continues to be considerable debate about when the first people came to the Americas. In the 1980’s (and continuing today), the weight of evidence supports a long-held belief that the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas made their initial migration from somewhere in northeast Asia.  However, the timing of this movement, the context in which it occurred, and the date are still contentious. (It is, of course, a simplification to describe this as a single event. There is plenty of evidence for a number of major migrations across the Bering Strait, and it is likely that there was a flow of people and ideas in both directions over thousands of years).

            In the 1980’s, as today, virtually all archaeologists agree that “Paleoindian” cultures dating to the end of the last glacial period (about 12,000 BC) indicate a well-established population throughout the Americas by that time, although there is still considerable debate about when the first ancestors of Paleoindians arrived in the Americas.

            While the way of life of these peoples must have varied across different environments found in North and South America, the most distinctive Paleoindian artifacts in North America are a kind of stone spear point, known as “fluted points”.  Fluted points were chipped from fine-grained rocks, such as chert, jasper and obsidian, and generally had a long, lanceolate outline. In order to fit the base of the point into the shaft of the spear, it was thinned by striking off some flakes that ran from the base towards the sharp tip, creating a shallow channel or “flute” on one or both surfaces of the stone spearpoint.

            Fluted points have been found in association with extinct animals, most commonly woolly mammoth and extinct forms of bison, but also with horse and camel, primarily  in the central and western half of the USA. Due to different geological and soil conditions in eastern USA, most fluted point sites there do not preserve animal bone. In 1983 when a fluted point was found at Tse’K’wa, there was only one site in all of Canada where fluted points had been found in association with organic material that could be radiocarbon dated – at Debert, in Nova Scotia where charcoal in the soil provided some dates. Tse’K’wa was the first site in Canada that produced a fluted point in association with animal bones that had clearly been butchered by people – in this case an extinct form of bison – and the first site in Canada in which a fluted point was found at the bottom of a long sequence of later cultural periods. The unique soil conditions at the Tse'K'wa site have enabled archaeologists to use radio carbon dating on fluted points and animal remains to gain further insight into the lifestyles and timeline of early human occupation of Canada.

            Also of significance was the location of Tse’K’wa just to the east of the Rockies. Archaeologists had proposed that one route into the Americas during the late ice age was between the Rocky Mountain glaciers to the west and the massive ice sheets that covered Canada to the east – this so-called “ice-free corridor” might have allowed early hunters to move from unglaciated areas of Siberia and Alaska into the vast uninhabited continents to the south of the ice. Although fluted points had been picked up from ploughed fields in BC and Alberta, before the excavations at Tse’K’wa none of them had been radiocarbon dated, and so it was difficult to relate them to known dates of glaciers and post-glacial landscapes.


This item is part of the Tse'K'Wa (Charlie Lake Cave) Collection in Summit, SFU Research Repository. We kindly thank the publisher, Society for American Archaeology, for permission to reproduce this work in Summit.

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Copyright belongs to Society for American Archaeology. Reproduced with permission of Society for American Archaeology.
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British Columbia
Charlie Lake Cave