San Diego Zoo Spear Project
In April, 2009, I was contacted by a curator at the San Diego Zoo about making a Clovis Spear for their new Pleistoscene Mega fauna exhibit
which opened with the Elephant Odyssey exhibit on May 23, 2009. The exhibit features mammoths and other extinct animals that roamed around
California thousands of years ago. The Zoo wanted a teaching tool to show visitors what ancient man may have used to hunt those large animals
Because time was short, I went straight to work on making some large Clovis points of the western U.S. variety. I managed to make 3 points
total and used one from my for sale stock to round out the even 4 that would be used for the project. I tried to pick materials that looked
similiar to some California lithic types. I settled on some Texas Cherts and a piece of Dacite. Dacite could have been a material used in
California, but the Texas Cherts probably would not have been used. The Texas Cherts do resemble some of the agates and chalcedony found in
the area close enough to California to have been used.
Overshot percussion flaking technology was used whenever possible to make the larger points, and a deer antler pressure flaking tool was used
to do the finishing edge work. I can make finer more perfect looking points, but the task here was to make Clovis points that looked authentic
If you examine the above points you will see that I attempted to represent all fluting sizes to give those attending the exhibit an idea of the range
of fluting practiced by the Clovis people. Modern flintknappers often shoot for long fabulous flutes extending from the base to the tip, but those
were rare specimens anciently where the Clovis knapper then was more concerned with thinning the base properly to fit the spear shaft.
Multiple flutes were often present and western Clovis points were notorious for small flutes as is seen in some of the Wenatchee Points that were
excavated from Washington State. All the fluting seen in the above points was accomplished with direct percussion and not with a modern fluting
After further discussions with the zoo staff, I convinced them that the two largest ones should be hafted with the two piece bone rod forshafting
system that is the popular hypothesis as to the hafting that was done in the western U.S. To accomplish this, I replicated the bone rods that Mike
Gramley excavated at the Wenatchee site. I used hard rock maple wood instead of mammoth ivory (for obvious reasons) and then aged it to look
like bone. The hash markings on the inside flat part were also etched in with a chert flake and final shaping was also acheived using the same
chert flake as a shaving tool. The "bone" shafts were attached to the Clovis points with pine pitch glue that I made from Eastern White Pine
Trees, wood ash, and talc rock. I made the glue by combining those ingredients over fire and stiring them to the right consistency. Once dry, the
glue can be broken into pieces and stored for later use as was done anciently. Next, I stripped some deer sinew and let it soak for a few days until
it was soft and workable. The sinew was dipped in hide glue and wrapped tightly around the hafting area of the points. Once dry, the sinew
tightened around the pine pitch glue and point to hold it securely in place.
It became very evident as I put the two rod foreshaft system together that ancient man had a purpose. My theory is that drilling the holes in the
end of a spear shaft so that the foreshafts (pictured above) could be pushed securely in, was done with flint drills attached to a bow drill system or
attached to reamer hand tools as was suggested by D.C. Waldorf when he studied the Vail Clovis site. I hypothesize that the drill sizes varied due
to use and to the knapping skills of the maker therefore the hole in the end of the spear shaft was never the same diameter exactly. That's a
problem, because that would mean making a foreshaft system exactly the same size every time just to re-fit the spear. I think this was
overcome anciently by using the two piece bone foreshaft system like a clothes pin. I think a piece of wood or bark was wedged in between them
to make them wider or removed to make them narrower on the end that was inserted into the drilled spear shaft. This would allow some
variability with the spear shaft and foreshaft. Spear shafts could then be inter-used by any hunter in the group. By no means do I have any
factual proof of this, but, just how many people in the last 200 years have put together a spear like this? Some times working through a
replication unlocks things that would never have been discovered through the thinking stage. Until we find an intact specimen, perfectly
preserved in a dry cave for 12,000 years, we may never know the exact answer. However, if we use and work with what we have found,
sometimes small clues make appearences, and I believe my theory is one such clue. Many scholars and archaeologists are leaning toward
believing that the Clovis point was used with the spear-throwing device called the atlatl with the large Clovis points being knives. It is possible
that they are indeed correct, but, the zoo wanted a replica specimen following the theory of spear use and that is what I made.
"X's" represent area where wood or
bark wedge may have been inserted
The spear shaft was made out of spruce pine and was purposely made to look rough as if shaped with flint tools. A false patina was added to give
it a fresh out of history books look. It took a lot of man hours just to work it down with modern tools, I can't imagine the amount of time it took
Clovis man to find a straight piece and work it down with stone tools. I did all of the final smoothing with a the same chert flake that was used to
shave the bone rods forshafts. Below you will see pictures of parts of the finished shaft. A modern drill bit was used to drill out the hole that
receives the two bone rod foreshaft with the hafted Clovis points. I wrapped dogbane cordage around the outside of the end of the spear with the
hole in it as reinforcement against breakage. I believe Clovis hunter probably did the same thing as insurance for all the hard work they did to
make the spear shaft.
Many professionals and avocationals alike believe that larger Clovis points were hafted and used as knives until resharpening eventually brought
them down to a good projectile size to hunt with. Based on my experiences with this project, knapping, and butchering my own deer with flint
tools, I would have to agree. Picture a Clovis hunter with several points in a pouch hafted like the above. In the pouch are several hafted Clovis
points small enough to tip a spear or even an atlatl, while one in there is large enough to be used as a make shift knife, yet if needed it could tip
a thrusting spear for defense or offense. Below are pictures of me holding the hafted Clovis points as if I were using it as a knife. It's really
easy to see how multipurpose the Clovis man could be with his tools.
All in all I enjoyed this project and still feel privilaged and blessed to have been included in it. My hope is that the spear can serve as a bridge for
those that come to the San Diego Zoo, a bridge that reaches 10,000 - 12,000 years into the past. Below is a final closing picture of the top end of
the finished spear. If you happen to see this spear at the zoo, please drop me a quick e-mail or sign the guest book telling me of your
experience. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
Below are pictures of a San Diego Zoo volunteer showing some visitors my spear. There's nothing better than seeing one of my products used to
educate and bring home an exhibit to visitors. Seeing and touching the spear allows the visitors to understand how the ancient people of
California hunted the species' of animals whose bones are on exhibit.