About the Paleo Indians

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    The Facts

    • Projectile points, NebraskaStudies.org

      There is much we do not know about PaleoIndian society because the record in some places is very thin. We do know that Paleo Indians spread across the North American continent, and each group created a material culture and way of life appropriate to its environment. They did not share a single culture or language; archaeologists recognize at least six major language groups in North America. In general, PaleoIndian groups made and used stone tools and projectile points ("spearheads" and "arrowheads"); some of their work is very fine, and many groups are identifiable by the manner in which they manufactured these items. They hunted large mammals, including mammoths and bison.

    Time Frame

    • The first PaleoIndian groups probably crossed from Europe to North America when ice formed a land bridge, beginning perhaps 10,000 to 25,000 years ago. Artifacts of three cultural traditions, Llano, Folsom and Plano, spread eastward across the continent from about 12,000 to 8,000 years ago. Eastern Archaic groups left behind evidence of a rich culture that lasted until about 1,500 years ago.


    • PaleoIndian cultures contributed much to our modern world. They introduced medicines like cocaine and quinine. Their agricultural knowledge brought crops like corn and tobacco to the European world. Groups in the eastern United States played games that morphed into hockey and lacrosse. And place names throughout the United States reflect PaleoIndian influences.


    • Paleo Indians arrived in North American during the Wisconsin period, which ended roughly 10,000 years ago. The climate gradually warmed, which perhaps led to the end of the giant animals they hunted. As they spread in groups across the North American continent, they adapted their culture to meet the needs of local geography. Groups in the southwest developed irrigated farming, while groups on the Plains continued their hunting habits. In the northeast, groups built more or less permanent settlements and built fish traps to ensure a stable supply of food.


    • PaleoIndian peoples created recognizable cultures with a sophisticated inventory of tools and artifacts. Evidence indicates that groups established extensive trade systems; burial sites suggest recognizable religious traditions.

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