Touring N.M.

Hunting at Blackwater Draw

Dr. Brendon Asher (right) of the Blackwater Draw National Historic Landmark and Museum in Portales speculates on how the Columbian mammoth came to live and die in the area.
Jon Knudsen, October 2017
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About 13,500 years ago, as the last Ice Age was coming to an end, bands of hunters were trying their luck in New Mexico’s eastern plains at a place now known as Blackwater Draw. Lakes had formed there and it attracted a lot of animals — large, dangerous animals like the mammoth, mastodon, dire wolf and saber-tooth tiger.

But the hunters were armed with the latest weaponry of the time: spears. The spears featured Clovis points. These chipped stone points were distinguished by a fluted channel down the center which received the shaft of the spear. They also had atlatls — throwing-sticks that gave their spears added power and distance.

But it was the spear points that made Blackwater Draw famous. The beautifully chipped spear tips were named after the city of Clovis, about 20 miles away. The stunning discovery at Blackwater Draw was that the points were intermixed with the bones of the animals being hunted — actual bones, not fossils. This offered proof of the co-existence of humans and mammoth. Radiocarbon dating of the bones fixed their date at around 13,500 years ago.

The age of this site and the discovery of the spear points made Clovis important in the history of archaeology. In fact, Clovis gives its name to all points of that fluted design in the New World, as well as the Clovis Culture in general. In 1961, Blackwater Draw was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Blackwater Draw’s South Bank Excavation Area has a large structure over the work still being done on the Archaic and Paleoindian kill site. Hundreds of bones, many of them prehistoric bison, have been uncovered but left in place resting in the strata where they were found. The building is open to the public. There is a self-guided one-mile tour of the rest of the site, as well.

Blackwater Draw is open during the weekend through October. After that, call 575-356-5235 to schedule a visit. There is also a museum connected to the site located on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University in nearby Portales.

For those who want a more hands-on experience with the world of Ice Age big game hunters, the Blackwater Draw Atlatl Competition is Oct. 28.

For more information, visit www.bwdarchaeology.com.

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