Mammoth Hunting

By: Eileen Johnson

Type: General Entry

Published: November 1, 1995

The Southern Plains area of Texas at the close of the Pleistocene was a vast stretch of grasslands from the northern Panhandle to beyond Val Verde and eastward to the coastal plains. This region had an abundant water supply and a richly diverse animal population. Winters were milder and summers cooler than in modern times. Within this equitable setting, people of the Clovis period, between 11,500 and 11,000 years B.P., killed and butchered their prey around playas and along streams and rivers. These people are best known for their distinctive fluted projectile points and the hunting of mammoths. In reality their bone technology was equally as significant as their knowledge and craftsmanship in stone tool making. They also had a broad-based, meat-related subsistence based on opportunistic or eclectic foraging for a variety of animals rather than being focused on the mammoth. The classic man-mammoth sites are on the Southern High Plains of northwestern Texas and eastern New Mexico and include Miami, near Miami, Texas; Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1, near Clovis, New Mexico; Lubbock Lake National Historic and State Archeological Landmark, on the outskirts of Lubbock; Bonfire Shelter, close to the Rio Grande near Langtry; and Duewall-Newberry, on the Brazos River near Bryan. Of these sites, two (Miami and Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1) yielded Clovis points in association with mammoth remains. The other sites contained mammoth remains perhaps modified by man but no Clovis points.

Clovis peoples seem to have been skilled hunters well-versed in mammoth-herd behavior; they used that knowledge and their technology to confront, contain, and kill small family units of three to five animals at sites such as Lubbock Lake and Miami. Exactly how this was accomplished is still a subject of debate. If indeed mammoths behaved as modern African elephants do, then the key would be in the killing first of the matriarch and the subsequent dispatching of the rest of the small herd as they milled around her. On the other hand, Clovis peoples also took advantage of isolated mammoths and scavenged recently dead mammoth carcasses at sites like Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1. The season when the mammoths were killed is not known for any of the sites. In processing mammoths, Clovis hunters stripped the meat from the bones and left the intact but disarticulated skeletons behind. This pattern can be seen at both types of procurement sites. Clovis points were resharpened and used as butchering tools. This practice resulted in a variability in size and some differences in the final form recovered at the sites. Mammoth bones may also have been made into tools through a process known as quarrying. Bone quarrying workshops are suspected at Lubbock Lake, Duewall-Newberry, and possibly Bonfire Shelter.

Collections from man-mammoth sites are housed in different institutions in Texas and elsewhere. The collection from Miami is located at the Texas Memorial Museum and Texas Archeological Research Laboratory of the University of Texas at Austin. Because of the numerous salvage excavations conducted at Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1, collections from this site are located at a number of institutions, including the Texas Memorial Museum and Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, the Museum of Texas Tech University, and Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. Lubbock Lake collections are housed at Texas Tech University, Texas Memorial Museum, and Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. The Bonfire Shelter collection is located at the Texas Memorial Museum and Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. The collection from the Duewall-Newberry site is stored at Texas A&M University and the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

David S. Dibble and Dessamae Lorrain, Bonfire Shelter: A Stratified Bison Kill Site, Val Verde County, Texas (Texas Memorial Museum Miscellaneous Papers 1 [Austin: University of Texas, 1968]). James J. Hester, Blackwater Locality No.1: A Stratified Early Man Site in Eastern New Mexico (Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico: Fort Burgwin Research Center, Southern Methodist University, 1972).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Eileen Johnson, “Mammoth Hunting,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995