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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Murray Springs
by Jenna Backinger
Physical Geology
Fall 2007

Murray Springs Clovis Site

            Murray Springs Clovis Site is an area in the southwest corner of Arizona where historic artifacts have been discovered.  Its discovery site is placed about eight miles east of the petite town of Sierra Vista.  Traveling east on one of the main roads in town, Charleston, you will be lead further out of salvation.  Soon, you run into Moson Road on the right side of the desert and continue to follow it.  Driving south towards Mexico, you will notice a miniscule sign on the left, marking this small, yet remarkable park. 

            Inside, you may explore the area through the Interpretative Trail, leading a third of a mile into the vacant desert.  After this, the trail is no longer maintained, though you can follow an abandoned rail road grade.  After venturing along the old tracks, you will meet with the San Pedro River within two miles of you starting point.  Traveling south, you will encounter the San Pedro House after about four miles. 

            Dr. C. Vance Hayner and Dr. Peter Mehringer, whom both studied at the University of Arizona, discovered Murray Springs in 1967.  The two sought money from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, and succeeded.  Excavation was embarked upon from 1967 to 1971.  Here, Paleoindian artifacts were found underground along side the remains of the late Pleistocene animals.  Here, an untouched record of the past 40,000 years has been perfectly preserved. 


            Murray Springs has not on one, but three historic Clovis-related sites.  First, a mammoth was found partially maimed.  Second, a hunting group’s camp was unearthed, show the area where animals were prepared and stone tools were made and repaired.  Lastly, 11 now extinct bison were revealed at their kill site.


            A bone wrench was exhumed and preserved.  It was found in a mammoth’s footprint.  Because of the way it has been worn, it has been hypothesized that the object was used to straighten wood, bone, or ivory spear shafts.  This specific artifact was constructed of a mammoth leg bone, measuring to about ten inches.


            The Clovis people are considered to be the earliest people to inhabit the Americas.  Using carbon dating, it has been theorized that these people dwelled in the area from about 13,100 to 12,900 years ago.  They were nomadic hunters, living off of the land by utilizing natural fruits and berries.  They also hunted small game, such as rabbits and birds.  Their main source of food, though, was found through the pursuit of bison, mammoth, elk, etc.  These giant mammals were captured using stone spears. 


            They believe the Clovis lived in groups of about 25 people, and kept few belongings because of their ever-moving lifestyle.  They were constantly following their migrating game.  They moved their clans according to seasonal change, the amount of game available, and the amount of vegetation that grew naturally.  It is still unknown if these people utilized the giant Columbian mammoth as a main food source.  A full-grown male measured out to about 13 feet high, weighing around ten tons.  It is theorized, however, that the tribe dined on young mammoths, or injured ones, seeing as they were easier to take down than the full-grown male.  Evidence has been found at the site to back this up, seeing as many of the bones uncovered were those of young mammoths.  It is thought that the Clovis hunted mainly bison, because of the 11 bison found at Murray Springs.  Scientists believe that the animals were ambushed while visiting a watering hole.  Not only were mammoth bones found, but also those of the North American horse, lion, dire wolf, and camel were unearthed. 

            The discovery of 16 spear points and bones of several ancient animals was found under the “black mat,” or the Clanton Clay deposit.  This soil was found to be deposited quite quickly, and is made up of mainly organic materials.  Partial remains of the first mammoth found at Murray Springs were first spotted in 1966 by Louis Escapule.  He found the mammoth protruding from the surface of a tributary leading into the San Pedro River. 


            Groundwater fossil deposits taken from the Murray Springs Site are currently being studied to discover the climate changes the Clovis people endured.  These deposits form where water tables overlap with the earth’s surface.  This left a perfect environment for ostracode species.  They appear according to the chemical and physical properties of the water.  The specimens from Murray Springs are being studied for their oxygen isotope ratios in ostracode valve calcite.  This can help scientists to find changes in these isotope ratios, and discover the spring discharge across this area.  Deposits from the Wisconsin Ice Age have also been discovered, dating to about 10,000 years ago.  Miocene and Oligocene sediments containing vertebrate fossils have been found in lower beds near the San Pedro Valley.  Also because of this Ice Age, pinion/juniper needles were found in middens, which are mounds containing shells and animal bones, marking the site of a prehistoric settlement.  Because of the lower temperatures, pine trees were able to grow. 

            Small, ancient shells have also been unearthed at Murray Springs, indicating the great amount of water there at that time.  As the Wisconsin Ice Age came to an end, the ice began to melt, flooding the desert with water, and therefore allowing these miniscule, shelled creatures to prosper.  Also as a result to the dying Ice Age, large mammals such as the mammoth and mastodon began to die off.  The Clovis found themselves losing their food source quickly.  It is believed that because of the loss of these important animals, the Clovis could no longer survive, and therefore, became extinct themselves.  There is proof that a drought struck the Murray Springs area, also adding to their extinction.  It can be seen that around this time of drought, the water table in the Murray Springs area dropped to extremely low levels. 

            Murray Springs was an immense discovery, allowing scientists to reconstruct the lives of the Clovis people.  Before this excavation, not much was known about these early Americans.  Excavation allowed archaeologists to piece together Clovis lifestyle.  It can be shown through the discovery of mammoths what their diet was like.  Fossils reveal the cold temperatures endured.  Tools found allow us to see how these people hunted, and what they hunted.  This being a fairly new site, experiments are still being performed to put exact dates to these specimens, and also to reconstruct the vegetation and landscape. 

Works Cited

“Back to the San Pedro Valley.” AARF History. 21 Nov 2007.

Holmgre, C.A. “Plant Macrofossils.” The University of Arizona Desert Laboratory past Research Highlights. 30 Sept 2007. 28 Nov 2007. http://wwwpaztcn.wr.usgs.gove/rsch_highlight/articles/200405.html

“Murray Springs Clovis Site.”  Arizona Bureau of Land Management. 29 Nov 2007.   NEW
 “The Cenozoic.” 28 Nov 2007.

“The Paleo-Indians.” 20 Nov 2007.