Oregon Caves Yield Rare Pre-Clovis Artifact 14,230 Years Old
November 6, 2009
(ChattahBox)—A series of caves and rock shelters located in the Summer Lake Basin north of Paisley in south-central Oregon, may hold evidence of the earliest Native Americans living in North America that has ever been discovered. An unassuming scraper-like tool fashioned from bone, found in one of the Paisley Caves, has been definitively carbon-dated as 14,230 years old, which is the oldest and only pre-Clovis artifact ever found in the Americas.
This exciting discovery lays waste to a still predominant theory that the earliest human inhabitants of North America, referred to as the Clovis culture, arrived here 12,900 to 12,400 years ago, while crossing the Bering Strait.
Scientists believe that pre-Clovis peoples migrated here south along the North American coastlines. The Paisley Caves are located upriver from the Pacific Ocean, placing them along the possible migration route of pre-Clovis Native Americans.
The recent excavation of the Paisley Caves was conducted by the Northern Great Basin Field School, with the University of Oregon, lead by archaeologist Dennis L. Jenkins. The head archaeologist presented his team’s exciting finding last month in a lecture at the University of Oregon. He explained that the simple bone tool was subjected to studies of sediment and radiocarbon dating, which suggested it belonged to a pre Clovis culture.
Jon Erlandson, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon said, “They can’t yet rule out the Paisley Cave people weren’t Clovis.” But none of the Clovis people’s distinct fluted spear and arrow points were found in the cave.
The only other American archaeological site older than Clovis, is at Monte Verde in Chile, which is about 13,900 years old.
Jenkins’ new finding lends further support to the theory that a pre-Clovis culture once inhabited the Paisley Caves. Last year, his team found coprolites, which are fossilized human excrement, that were dated to 14,000 to 14,270 years old. A DNA analysis showed that the coprolites were indeed human.
But experts questioned the age of the coprolites, suggesting that they were younger than the sediments they were found in. Other archaeologists questioned the pre-Clovis age of the coprolites, because no artifacts were found to corroborate their age.
Now, with the definitive find of a bone artifact, dating to 14,230 years old, archaeologists are starting to take notice of the importance of the Paisley Caves, as holding the key to the earliest human inhabitants of North America.
“The dating of the bone tool, and the finding that the sediments encasing it range from 11,930 to 14,480 years old might put these questions to rest. You couldn’t ask for better dated stratigraphy,” said Jenkins.