Stone tool unearthed in Oregon may date back 15,800 years or more
A stone tool believed to be 15,800 years old or older and with bison blood on it, has been excavated from deep under the earth’s surface in Oregon, archaeologists announced. If the scraper, made from orange agate, is that old it is one of the earliest signs of habitation ever found in the Americas.
Archaeologists found the scraper digging underneath a layer of volcanic ash from a Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption of about 15,800 years before the present.
Ancient bison skeleton from the La Brea tar pits in California (Cory Doctorow photo/Wikimedia Commons)
The soil the tool was found in predates the currently accepted timeline of the Clovis culture by about 2,800 years. The Clovis people, with their distinctive and fine stone tools and points, were once thought to be the first people to come to the Americas, about 13,000 years ago, via a theorized land bridge between northeastern Asia and what is now Alaska.
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The arrival of people in the Americas is a sensitive subject among Native Americans, some of whom say their presence goes back long before 15,000 years. Some Native Americans also take exception to the predominant theory that all people first came to the Americas via the land bridge.
The website Canada’s First Peoples has an article on the subject that says:
Scientists now think that the ancestors of First Nations people may have come to North America from several different parts of Asia and Polynesia, following several different routes. Some may have come on woven reed rafts, or boats, across the Pacific from Asia and various islands. Still others may have crossed the ice fields that once connected Europe and North America. The Inuit, who live in the high Arctic, were probably the last to arrive.
Some First Nations people believe, through their oral tradition, that their ancestors have lived in North America for much longer than scientists indicate.
An animated gif from the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration shows the progression from dry land that connected Asia and Alaska 21,000 years ago to water that separated them about 10,000 years ago.
The agate scraper from Oregon was unearthed in soil 12 feet deep.
Donald K. Grayson, professor of archaeology at the University of Washington, told the Associated Press: " ‘No one is going to believe this until it is shown there was no break in that ash layer, that the artifact could not have worked its way down from higher up, and until it is published in a convincing way. Until then, extreme skepticism is all they are going to get.’"
The AP article said: “Two pre-Clovis sites are well documented and generally accepted by scientists, Grayson said. One is Paisley Cave, located about 60 miles southwest of the Rimrock site. The other is Monte Verde in Chile. Both are dated about 1,000 years before the oldest Clovis sites. If the date of Rimrock holds up, it would put people at the site about 1,500 years earlier, at the end of the Pleistocene era, when mastodons, mammoths, camels, horses and bison roamed the area.”
Archaeological site in Monte Verde, Chile, where ancient tools have been found (Wikimedia Commons)
The site of this recent find is at the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter site on what is now high desert near Riley in eastern Oregon. Oregon is in the Northwestern United States, which is relatively close to the former Beringian land bridge.
Archaeologists from various institutions are excavating the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter dig in Oregon. (Photo by the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History)
Archaeologist Scott Thomas told the AP he noticed tall sage brush on very black soil in front of volcanic rock while walking to an archaeological students’ session nearby several years ago. Tall sage brush indicates deep soil, and black soil in front of the volcanic rock indicated cooking fires were burned there for a long time. All of this was near an ancient streambed, which made the site more attractive for habitation. Thomas found a found stemmed stone point, and later volunteers found 30 of them in the vicinity. Some stemmed points predate Clovis and some post-date Clovis. Archaeologists began digging at Rimrock in 2011.
Featured image: A tool possibly used to scrape ancient buffalo hides has been unearthed in Oregon. Archaeologists found it in a layer of soil that predates all but two other habitation sites in the Americas. (Photo by the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History)
By Mark Miller