Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Oregon Find Points to West Coast Occupation Older Than Clovis

"What archaeologist Dennis Jenkins found in the Paisley Caves in south central Oregon may turn on its head the theory of how and when the first people came to North America.

Many scientists believe humans first came to this continent 13,000 years ago across a land bridge from Asia and they started the so-called Clovis culture. But Jenkins says they may have been living in these caves 1,000 years earlier, toward the end of the last ice age.

In 2002, he and his students at the University of Oregon began excavating the caves looking for proof. They discovered 14,000-year-old camel bones and signs they'd been butchered by humans. And then, they found artifacts of the humans themselves.

Coprolites are an archeology term for fossilized feces. Jenkins says they're from humans, and they're more than 14,000 years old.

Jenkins and his colleagues took their new evidence, the coprolites, to the university lab to see if modern science could offer more answers. They found the coprolites reflected a human diet.

"Here we have bone, some hair, vegetation, material. Those are all good indicators that it's a human coprolite," Jenkins observed.

Carbon dating showed three of the coprolites, and the animal bones found with them were 14,300 years old. And DNA tests showed six samples with distinct markers of ancient Native Americans.

We found little tiny threads that were .04 millimeters, I mean, so tiny they're as small as the threads in your shirt. Clearly, people were sewing their clothing, form-fitting clothing just like we have, shirts, pants, those kinds of things, perhaps moccasins.

The coprolites show they ate desert parsley, which grows six inches under the ground.

"The fact that they were exploiting that plant just like the Native Americans of this region were doing at later times tells us that they were very well-adapted to their environment. These were not explorers. These were people who were living in this area. They were at home here."

The early humans would have had to come by boat to the Pacific coast and then traveled inland through a strip of warmer swampland. Early peoples are thought to have arrived in Australia by boat, but it's a new idea for America."