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In Ancient Oregon Dump, Clues To The First Americans?


The following first appeared in the July 13, 2012, edition of National Public Radio. SMU Anthropologist David Meltzer, the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory, provided expertise for this story.

July 13, 2012

By Christopher Joyce

Some of the most interesting discoveries in archaeology come from sifting through ancient garbage dumps. Scientists working in Oregon have found one that has yielded what they say are the oldest human remains in the Americas and a puzzle about the earliest American tools.

Early Americans used Oregon's Paisley Caves for, among other things, a toilet. Little did they know that scientists would be picking through what they left behind.

The scientists extracted DNA from dried-up feces in the cave, known politely as "coprolites." And they've got something more — four projectile points, flaked from stone and presumably used for weapons. They're broken; their makers probably trashed them.

And the scientists now have reliable dates for all this stuff. Some of the coprolites appear to be 14,500 years old. They say it's the oldest direct evidence of people in America, because it's based on carbon dating of actual human "remains," the gold standard for dating ancient cultures. . .

Archaeologist David Meltzer at Southern Methodist University says finding a different group with a different technology is surprising. But the next question is: Who came first? The Western Stem people or the Clovis? Were they related?

"We have contemporaneous groups," Meltzer says. "They are doing different stylistic things on the landscape. What is the relationship? Dunno."

Read the full story or listen to the report. audio icon 

Also read
The New York Times: Earliest Americans Arrived in Waves, DNA Study Finds

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