Tag Archives: clovis

Manis Mastodon: a 13,800 year old Archaeological Site on the Northwest Coast

CT slice through Mastodon rib exposing bone point profile. Source: Waters et al. 2011.

For a long time, the Manis Mastodon site near Sequim, Washington was the elephant in the room of the Northwest Coast early period.  The apparent bone point embedded in a mastodon rib was seemingly hard to explain by any non-cultural means, yet maddeningly short of definitive proof, and so was politely ignored. The point has always been a thorn in my side too, which is why I have posted on it three times, once over a year ago, and twice recently.

Maybe I am a bit obsessed with it because if I rise gently from my sofa in Blog World Headquarters, being careful not to spill fine single malt on my pyjamas, then through my window I can see Sequim in the extreme distance, seemingly mocking me.

So all the more cathartic that today, with the publication of a convincing re-analysis of the mastodon rib by Michael Waters et al. in the respected journal Science, we can say that the  site is, indeed, evidence of humans hunting Mastodon on the Northwest Coast 13,800 years ago.  That’s about eight hundred years pre-Clovis.  Like I said before: it’s real.  It’s old. It’s on the coast.  Wow.

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Intriguing rumours about the Manis Mastodon site

Screenshot of Manis news from the website of the Center for the Study of First Americans. Click to go to page.

[October 20 edit: Manis article now out in Science, my post here.]

Quite a while ago I posted about some of the frustrations I felt about the Manis Mastodon site, near Sequim on the Olympic peninsula.  This 1970s find of a Mastodon skeleton had one singularly enigmatic feature: there appeared to be the broken tip of a bone point embedded in one of its ribs.  As I wrote before: yank that sucker out! – so we can determine for sure if this is a human made artifact dating to the same age as the Mastodon – about 14,000 years ago.  Being well pre-Clovis and right near the coast, this find would be of profound importance to our archaeological understanding of the first arrival of people into the Americas.  Now, as you can read above, there is an intriguing hint that Manis has finally been re-examined, and found to be a legitimate Pleistocene archaeological site. It’s real.  Wow.

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More on Puget Sound Clovis

From near Seattle, the Yukon Harbor Clovis Point. Source: LeTourneau 2010

Some time ago, I made a post illustrating that Clovis projectile points are known from a number of undated contexts in Puget Sound.  Most of these are surface finds, though a couple were buried in or under wetland deposits.  These were largely under the archaeological radar until Croes et al. briefly summarized the data within a book chapter on Puget Sound Projectile Points.  One of the wetland finds was from Yukon Harbor on the Kitsap Peninsula, across Puget Sound from Seattle, of which I previously posted a low-quality photo.  A short article describing this artifact has recently been published in the journal Current Research in the Pleistocene, and the author, Phil LeTourneau of Seattle’s Burke Museum, was kind enough to send me a copy.

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Big Bucks for Early Coast at OSU

Screenshot of PSAL Web Page.

It looks like big Northwest Coast projects on old sites are in the works at Oregon State University.  I came across a new blog which is the public face of something called the Pacific Slope Archaeological Lab with the mission of “Discovery, recovery, and interpretation of First Americans archaeology in the New World’s Far West.”  The blog points to a large number of projects which have been initiated or are planned under this research umbrella.  How is such a wide-ranging and ambitious research project possible?  A million dollar endowment making a fund under the direction of OSU Associate Professor Loren Davis isn’t hurting.

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Raven Bluff: another dated Alaskan fluted point site

Northern fluted point from Raven Bluff site. Source: flickr usr The Arctic Archaeologist.

Some time ago I posted about the Serpentine Hot Springs site in Northwestern Alaska, at which several fluted points have been found, apparently dating to about 12,000 years ago.  That’s about a thousand years more recent than Clovis, which is the best known of the early “fluted point” archaeological cultures from the Americas. I was interested to come across another site – Raven Bluff – which has recently come to light from the same general area, and which also has fluted points.  At Raven Bluff, at least one of  these dates to between about 12,000 and 12,500 years ago – also younger than Clovis, which is mainly confined to a narrow window around 13,000 years ago.

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Florida Mammoth Engraving is Real?

Vero Beach, Florida, mammoth engraving. Source: National Geographic.

I’ve been vaguely aware that in 2009 at Vero Beach (map) near Miami, a sensational find came to light of a bone with a mammoth engraved onto it.  So far there has not been a lot to say about it but now I read that Dennis Stanford at the Smithsonian has inspected it and found no reason to think it is not genuine (yes, that kind of double-negative convoluted opinion).

Anyway, the story is interesting in its own right and perhaps has some lessons for us on the NW Coast as well, which I’ll discuss at more length below.

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East Wenatchee Clovis Photo Gallery

One of the East Wenatchee Clovis Points. Source: Washington State Historical Society.

A few months ago I posted about the surface finds, or other finds without archaeological context, of the Clovis archaeological culture in Puget Sound, noting that this shouldn’t be all that surprising considering the well-known East Wenatchee (Richey-Roberts) Clovis Cache from just east of the Cascades.  Clovis, as you may know, is an archaeological culture type long associated with the first peopling of the Americas, although a decreasing number of archaeologists think it reflects that series of events.

Anyway, you can review that other post for more details.  What I’ve subsequently found is that the Washington State Historical Society has a colour gallery of all 49 of the artifacts from East Wenatchee.  The pictures are not particularly high resolution but they are well-taken and well-lit and better than most you’ll find on the web.  You can match the projectile points up to this diagram if you are feeling keen, or compare to the pictures at the lithic casting lab, some of which have hands and other useful sizing aids in them.

Even so, since they were scanned from 4 X 5 inch format negatives, it’s disappointing there is no higher resolution downloadable.  For a fringe interest like this, and considering that bandwidth is practically free, let’s make this stuff available.  You can click on the view options to, for example, see both sides of the artifact displayed at once.  It’s also very surprising that there is no photo scale and dimensions are not given.

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Still no Clovis Comet

Oh noes, my tusks are on fire. Source: wincustomize.com

I talked once before about the “Clovis Comet” theory, which suggested the widespread extinctions of megafauna in North America at the end of the last ice age was caused by a large comet impact.  At the same moment, the highly distinctive “Clovis” archaeological culture was terminated.  It was suggested this comet might have either airburst or struck the ice sheets, in either case not causing a visible crater.  However, abundant “nanodiamonds”, said to be highly diagnostic of an extraterrestrial impact, were found at a widespread boundary layer roughly associated with the end of Clovis – the start of the Younger Dryas cold period when the earth was suddenly thrust back into near-glacial conditions.

So, I said then and I’ll say again now: this theory didn’t pass the sniff test from the beginning because it is another example of “Clovis exceptionalism” – the skeptical leeway that the Clovis-First model of first peopling of the Americas has been afforded by segments of the archaeological community.  No Clovis model was so implausible that it wasn’t given much respectful beard-stroking by the usual silverbacks.

Anyway, subsequent studies of the nanodiamonds and associated evidence have failed utterly to reproduce the findings.  Now comes even more news that the comet theory is unsupported and that the original investigators may have mistaken nanodiamonds for, among other things . . .  [drumroll] . . .  “hardened faecal material from arthropods.”

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The Bison at Ayer Pond on Orcas Island is archaeological.

Cranium of 14,000 year old Bison antiquus from Ayer Pond, Orcas Island, Salish Sea. Source: Kenady et al. 2010 (in press)

One of the challenges in archaeology is to take a familiar landscape and, by considering the known data from the paleo sciences, make it strange and unfamiliar and ripe with possibilities for strange and unfamiliar archaeology.  Right here in the southern Salish Sea there is an excellent example of this coming to light.  As the ice retreated at the end of the last glacial period, the Salish Sea saw dramatic changes in sea level (both higher, and lower), in vegetation (tundra, grassland, and forest) and in the animals present on that dynamic landscape.

Location of known Bison antiquus remains in Salish Sea. Source: Wilson et al. 2009.

For years now, we have known that one of the large land mammal species of the Salish Sea around 14,000 years ago was bison — and not just any bison, but Bison antiquus, the extinct giant bison.  A number of remains of this creature have been found, mostly on the Saanich Peninsula and on Orcas Island,  which is one of the largest islands in the Salish Sea, sitting just south of Saturna Island, close to the Canadian Border.  Since these remains mostly clocked in at around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, most archaeologists were interested in them primarily for their coolness factor and not because they seriously thought there might be relevance to early human presence here – these bison pre-date the Clovis Culture which was the consensual evidence for the first peopling of the Americas.  I have previously posted on this with reference to Clovis in Puget Sound, to the controversial Manis Mastodon site, as well as to the nearby Wenas Mammoth and even the Paisley Cave finds in Oregon – evidence is coming together for both a Clovis and a pre-Clovis occupation of the Salish Sea and environs.

Now with a new paper by Kenady et al. in press, these numerous bison finds take on a new importance: one of them is most likely archaeological.

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Puget Sound Clovis

In Red: Surface Finds of Clovis Projectile Points. After Croes et al. 2008.

I posted yesterday about the Manis Mastodon site and its possible status as a pre-Clovis site on the Olympic Peninsula.  Clovis projectile points are so distinctive that most archaeologists have no problem assigning even an isolated find of such a point, lacking in any kind of stratigraphic context or any associated dates, to the Clovis archaeological culture.  We know from sites elsewhere in North America that Clovis dates to a pretty narrow window, perhaps only 13,200 to 12,800 calendar years ago.  It has always been very closely associated with the ice-free corridor route for the First Peopling of the Americas and is predominantly known from classic sites in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. So it may come as a surprise to some that Clovis is pretty well represented in Puget Sound and north to Bellingham Bay, although only from surface or other finds without provenience.

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