Excavations at the Upward Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter via adn.com
There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding a new paper by Carrin Halffman et al. documenting the use of salmon at the Upward Sun River Site (more) which is on the Tanana River: a tributary of the Yukon River, but about 1,400 kilometres upstream from the ocean (and much further still from the paleo-rivermouth during Beringian times). The authors report this as both the earliest evidence of salmon exploitation in the Americas, and the first evidence of Pleistocene salmon use. The first I am on board with, the second I may quibble a little with lower down. (And this is all assuming we don’t consider eastern Beringia to be effectively part of Asia at this time!). But it’s a remarkable find and a very carefully researched and presented paper. [edit: be sure to read comments from Ben Potter below which tweaks some information in this post.]
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, Northwest Interior
Tagged alaska, Beringia, first peopling, fishing, salmon, Tanana River, Upward Sun River, Yukon River, zooarchaeology
Late glacial shoreline at Vega, northern Norway, +96m asl today. The first settlers (9500–9000 BC) had to cross 20km of open sea from the mainland (in the background) to reach the island, a strong indication that seaworthy vessels were at their disposal (photograph H.M. Breivik).
The Colonization of Scandinavian Seascapes in the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.
Dr. Hein B. Bjerck
ASBC talk Thursday April 17th
UVIC, Cornett B129
In common with the Northwest Coast, coastal Norway was heavily glaciated into a rugged landscape of fjords and islands. As the glaciers retreated, people moved in. This talk gives us a chance to do a compare and contrast between our setting and the very distant, yet parallel, setting of post-glacial Scandinavia.
Hein B. Bjerck, is Professor in Archaeology at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), The University Museum, Trondheim, Norway. He is Project leader, “Marine Ventures – Comparative perspectives on the dynamics of early human approaches to the seascapes of Tierra del Fuego and Norway”. You can also view a project gallery and writeup at the Antiquity journal website.
Dr. Bjerck is in British Columbia at the invitation of the archaeological projects of UVic’s own Daryl Fedje and Duncan McLaren, who are generously funded by the Tula Foundation. The thrust of these projects, at Quadra Island and the Central Coast respectively, is to look at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and the first occupation of the Northwest Coast.
Incidentally, if you are a graduate student, there is an excellent short field course in archaeology and ecology starting soon at Hakai. It’s non-credit but you might be able to wrap it into a directed studies with your supervisor. Strongly recommended.
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.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Washington State
Tagged Archaeology, clovis, coastal route, first peopling, Manis, Manis Mastodon, paleoindian, pre-clovis
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.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Washington State
Tagged bone technology, clovis, first peopling, Manis, mastodons, pre-clovis, Sequim, zooarchaeology
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.
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.
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.
Mammoth Wenas. Source: CWU.edu; painting by Bronwyn Mayo.
For the past few years, students and faculty from Central Washington University have been excavating terminal Pleistocene fauna, including a partial mammoth skeleton, from the Wenas Creek area just north of Yakima (map), and they have a nice website documenting their work. Radiocarbon dates on the mammoth came back at 13,400 and 14,000 radiocarbon years ago, or about 16,000 calendar years ago. Too old for archaeological interest! Right?
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Washington State
Tagged bison, Cascades, Central Washington University, coastal route, first peopling, mammoth, megafauna, pleistocene, Washington State
Fluted points from the Serpentine Hot Springs Site, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Source: Bering Land Bridge NPS
For many years, archaeologists considered the so-called “Clovis” Culture to be the remains of the first humans to enter the Americas. These people were said to come via the Bering Land Bridge, a subcontinental land mass which joins North America to Northeast Asia. Clovis culture was distinguished by a very characteristic type of stone spear point which had a long flake removed from the base on each side, forming a “flute” which considerably thinned the base of the point. Such fluting was a hallmark of Clovis and another, slightly more recent, culture: Folsom.
Clovis was thought to have arrived into the Americas from the present-day Yukon area through an “ice free corridor”. However, for many years, Clovis points and the rest of Clovis culture, were unknown from north of the ice sheets and there was a sustained research agenda to find Clovis, or to find Clovis antecedents, in Yukon, NWT or Alaska. While the occasional fluted point became known from surface finds, those from solid archaeological context did not.
It is therefore interesting to see a site, Serpentine Hot Springs, has come to light on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula (the bit that sticks out closest to Asia – map) which has revealed numerous fluted points. Continue reading
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast
Tagged alaska, Asia, Beringia, clovis, first peopling, Kamchatka, paleoindian, Seward Peninsula
Surely they could have painted a mammoth on this somewhere.....
Flickr usr Travis S. does a nice, understated job of annotating this hilarious reconstruction of the “Ice Free corridor” from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Click on the image to go to the original. This picture pretty much sums up the absurdity of the Ice Free corridor — magical parting of the white sea while the coast is socked in under a mile of solid fog. Funny how such reconstructions were made before serious geological investigation of their truth content, and funnier still how archaeologists just slurped up the ice free corridor as the answer to their need to get the FIRST AMERICANS (nevar forget!) into Wyoming, well, first.