Tag Archives: paleoindian

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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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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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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Fluted Points from the Bering Land Bridge

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

Paisley Cave Update

Paisley Cave human coprolite dating older than 14,000 cal BP. Source: PBS.

There is a tantalizing news item in a recent edition of Nature indicating that the team led by Dennis Jenkins has found a bone tool in the old layers at Paisley Cave in southern Oregon.  This cave already returned a number of pre-Clovis dates on human coprolites.  Although there was some vociferous opposition to this finding, a vigorous defence of these feces was mounted and to my mind was effective.  (Note that one of those claiming the human poop is actually camel poop posts a slightly hysterical online comment on this Nature news item.  This charge of excess fibre is dealt with in Gilbert et al’s 2009 rebuttal in Science, which is not mentioned in the Nature comment.  Clearly there is a new generation of data-selective Clovis Police being groomed out east.)

Anyway, this bone tool, which I assume will be published soon, is said in the Nature article to date to 14,230 cal. BP, from which I infer a 14C estimation of about 12,250 – exactly contempraneous with the poop.  According to the article,

The dating of the bone tool, and the finding that the sediments encasing it range from 11,930 to 14,480 years old, might put these questions to rest. “You couldn’t ask for better dated stratigraphy,” Jenkins told the Oregon meeting.

Seeing the tool itself will of course be very interesting and hopefully definitive, as there is a long history of bone pseudo-tools in North American archaeology.  So far this date has only been announced at an unspecified “meeting” and peer reviewed publication will be essential to form a final judgment.

You can watch a PBS news clip on the poop discovery from a link here which gives a good idea of the setting of the cave, and also includes nice footage of Luther Cressman!

Camel astragalus from Paisley Cave. Source: U of Oregon.


Dalton, Rex. 2009. Oldest American artefact unearthed: Oregon caves yield evidence of continent’s first inhabitants.  Nature: doi:10.1038/news.2009.1058.