Ancient human feces preserved more than 14 millenia may provide clues about the first inhabitants of the Americas. Coprolites in Paisley Caves prove that people migrated to the Americas earlier than previously thought. Carbon dating of the feces and other artifacts places them at approximately 12,300 BCE. At that time, Oregon was a grassy plain surrounding a lake. Bison, horse, camel and waterfowl were plentiful in the area and their bones found in the caves. People were collecting a variety of plants and roots which demonstrates a knowledge of the local flora. Remnants of woven grasses and partially digested food were used for accurate dating of the site. The National Park Service has added Paisley Caves to the National Register of the United State’s most important archaeological and historic sites.
Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon has been the site of human habitation for at least 14,300 years. This is 1,000 years earlier than current global migration theory places people anywhere in North America. This new knowledge undermines the Clovis first theory and once again raises the question of when people moved from Siberia and east Asia across the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas.
Paisley Caves has been an important human archaeological site since the 1930s. Over five seasons of excavations, hundreds of artifacts have been revealed for study. One important find was the Western Stemmed projection point. This type of arrowhead and spear point is found throughout the northwest and bears similarity to those found in Siberia. In addition, archaeologists found grinding stones for grains, modified animal bones and woven plant fibers, indicating a people capable of basket weaving. Threads of sinew and plant, pieces of hide, wooden pegs and rope show that this culture was technologically rich.
Finally, archaeological science has advanced to provide accurate dating of the artifacts, including the human coprolites. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon states, “As we have used increasingly sophisticated scientific techniques in recent years, our understanding of the cultural and megafaunal remains at the site has grown dramatically. Analyses by our research team provides significant new information regarding the timing and spread of the first settlers in the Americas.”
The Clovis first theory states that people of the Clovis culture were the first to cross the land bridge from Siberia and populate the Americas. The name comes from the site in New Mexico where a large amount of identifiable spear heads and other artifacts were found and able to be reliably dated. The Clovis point has a particular flute or groove near the base where it attaches to the spear or arrow. Finding fluted projectile points identifies a shared technology which defines the culture. The Clovis points date the people to around 13,500 years ago. This date coincides with a slight climate warming which melted a path through the mile high ice sheets allowing the migrating people a way south. At first, archaeologists refused to believe people could have crossed to North America before 10,000. After Clovis points were uncovered across North America, that date was pushed back 3,500 years. Proponents of the Clovis first theory assert that there is no way people could have crossed on top of the ice sheets, basically a vast frozen desert, to populate the Americas. Recently, human artifacts have been discovered that cast doubt on their theory.
Artifacts in Monte Verde, Chile, the southwestern corner of South America, date to 14,800, proving that people inhabited the Americas before the Clovis culture. These people most likely traveled down the coast in boats and relied on fishing more than big game hunting. The discovery of Monte Verde begs the question of whether the Clovis point technology was brought by people from Asia or arose spontaneously in the western hemisphere. Dating of various Clovis sites provides evidence that Native Americans may have migrated from south to north instead of the assumed north to south. Also, Clovis points are not found in Siberia, but similar technology was used on the Iberian peninsula. Perhaps a variety of peoples migrated to the Americas and combined technology and survival skills.
The debris and human feces found in the Paisley caves further refutes the idea of Clovis first. The artifacts found in Oregon are over 1,000 years older than the earliest Clovis. In addition, the spear points are not are not fluted but are western stemmed projectiles. They employ a different technology than the Clovis. Jenkins says, “It looks like you’ve got a separate group of people on the landscape, and these people are making different kinds of arrowheads or spear points.”
David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University, asks the question: who came first? Did the Western Stem people or the Clovis people establish themselves first? Were they contemporaries and did they interact with one another? Paisley Caves proves that pre-Clovis human cultures existed. How long they were in the Americas is an intriguing question. If they walked, they had to come when much of the earth’s water was frozen, revealing more land. Common theory holds that they could not cross the ice but needed bare land. That leaves them migrating here after 13,500 years ago, or before the ice sheets grew too large 22,000 years ago. Evidence of people from before the ice covered much of North America would have largely been destroyed due to climate conditions; but the Paisley Cave people came from somewhere. Migration to the Americas remains a mystery waiting to be solved.
The Paisley Caves area is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. Stan McDonald, BLM archaeologist for Oregon and Washington declared, “The site’s listing underscores the importance of Oregon’s archaeological heritage to understanding the full breadth of the human experience.” Ancient human feces preserved more than 14 millenia may provide clues about the first human inhabitants of the Americas.
By: Rebecca Savastio