A few months ago, Oregon officials declared that network of caves in rural Oregon was found to possibly be the oldest site of human habitation in the Americas, suggesting an ancient human population reached what is now the United States at the end of the last Ice Age.
The U.S. National Park Service added these caves, called The Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, to its list of nationally important archaeological and historical sites. Archaeologists first excavated the Paisley caves in 1938.
Dennis Jenkins, director of the University of Oregon Archaeology Field School, said that only recently have researchers become convinced that humans lived at the Paisley caves a thousand years before the human settlement documented in the so-called “Clovis” sites in New Mexico, although the research effort began in 2002.
What is the the “Clovis First” hypothesis?
This theory holds that distinctive projectile-point artifacts found at multiple sites across the United States are signs of the first human settlements in North America.
Dennis Jenkins and his team used radiocarbon dating to determine that more than 200 samples of human feces collected from the Paisley caves were deposited in the area 14,300 years ago, nearly 1,000 years before the human settlement evidenced in the Clovis era.
In addition to the biological samples, Jenkins’ team also found stones used to grind plant materials, woven plant fibers, modified animal bones and even stemmed projectile points.
“The people living there 14,300 years ago were gathering and consuming aromatic roots, for which they would have needed special knowledge that would have developed over time,” according to the press release announcing the site’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jenkins also stated that this provides “significant new information regarding the timing and spread of the first settlers in the Americas,” suggesting an ancient human population reached what is now the United States at the end of the last Ice Age.
While today, the Paisley caves are surrounded by sagebrush in a sparsely populated area of south-central Oregon, this current research indicates the site was once a grassy plain containing a lake and populated by camel, bison and waterfowl and again most importantly, possibly the oldest site of human habitation in the Americas.