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South-Central Oregon Caves Yield Early Human DNA

An archaeological dig at a group of remote caves in south-central Oregon may force some rethinking about how the first humans colonized North America. Scientists found the critical evidence in a form you might not expect.

Researchers from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University found evidence of Ice Age human settlement at a place called Paisley Caves. U of O archaeologist Dennis Jenkins says the team excavated artifacts and “dried, desiccated” poop. Lab testing confirmed the poop came from humans.

In a paper published this week in the journal Science, Jenkins and his co-authors describe the feces as “the oldest directly-dated human remains” ever found in the Western Hemisphere.

“We have 190 radio carbon dates and some of them are going back into the 12,000 year range - or 14,000 calendar years.”

Jenkins says an analysis of broken projectile points found near the ancient poop shows these people used different stone tools than the first people of the Great Plains and eastern North America.

That raises a big question. Did the first wave of North American colonizers split into two traditions… or did an entirely separate pioneer culture settle the Far West?

The first human inhabitants of the New World are typically called the Clovis people. In this paper, the researchers name the different, parallel culture as the “Western Stemmed” tradition.

“The Western Stemmed artifacts from the Paisley Caves are at least as old — and may predate — the oldest confirmed Clovis sites, indicating that the peopling of the Americas was at least technologically divergent, if not genetically divergent,” said OSU anthropologist Loren Davis, a study co-author.

This summer, Davis is excavating for corroborating evidence at a different ancient settlement in the lower Salmon River Canyon of western Idaho.

The National Science Foundation and numerous other institutions supported the Paisley Caves research.

Web extras:

Oregon Field Guide - Paisley Caves dig:

Paisley Caves study:

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