Friday, July 13, 2012

Paisley Caves and Western Stemmed Points

Science News has an interesting article about new discoveries at the important archaeological site of Paisley Caves located in south-central Oregon. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon has been excavating there for a number of years, and the site is already well known for its age, it has a buried component dating between 13 and 14,000 BP (Clovis age and older), and is famed for the fact that human coprolites have been recovered from these oldest levels. This makes it the oldest human poop yet discovered in the New World.

The article points out that more human coprolites have been discovered at these old levels. Also that through an amazingly comprehensive series of radiocarbon dates and chemical analysis of soil and coprolite samples, Jenkins has been able to conclusively prove that the coprolite dates are uncontaminated and accurate. Last year at the SAA meetings I saw a presentation Jenkins made on the work he and Tom Stafford had done on this, and though you had to admire their thoroughness, it was almost excrutiating to sit through.

The other interesting discovery related in the article has to do with the recovery of examples of a particular projectile point style known as Western Stemmed points. Three of these are shown in the picture above. Most of you probably know that we archaeologists use projectile point styles as "type fossils" that can give you at least a rough idea of how old a site may be. People spend a lot of time collecting the information on the dates and locations of particular projectile point styles or "types" recovered from securely dated contexts. This collated data is published in articles and sometimes guidebooks that show the geographical  and chronological extent of each type.We do the same thing with other types of artifacts as well, notably ceramics and beads.

Back to Western Stemmed points. Up until recently, data collated about these points indicated that they were found in the far western US and that they dated to about 8 to 10,000 BP. This put them at the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary and they were seen as a late Paleoindian type. "Stemmers" (as some call them) most likely served as points on darts thrown by atlatls.

Jenkins has upset all of this conventional knowledge by finding these points in the oldest levels at Paisley Caves. There are also finds cited from other sites in the region supporting the position that Western Stemmed points date much older than we thought.This makes them actually an early Paleoindian type and the contemporary or even antecedent of the well known Clovis type, Jenkins goes on with some speculation that Western Stemmed points had their origins in the west and spread eastward over time, while Clovis points had their origins in the southeast and spread west. More work will be needed to support that. I'm sure part of this theory has its origins in the fact that at the SAA meetings last April, Dennis Stanford reported that he and his associates have located 150 Clovis sites in the DelMarVa peninsula at Chesapeake Bay. This work isn't published yet, but is a stunning discovey as well, showing that the majority of known Clovis sites are found in the southeast.

The picture at the top of the page only shows bases of three Western Stemmed Points found at Paisley Caves. Above is a picture of a complete one I found on a site in Malheur County, Oregon last summer, less than 100 miles from Paisley Caves. I was pretty excited when I found this as it meant I had a 10,000 year-old site. Now it may mean that's a 13,000 year-old site. Also if you look in this post I wrote last year, you'll see a picture of one we found on a site in California. In California, that type is usually referred to as a Lake Mojave point.


Moro Rogers said...

"Human Coprolites" would be a good name for a band. Just sayin.'

TerryDarc said...

Interesting article but I don't understand how the U of O's team could know the shape of the entire spear point from the three fragments found. I'll buy the DNA & radio carbon dating for now but knowing the difference in technology from Clovis point to these fragments is a mystery.

Reid Farmer said...

Excellent - probably need to be a punk band, don't you think? My son was just through here on tour with his punk-rock band "Fell to Low." I'll have to mention it to him.

Speaking of band names, guy who works for my company in the Portland office is a native Alabaman. He's convinced he could make a fortune in Portland if he introduced Country & Western music with songs written with left-wing themes. He'd call it Red Grass. He's already picked a name for his band: Uncle Joe and the Five-Year Plan

Peculiar said...


Steve Earle(;-)

Steve B from Peculiar's

Peculiar said...


Steve Earle (;-)

Steve B on Peculiar's machine in Santa Fe...

Reid Farmer said...

I'll buy the DNA & radio carbon dating for now but knowing the difference in technology from Clovis point to these fragments is a mystery.


Clovis points and WSPs have very different shapes and are made with very different "plans of manufacture."

If you look at the complete WSP I showed you'll see it has a contracting stem - the base is the narrowest part of the point. We assume it was meant to be hafted in some sort of a socket arrangement. WSPs are relatively thick in cross-section, sloping steeply from a central ridge to the lateral margins of the point.

In a Clovis point, the base is the widest part of the point. The flaking pattern is in broad, parallel flakes across the width of the point. A Clovis point has a distinctive flutes on each side, that result from flakes driven off from the base in the direction of the tip. Clovis points are generally much thinner in cross-section - that and the flute seem to indicate a different hafting pattern, probably a "splint" approach with a split wood or bone foreshaft. Clovis points are also generally much larger than WSPs

I would suggest you google "Western Stemmed Points" and "Clovis Points" and compare a number of pictures of complete examples of both types. I think it would be clearer for you.

Plus, the top picture of the WSP bases is pretty crappy

Reid Farmer said...

My friend in Portland is being completely facetious and snarky (you'd love Bob, he's a great guy) but I think we'd both agree with you Steve Earle could be considered the real originator of "Red Grass"

Also, Portland is easy to ridicule. Having been there frequently on business lately I could tell you stories. As the satirical TV series "Portlandia" says, "Portland is where young people go to retire."

Give the Peculiars and Adventure Eli hugs from us

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree on these human coprolites being the oldest recorded. Some of the ones I have found in old rental places where I've lived undoubtedley predate these by centuries(and is one reason I got rent so cheap at those places! Yuck!)....And speaking of cool names, "Clovis" WOULD be a GREAT sighthound name, wouldn't it? Especially for one of those New Mexican Central Asian Lurcher types.......L. B.

Reid Farmer said...

"Clovis" WOULD be a GREAT sighthound name, wouldn't it? Especially for one of those New Mexican Central Asian Lurcher types


I have an archaeologist friend who had a sweet German Shepard mix dog he named Clovis many years ago. Folsom, another Paleoindian projectile point type based on a New Mexico town, would be another good dog name, I think.

Anonymous said...

Cool! Although the general public probably wouldn't know the significance of "Clovis" or "Folsom". I think "Atlatl" would be a great hunting dog name, too! And to totally get off-subject, I have a degenerate desire to get a saluki and name it "Suzuki". Actually, I wouldn't be suprised if that's already been done, too!....L.B.

Steve Bodio said...

I knew a woman who always pronounced it that way. She also called dachshunds "datsuns" though...

Anonymous said...

Ha! I don't know if it is just a "Southern" thing or not, but around here, I often hear dachsunds pronounced "DASH-hounds"--which they are anything BUT of course! Now Teddy M., if you read this, I mean in comparison with sighthounds and the like ;).....L.B.