| 7 August 2003
Excavation could change views on early hunters
Tenderfoot Mountain, a ‘mesa’ in the Gunnison Valley (USA) has provided evidence that may upset traditional views on the Folsom hunters, who roamed the Great Plains and parts of the Rocky Mountains up to 13,000 years ago. Previously portrayed as nomadic, the excavation of a jumbled rock ring suggests that these Paleoindians may have had a seasonal settlement on Tenderfoot. Western State College archaeologist Mark Stiger, leader of a student team, suspects that the find is the remains of a crude rock shelter: “My guess is that they’re up here a month, two months, three months at a time, and my guess is that it’s a winter home.” If Stiger’s guess is right the so-called ‘Mountaineer’ site might be the remains of one of the oldest human dwellings in North America.
The shelter atop the 8,600-foot mesa offered 360-degree views of the Gunnison Valley and its herds of elk and bison. Winter temperatures were higher than in the Valley, and there was snow to provide drinking water. Mountaineer would therefore have been an ideal winter base, where the Folsom could fashion their distinctive stone spear points and other tools. So far more than 9,000 artefacts have been found around the structure. The majority are flakes produced during the process of tool-making, but around 70 projectile points, 20-30 stone scrapers and 20-30 stone knives have been found amongst the detritus. Steve Holan, curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has confirmed that the artefacts indicate a Folsom site. “If this turns out to be correct, then it’s an absolutely amazing find that could change the way we think about Folsom.”
The site is about four yards across and sits in a dish shaped depression. Blocks of volcanic rock were piled into foot high walls. Lumps of hardened hand-smoothed mud found within the rock ring suggest that a wood frame was anchored into the walls and covered with brush and mud to form a roof. Stylistically, the artefacts suggest a dating of around 12,000 years ago and radiocarbon analysis is now underway. There is always the possibility that the Early Archaic hunters of a later period built the structure on top of debris left by the Folsom, but this has been largely discounted because of the absence of Archaic artefacts.
The Folsom were named after a site close to Folsom, New Mexico, that produced the first solid evidence of a human prescence in North America after the last ice age. Summer field school students began work at Mountaineer in 2001 and began excavating the rock circle in the summer of 2003.
Source: Times Record News (2 August 2003)
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