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13 June 2005
Kansas dig may change beliefs on early Americans

Archaeological site near Kanorado may be uncovering earliest record of campsites on the Great Plains. McLean, a Kansas University graduate student, and her fellow archaeologists are trying to prove the people who once camped at this site were among the earliest inhabitants of the Great Plains — and may have been there 700 years before historians previously thought. This is the third summer archaeologists from KU and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science have been at this rural site near Kanorado, about a mile from the Colorado border.
     This year’s dig has taken on new importance based on radiocarbon dating results completed in February. The tests showed that mammoth and prehistoric camel bones found at the site dated back to 12,200 years ago. The bones appear to have tool marks made by humans, who probably broke the bones apart to extract marrow for food or to make bone tools, said Steve Holen, curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum. If workers can find tools in the same area where the bones were found, it could disprove the widely held belief that humans arrived in North America around 11,500 years ago. “The best thing we could find is a very patterned artifact — one that it’s obvious humans made it,” Holen said. “It would change the way we think about early humans in North America.”
     Even if evidence pushing back the arrival of humans in the plains isn’t found, the site is still one of the best-preserved campsites for early plains people, the researchers said. Pieces of tools and a bead from the Clovis era — from about 10,800 years ago to 11,500 years ago — have been uncovered. In the past, most Clovis-era artifacts have been found away from campsites, such as arrowheads found in fields, said Rolfe Mandel, an archaeological geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey. Mandel said this was the first site uncovered from the period in Kansas or Nebraska, and one of only a handful from the Midwest. In prehistoric times, the Kanorado site likely had marshlike water that drew large animals, which in turn drew humans there, Mandel said. People of the era were highly mobile, though, so they likely didn’t stay there more than a few days or weeks.
     While the artifacts from 10,800 to 11,500 years ago are interesting, workers digging near Kanorado clearly would like to find something to push back dates of humans in the Great Plains. If such an artifact was found, the researchers say, it would raise questions about whether the earliest inhabitants of North America came across the Bering Strait from Asia. Instead, they may have arrived by boat in South America, and journeyed northward.

Source: Lawrence Journal-World (12 June 2005)

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