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28 January 2006
Archaeologists uncover 10,000-year-old site in Oregon

Researchers from Oregon State University have analyzed a second archaeological site on the southern Oregon coast (USA) that appears to be about 10,000 years old, and they are hopeful that their newly fine-tuned methodology will lead to the discovery of more and older sites.
     The site, located on a bluff just south of Bandon, Oregon, included a large number of stone flakes, charcoal pieces and fire-cracked rock, according to Roberta Hall, professor emeritus of anthropology at OSU and principal investigator in the study. There also is evidence of a stone hearth, Hall added.
"There are a lot of rock outcrops nearby that would make good sources for tools," she said, "and it appears that tool-making is one of the activities the site may have been used for. We only dug two pits, each two meters long by a meter wide, so there is potential to find much more there."
     The OSU research team developed a model using geologic features, soil type and radiocarbon dating to pinpoint locations most likely to include the oldest sediments. Their theory: these older sediments hold the greatest potential for holding late Pleistocene (older than about 11,000 years) or early Holocene sites. The discovery of a second ancient site in this manner validates their methods, the scientists say.
     Humans may have come to Oregon earlier than 12,000 years ago, the researchers say, but finding evidence of their habitation is agonizingly difficult. "At that time, the ocean was much lower and the shoreline was a few kilometers west," Hall said, "meaning that any site that was on the coast during the late Pleistocene is now under water." Rarely do the sites include any bones or other organic matter, she pointed out. The combination of wet weather and highly acidic soil hastens decomposition. However, sites that contain a lot of mollusk shells - particularly clams, mussels and barnacles - will often include bones because the shells lower the acidity of the soil, slowing decomposition. But the farther away sites are from where the old coastline lay, the less likely researchers are to find mollusk shells.
     The Bandon-area site was excavated down to 235 centimeters - which is considered very deep - and the OSU researchers discovered charcoal in all but the uppermost levels. Artifacts, primarily stone flakes, were found as deep as 215 centimeters, which corresponds to a date of just over 10,000 years old. More sophisticated stone tools were found at a shallower depth and obviously were younger. Absent from the site was evidence of much obsidian, which was plentiful at the Indian Sands site near Brookings, though it was not local in origin.
     Hall said the OSU research team hopes to secure additional funding to look for other ancient sites along the Oregon coast. "We know they're out there," she said. "And now we know better how to find them."

Source: Applegate Oregon News (26 January 2006)

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