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26 October 2008
Bone tool sheds light on prehistoric US Midwest

A prehistoric bone tool discovered by University of Indianapolis archeologists is the oldest such artifact ever documented in Indiana, the researchers say. Radiocarbon dating shows that the tool – an awl fashioned from the leg bone of a white tail deer, with one end ground to a point – is 10,400 years old. The find supports the growing notion that the first Hoosiers migrated northward earlier than previously thought. Sites from the Paleoindian and Early Archaic eras are more common in surrounding states such as Illinois and Ohio, which were not as heavily glaciated as Indiana.
     The tool was found in 2003 in northwestern Indiana's Carroll County by students participating in the university's annual summer archeology field school. Schmidt has directed ongoing excavations since 2002 at the site near the small town of Flora, where a glacial lake attracted mastodon, giant beaver and smaller wildlife for thousands of years. Stone tools thought to be from the same era have been found in Indiana, but because they are not made from organic materials, their age cannot determined precisely, only inferred from surrounding materials and comparison with similar artifacts. Tools made from biodegradable materials, such as bone, rarely survive intact from such ancient times.
     Scratches and notches on the 5-inch bone awl indicate it probably was used in conjunction with a stone knife to punch holes in leather, perhaps for clothing. The nature of the activity suggests that the lifestyle of its users was more settled than nomadic. "This tells us they're pretty well established in northern Indiana," said Associate Professor Christopher Schmidt, director of UIndy’s Indiana Prehistory Laboratory. "This isn't just people passing through. This is people settling down, making homes." The people who lived in Indiana 10,000 years ago are not well known, Schmidt added. No burials of this age have been found, and only a few sites this old have been documented. "That's what makes this site so interesting," Schmidt says. "It gives us a glimpse into life not long after the glaciers had receded. It shows us a lake that was rich with life, some of which would soon go extinct, some of which is still with us today. And, despite the changes, it is clear those first people in Indiana were hardy and later flourished."

Sources: University of Indianapolis (20 October 2008), NewsWise (21 October 2008)

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