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30 March 2009
New find doesn't end debate on Clovis cache

Last month, University of Colorado archaeologist Douglas Bamforth announced the discovery of a 13,000-year-old cache of 83 stone tools found in Boulder, Colorado (USA). Biochemical analyses of residues on their edges indicate that some were used to butcher horses and camels. Robert Yohe, with the Laboratory of Archaeological Science at California State, performed the tests and said the discovery of the protein residue caused the investigators to change their minds about the purpose of the cache. Initially, they suspected it was a ritual deposit, but because some of the tools had been used, they decided it was a utilitarian cache. According to Bamforth, some ancient hunter buried the items, 'fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them.'
     It's certainly possible that the artifacts represent this kind of cache, but it may be premature to discard the idea that the artifacts are the remains of an Ice Age ceremony. In 1982, a farmer in Portage County plowed up 356 teardrop-shaped blades made from Flint Ridge flint. Olaf Prufer, an archaeologist at Kent State University, studied this cache and concluded it was a ritual deposit of the Adena culture, circa 50 BCE. The flint blades, similar to some of the artifacts in the Boulder Clovis cache, did not appear to have been used, were strewn with red ocher and had been held together in a wooden vessel. Prufer thought the cache represented a ritual offering made by an individual who had intentionally dropped the container of flint into a shallow lake that later become a bog.
     The Mahaffy cache had not been sprinkled with ocher, and the chemical analyses, which were not done on the cache studied by Prufer, show clearly that at least some of the artifacts had been used. Nevertheless, it too might have been a ceremonial offering rather than a cache that the original owner intended to reclaim. The artifacts with traces of blood upon their edges might have been used for ritual purposes rather than simple meal preparation. Or, for this particular ceremony, it might have been enough for the artifacts to have been like new.
     Native Americans made similar kinds of offerings for spiritual reasons. It is fascinating to consider the possibility that such religious practices have their roots in America's Ice Age cultures. It is, of course, possible that the people of the Clovis culture had their own reasons for depositing troves of artifacts in the ground. University of Alberta archaeologist Jason Gillespie, writing in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology last year, suggested that such caches might have provided a way for a colonizing people to transform a vast and unknown natural landscape into a cultural landscape through the creation of such symbolic landmarks.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch (22 March 2009)

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