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9 June 2011
Alaskan dig offers a glimpse of the Ice Age

Archaeologists will be continuing work at a 12,000-year-old prehistoric site called Raven Bluff this summer. Discovered in 2007 by Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Bill Hedman, the site is yielding evidence of generations of wandering hunters who camped on a bluff overlooking the Kivalina River in northwestern Alaska (USA). What they have found is contributing new insights and contrary new evidence into the thinking on how humans spread throughout North America at the close of the Pleistocene.
     Essentially the remains of a garbage dump, the dig has offered up the oldest preserved animal bone site in the American arctic. "We rarely find animal bones because they rot away so fast," notes one excavating scientist. "Rapid soil accumulation, low soil acidity, and perennially frozen conditions at Raven Bluff resulted in bone preservation that is not seen at any other Arctic site of this age. This dig is telling us what people were eating, what seasons they were at the site, how they were processing animals, how they carried, preserved and stored food."
     For example, the notion that people at this time period were bison hunters in northern Alaska is being put to the test - twelve thousand years ago what is now moist tundra was a drier, grassier landscape grazed by animals that included bison - but caribou bones are what scientists are finding at Raven Bluff so far. Another established scientific hypothesis being tested is how the use of certain stone tools spread in North America. The lower levels of the site produced a very significant find of a fluted projectile point base, marking the first time such a tool has been definitely dated in the north.
     "The idea for decades has been that fluted projectile point technology originated in Alaska or perhaps Siberia and was carried south into the Americas." This model suggests that the Raven Bluff tool should be older than similar points found further south on the continent. "We're finding the opposite of what people expected - the Raven Bluff points are younger than Clovis finds so it may be that they did not originate in the north but came from the south. The question now is, does this represent a migration of people or the spread of an idea from the south?"

Edited from Anchorage Daily News (1 June 2011)

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