|11 April 2015
Ancient stone tools found in Utah desert
Researchers exploring the desert flats west of Salt Lake City (northern Utah - USA) have uncovered more than a thousand ancient tools, such as spear points, a type of rectangular implement that hasn't been reported before, and objects that an archaeologist describes as "giant scrapers coming out of the ground... fresh as daisies."
The tools were found in 2012 on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range, where Dr. Daron Duke, lead researcher of the team that made the finds, was hired to conduct a survey. Based on ecological evidence and radiocarbon dates of organic matter in the area, laid down when this desert was a wetland, the oldest of the artifacts date to between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago, Duke said.
The most striking of the tools are 55 long, slender spear points and fragments, fashioned in a style known as Haskett - a tradition that's associated with the Great Basin region, but rarely found. One of the complete spear heads is the largest Haskett point yet found, measuring 22.6 centimeters (about 9 inches). And another was found to contain a residue of elephant proteins, making it the first likely evidence of mammoth-hunting in the Great Basin.
Together, these finds help clarify a picture that has remained hazy for archaeologists: the life and times of the Great Basin's earliest inhabitants, who may have been contemporaries of the ancient and widespread Clovis culture. "Haskett is very rare, anywhere," said Duke. "They were probably moving around with a sort of condensed tool kit, and I guess you could say they were low visibility. There weren't many people around, and they didn't leave much of a record. But we just got lucky here."
Haskett points are thought to be part of the larger Western Stemmed tradition of tool-making, whose artifacts are found throughout the Great Basin. And mounting evidence, including the new findings from Utah, suggests that the people who fashioned Western Stemmed tools were contemporaneous with the Clovis culture. "There's no doubt that the people who made fluted [Clovis] points are not those people who made Haskett points," Duke said. "Even though they accomplish the same thing, they're just completely different in their design."
In addition to these many revelations, the patch of barren Air Force land has also turned up other compelling finds, such as a type of tool that doesn't seem to have been recognized previously by archaeologists. There's a class of artifacts that's pretty much defined [by this locality] that I've never even heard of before," Duke said.
His team found 19 extremely sharp, double-sided tools that they call rectangular bifaces, fashioned from broken Haskett stems, he said. "They appear to be used for some sort of intensive gouging of hard material, like bone or wood," Duke added. "These are artifacts that are not recognized in any of the other Paleoindian assemblages."
These preliminary findings from the Utah Test and Training Range have shown enough potential that Duke has already secured permission and funding to excavate the site.
Edited from Western Digs (2 April 2015)
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