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10 March 2007
State archaeologist casts doubt on ancient find in Walker

The State archaeologist is casting doubt on claims that an archaeological dig in the northern Minnesota city of Walker (USA) has turned up ancient stone tools between 13,000 and 14,000 years old. Minnesota State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson, in a report released Monday, said the materials found at the excavation site were more likely to have been produced by natural forces such as flowing water or glacial movement. The majority of the artifacts "did not demonstrate the characteristics that one would expect from humanly produced stone artifacts," he said in his eight-page report.
     Archaeologists found about 50 objects while investigating a route for a planned road in Walker. The items were found beneath a layer of glacial deposits that had been covered by windblown deposits, and experts said they believed the objects were between 13,000 and 15,000 years old. The Walker City Council has since voted to postpone any work at the site so it could be preserved for more research.
     Responding to the report, one of the lead scientists involved in the excavation maintained that the site could contain evidence of very early human habitation. Additional research at the site is scheduled for this summer. "As far as the artifacts, we do believe we have culturally related materials," said Matt Mattson, a biologist and archaeologist working for the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program, which conducted the excavation. "During the course of next summer's work, we would hope to recover some materials that are more diagnostic than what we've recovered so far." Also Thor Olmanson, director of the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program (LLHSP), disputes State archaeologist's conclusion. "We remain comfortable with our earlier impressions and with the ongoing analysis and study of the materials. In our opinion, the site is becoming ever more difficult to ignore from a strictly scientific perspective," Olmanson stated.
     In his report, Anfinson also said it was unlikely that people lived in the 'very uninviting environment' of the Late Glacial age in northern Minnesota. If any of the objects really are stone tools from 13,000 years ago or more, they would be among the oldest human artifacts ever found in North America. Anfinson thinks that more site work would only confirm the conclusions in his report. If investigators want to pursue it, he recommended a recognized stone tool expert examine the collection. If the expert concludes there may be some real artifacts, he recommended an outside unbiased archaeologist, experienced in excavating complex, early sites, be brought in.
     Outside experts greeted the discovery with skepticism when it was announced in January, but said much more research needed to be done to allow firm conclusions. The long-accepted theory was that people first arrived in the Western Hemisphere 11,200 years ago - corresponding with the age of arrowheads found in the 1930s near Clovis, N.M. But a consensus is emerging that some humans arrived thousands of years earlier, even if scientists disagree on when.
     Anfinson's eight-page report is available on the State Archaeologist Office website, www.admin.state .mn.us/osa/.

Source: The Pilot-Independent (7 march 2007)

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