Oldest Known Projectile Points In The Americas Discovered In Idaho

Oldest Known Projectile Points In The Americas Discovered In Idaho


Connie Waters -AncientPages.com- Archaeologists at Oregon State University have uncovered projectile points in Idaho that are thousands of years older than those previously found in the Americas, helping to fill in the history of how humans crafted and used stone weapons.

Cooper’s Ferry Site, Area B credit: Lorraine Davis

According to carbon-14 dating, the 13 complete and fragmentary projectile points, razor sharp and ranging from about half an inch to 2 inches long, date to about 15,700 years ago. It is about 3,000 years older than Clovis fluted points found throughout North America, and 2,300 years older than points found at the same Cooper’s Ferry site along the Salmon River in present-day Idaho.

The findings were published today in the journal science advance,

“From a scientific perspective, these discoveries add very important details about the archaeological record of early people in the Americas,” said Lorraine Davis, professor of anthropology at OSU. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We think people were here in the Americas 16,000 years ago’; it’s another thing to measure it by finding well-made artifacts.”

Previously, Davis and other researchers working at the Cooper’s Ferry site had found simple flakes and bone fragments that indicated human presence about 16,000 years ago. But the discovery of projectile points reveals new insights into the way the first Americans expressed complex ideas through technology at the time, Davis said.

The Salmon River site where the points were found is on traditional Nez Perce land, known to the tribe as the ancient village of Nipehe. The land is currently held in public ownership by the Federal Bureau of Land Management.

Davis said the points are revelatory not only in their age, but also in their similarity to projectile points found in Hokkaido, Japan, which date to 16,000–20,000 years ago. Their presence in Idaho further expands the hypothesis that there are early genetic and cultural links between the Ice Age peoples of Northeast Asia and North America.

America's oldest projectile point discovered in Idaho

Overview of the Area B excavation at the Cooper’s Ferry site in 2017. credit: Lorraine Davis

Davis said, “The early peoples of North America had cultural knowledge that they survived and developed over time. Some of this knowledge can be seen in the way people made stone tools, such as Projectile points found at Cooper’s Ferry site.” , “By comparing these points with other sites of the same age and older, we can estimate the spatial extent of the social networks where this technical knowledge was shared among people.”

These slender projectile points are characterized by two distinct ends, one pointed and one blunted, as well as a symmetrical beveled shape when viewed head-on. Davies stated that they were probably associated with darts rather than arrows or spears and that despite their small size they were lethal weapons.

“There is a belief that early projectile points had to be large in order to kill big game; however, small projectile points mounted on darts will penetrate deeply and cause tremendous internal damage,” he said. “You can hunt any animal with weapons like these that we know of.”

Davis said these discoveries add to an emerging picture of early human life in the Pacific Northwest. “Finding a site where people made pits and stored complete and broken projectile points around 16,000 years ago gives us valuable details about the lives of the early inhabitants of our region.”

America's oldest projectile point discovered in Idaho

Excavator recording artifacts excavated from a pit feature at the Cooper’s Ferry site. Credit: Lorraine Davis

The newly discovered pits are part of the larger Cooper’s Ferry record, where Davis and colleagues previously reported a 14,200-year-old fire pit and a food-processing area containing the remains of an extinct horse. All told, they found and mapped more than 65,000 objects, recording their locations to the millimeter for accurate documentation.

America's oldest projectile point discovered in Idaho

Overview of the Cooper’s Ferry site in the lower Salmon River Valley, western Idaho, USA. Credit: Lorraine Davis

Projectile points were uncovered over several summers between 2012 and 2017, with work supported by a partnership organized between OSU and the BLM. All the excavation work has been completed and the site is now covered. The BLM installed interpretive panels and a kiosk at the site to describe the work.

America's oldest projectile point discovered in Idaho

Observation of Pit Feature 78 during the excavation process. Credit: Lorraine Davis

Davis has been studying the Cooper’s Ferry site since the 1990s when he was an archaeologist with the BLM. Now, he partners with the BLM to bring in undergraduate and graduate students from OSU to work at the site over the summer. The team works closely with the Nez Perce tribe to provide field opportunities for Aboriginal youth and to communicate all findings.

The study was published in science advance

written by Connie Waters -AncientPages.com staff Writer


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