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Oregon Archaeologists Discover Earliest North American Culture

When in 1939 University of Oregon scientist Luther Cressman discovered the remains of bison, camels, horses and other ancient animals in the Paisley Caves next to Summer Lake, Ore., few anthropologists accepted the findings for lack of documentation.

  
 
Sixty-three years later, in 2002, archaeologists led by Dr. Dennis Jenkins began new digs at the Paisley Caves, partly to test Cressman’s theories.  As a senior staff archaeologist for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon, Jenkins announced in 2012 that his team had found the oldest directly dated remains of people in North America.  They dated spearheads to 13,110 years ago and traced human DNA from dried human feces, known as coprolites, to 14,300 years ago.  The discovery provided evidence of a culture that shared the Continent with that of the Clovis people, previously considered the earliest North Americans, dating back 13,000 years.
 
Jenkins’ findings support the theory that North America had two different ancient cultures, one in the Southeast, the Plains and Southwest, and the other in the Far West.
 
Jenkins noted that his team had proven Luther Cressman’s earlier finding were “rock solid.”
 
 
Sources: "Tracing the Remains of a Founding Society in North America." Oregon Research Annual Report 2012. University of Oregon, 2012. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. http://uoresearch.uoregon.edu/content/oregon-research-annual-report-2012; "Luther Cressman (1897-1994)." The Oregon Encyclopedia -Oregon History and Culture. Portland State University, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.