Paisley Caves

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Paisley Five Mile Point Caves
Photograph of a man walking at the base of a cliff
Bill Cannon, Bureau of Land Management archaeologist, near Cave No. 5
LocationAddress restricted[1]
Nearest cityPaisley, Oregon
Coordinates42°45′41″N 120°33′05″W / 42.7613°N 120.5514°W / 42.7613; -120.5514Coordinates: 42°45′41″N 120°33′05″W / 42.7613°N 120.5514°W / 42.7613; -120.5514
Builtca. 14,300 BP
NRHP reference No.14000708
Added to NRHPSeptember 24, 2014

The Paisley Caves or the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves complex is a system of four caves in an arid, desolate region of south-central Oregon, United States north of the present-day city of Paisley, Oregon. The caves are located in the Summer Lake basin at 4,520 feet (1,380 m) elevation and face west, carved into a ridge of Miocene and Pliocene era basalts mixed with soft volcanic tuffs and breccias by Pleistocene-era waves from Summer Lake. One of the caves may contain archaeological evidence of the oldest definitively-dated human presence in North America. The site was first studied by Luther Cressman in the 1930s.

Scientific excavations and analysis in the Paisley Caves since 2002 have uncovered substantial new discoveries, including subfossil human coprolites with the oldest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America, various artifacts, and animal remains. The DNA was radiocarbon dated to 14,300 BP or roughly 12,000 BCE.[2] The caves were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[3]

Significant findings[edit]

In the summer of 2007, a field school from the University of Oregon identified the oldest human DNA yet discovered in the Americas. This assertion is based on analysis of several coprolite samples found in the Paisley Caves complex.[4][5][6] In total, workers have obtained over 280 radiocarbon dates and DNA analysis from more than 60 coprolites from the Paisley Caves.[7] Coprolite analysis at varying ages revealed that these occupants were omnivorous, eating a combination of foraged plants, seeds, small mammals such as rodents, fish, and insects like beetles. Knowledge of this omnivorous mode of sustenance supports the notion that the coprolites are human in origin.[8] Other authors have questioned the authenticity and relevance of the evidence gathered from ancient DNA and stratigraphy[9] and challenge the morphological assignment of the coprolites to humans.[10]

The coprolites were found in the same level as a small rock-lined hearth some 7 feet (2 m) below the modern surface. Also discovered at that level was a large number of bones from waterfowl, fish, and large mammals, including extinct camels, horses, and bison. Radiocarbon dating dates these coprolites to 14,400 years ago, probably representing a pre-Clovis occupation. DNA analysis provides apparent genetic ties to Siberia or Asia, rather than a distinct wave of migration.[11][12]

Clovis ancestors, the putative first humans to live in the Americas, are currently thought to have crossed the Bering Strait into North America 12,000 cal yr BP. However, the Paisley Caves and other archaeological sites throughout the Americas, such as Monte Verde, have been dated to earlier than Clovis technologies. Scientific debate has shifted in recent years to question this long-held "Clovis first" hypothesis.[12][13]

A coprolite from the Paisley Caves, Oregon, sampled in 2008 by Dr. Dennis LeRoy Jones with Oregon State University. Thought to be of human origin, but the morphology is inconsistent and sampled DNA may have been mobilized by fluids. Dated to 12,265 radiocarbon years

Evidence at other archaeological sites—as well as previous work at Paisley Caves in the 1930s—had been thought to provide such evidence, but questionable excavation techniques clouded the issue.[citation needed] Knowing this, the University of Oregon team worked carefully to avoid the mistakes of the past.[13] The theory that pre-Clovis immigrants traveled to North America down the Pacific Coast suggests that the travelers would have passed through the hinterlands of what is Oregon today. DNA from coyote, fox, and dog (or wolf) was found as well.[14][dead link]

Coprolite controversy[edit]

Recent research has called the accuracy of radiocarbon dates from these coprolites into question on the basis of morphology and possible leaching contamination by exogenous human DNA. Sampled coprolites from lower lithostratigraphic units contained canid DNA in addition to human DNA. Other inter-mixed coprolites contained no human DNA, instead being fully attributed to late Pleistocene camelids and lions, and dated to 12,265 radiocarbon years. Some soil samples adjacent to the coprolites were also found to have human DNA, giving further credit to the leaching hypothesis.[12]

Although any results from DNA have been reduced to ambiguous, other data from the coprolites coincidentally provide evidence of pre-Clovis occupation. Coprolites also contain a mixture of lipids and other organic compounds from digestion—called fecal biomarkers. Such lipids are chemically stable and hydrophobic, protecting them from water-induced mobility and serving as more reliable data from buried coprolites than DNA.[7] Additionally, a human-made bulrush shaft was found above a coprolite and dated to 12,270 yr BP—further verifying the pre-Clovis occupation.[7] These data provide evidence that the associated Western Stemmed Tradition points are the oldest lithic technology in the Americas and outdate Clovis points.

Western Stemmed Tradition at the Paisley Caves[edit]

Artifacts found in the Paisley Caves alongside coprolites bear no resemblance to traditional Clovis points, and instead belong to a group of occupants now referred to as Western Stemmed Tradition. The Western Stemmed Tradition occupies similar tool groupings as Clovis technology—projectile points, most notably—and shares morphology and technology with Afro-Eurasian forms.[15] It was originally thought to have developed after Clovis technology, but discovery at the Paisley Caves suggests they were at the very least contemporaneous. Dating via fecal biomarkers further supports this notion.[7] Additionally, the Western Stemmed Tradition projectile points from Paisley Caves were preserved significantly better than anywhere else in the western United States, allowing for the development of diagnostic elements.[16]

Western Stemmed Tradition points are morphologically distinct from Clovis points, with narrow bifaces, shoulders, and thicker, convex bases instead of the longer prismatic blades of Clovis points. There are also procedural differences in how these points were flaked. Evidence of repeated sharpening along Western Stemmed Tradition points suggests they may have also been used as knives for skinning and cutting.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Federal and state laws and practices restrict general public access to information regarding the specific location of this resource. In some cases, this is to protect archaeological sites from vandalism, while in other cases it is restricted at the request of the owner. See: Knoerl, John; Miller, Diane; Shrimpton, Rebecca H. (1990), Guidelines for Restricting Information about Historic and Prehistoric Resources, National Register Bulletin, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, OCLC 20706997.
  2. ^ Staff (October 3, 2014). "Cave containing earliest human DNA dubbed historic". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  3. ^ National Park Service (October 3, 2014). "Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 9/22/14 through 9/26/14" (PDF). Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Gilbert, M. Thomas P., Dennis L. Jenkins, et al. DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America, Science Express. 2008-04-03.
  5. ^ Preclovis
  6. ^ Fox, Maggie. Ancient feces indicates earlier American origins[permanent dead link], Scientific American, April 3, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c d Shillito, Lisa-Marie; Whelton, Helen L.; Blong, John C.; Jenkins, Dennis L.; Connolly, Thomas J.; Bull, Ian D. (2020-07-15). "Pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas identified by human fecal biomarkers in coprolites from Paisley Caves, Oregon". Science Advances. 6 (29): eaba6404. Bibcode:2020SciA....6.6404S. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aba6404. PMC 7363456. PMID 32743069.
  8. ^ Taylor, Anthony; Hutson, Jarod M.; Bryant, Vaughn M.; Jenkins, Dennis L. (2020-01-02). "Dietary items in Early to Late Holocene human coprolites from Paisley Caves, Oregon, USA". Palynology. 44 (1): 12–23. doi:10.1080/01916122.2018.1530699. ISSN 0191-6122. S2CID 134011728.
  9. ^ Hendrik N. Poinar, Stuart Fiedel et al. Comment on "DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America", Science 10 July 2009, Vol. 325. no. 5937, p. 148, 10.1126/science.1168182
  10. ^ Paul Goldberg, F. Berna and R.I. Macphail Comment on "DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America", Science 10 July 2009, Vol. 325. no. 5937, p. 148, doi:10.1126/science.1167531
  11. ^ "Researchers, Led by Archaeologist, Find Pre-Clovis Human DNA" Newswise, Retrieved on July 7, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c Fiedel, Stuart J. (1 February 2014). "Did Pre-Clovis People Inhabit the Paisley Caves (and Why Does It Matter)?". Human Biology. 86 (1): 69–74. doi:10.3378/027.086.0104. PMID 25401988. S2CID 1656259. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  13. ^ a b David Wolman (April 3, 2008). "Fossil Feces Is Earliest Evidence of N. America Humans". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  14. ^ M. Thomas P. Gilbert; Dennis L. Jenkins; Anders Götherstrom; Nuria Naveran; Juan J. Sanchez; Michael Hofreiter; Philip Francis Thomsen; Jonas Binladen; Thomas F. G. Higham; Robert M. Yohe II; Robert Parr; Linda Scott Cummings; Eske Willerslev (3 April 2008). "DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America" (PDF). Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
  15. ^ Jenkins, Dennis L.; Davis, Loren G.; Stafford, Thomas W.; Campos, Paula F.; Hockett, Bryan; Jones, George T.; Cummings, Linda Scott; Yost, Chad; Connolly, Thomas J.; Yohe, Robert M.; Gibbons, Summer C. (2012-07-13). "Clovis Age Western Stemmed Projectile Points and Human Coprolites at the Paisley Caves". Science. 337 (6091): 223–228. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..223J. doi:10.1126/science.1218443. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 22798611. S2CID 40706795.
  16. ^ a b Davis, Loren G.; Nyers, Alex J.; Willis, Samuel C. (October 2014). "Context, Provenance and Technology of a Western Stemmed Tradition Artifact Cache from the Cooper's Ferry Site, Idaho". American Antiquity. 79 (4): 596–615. doi:10.7183/0002-7316.79.4.596. ISSN 0002-7316. S2CID 160027302.