Paisley Caves

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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 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 to the west in a ridge of Miocene and Pliocene era basalts mixed with soft volcanic tuffs and breccias, from which the caves were carved 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 since 2002 have uncovered substantial new discoveries. These include materials with the oldest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America. The DNA, radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago, was found in subfossil human coprolites uncovered in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves in south-central Oregon.[2] The caves were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[3]

Recent finds[edit]

A field school from the University of Oregon has been examining the site since 2002 and analyzing its pre-Clovis artifacts.[4] In the summer of 2007, they identified the oldest human DNA yet discovered in the American continents. This assertion is based on analysis of several samples of coprolite found in the Paisley Caves complex.[5][6][7] Since then, other authors have questioned the authenticity of these findings by arguing about the relevance of the evidence gathered from ancient DNA and stratigraphy on the one hand,[8] and from the morphological assignment of the coprolites to humans on the other.[9]

The coprolites were found in Paisley Five Mile Point Cave at 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 camel and horse. Radiocarbon dating places these coprolites between 12,750 and 14,290 calendar years before the present, probably representing a pre-Clovis occupation. DNA analysis provides apparent genetic ties to Siberia or Asia.[10]

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. Knowing this, the University of Oregon team worked carefully to avoid the mistakes of the past.[4] 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.[11]

Later, hunting tools were found in the caves. Special projectile points known as 'Western Stemmed points' were recovered. These are quite different from the Clovis points. No evidence of diagnostic Clovis technology was found at the site.[12][13][14]

In 2002, a team of researchers from Oregon State University found evidence of human presence on the southern Oregon coast (Indian Sands in the Boardman State park), dating from more than 10,000 years ago — more than 2,000 years older than previously known archaeological sites on Oregon's coast. Carbon dating of artifacts (similar to ones found on the Alaskan and British Columbia coasts) had suggested an origin of approximately 12,000 years ago.[15][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. ^ a b David Wolman (April 3, 2008). "Fossil Feces Is Earliest Evidence of N. America Humans". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  5. ^ Gilbert, M. Thomas P., Dennis L. Jenkins, et al. DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America, Science Express. 2008-04-03.
  6. ^ Preclovis
  7. ^ Fox, Maggie. Ancient feces indicates earlier American origins[permanent dead link], Scientific American, April 3, 2008.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "Researchers, Led by Archaeologist, Find Pre-Clovis Human DNA" Newswise, Retrieved on July 7, 2008.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Jenkins / Willerslev et al. "Clovis Age Western Stemmed Projectile Points and Human Coprolites at the Paisley Caves", Science, 13 July 2012. Retrieved: 13 July 2012.
  13. ^ Wilford, John Noble. "Spearheads and DNA Point to a Second Founding Society in North America" New York Times, 12 July 2012. Retrieved: 13 July 2012.
  14. ^ Thomas H. Maugh II. "Who lived here first? New info on North America's earliest residents", Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2012. Retrieved: 13 July 2012.
  15. ^ "Ancient site of human activity found on Oregon coast". Oregon State University. 6 November 2002.
  16. ^ Loren G. Davis (2008), "New Support for a Late-Pleistocene Coastal Occupation at the Indian Sands Site, Oregon" (PDF), Archaeology: North America, 25, pp. 74–76