Spirit Cave mummy

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The Spirit Cave mummy is the oldest human mummy found in North America.[1][2] It was discovered in 1940 in Spirit Cave, 13 miles (21 km) east[3] of Fallon, Nevada by the husband-and-wife archaeological team of Sydney and Georgia Wheeler.

The Wheelers, working for the Nevada State Parks Commission, were surveying possible archaeological sites to prevent their loss due to guano mining. Upon entering Spirit Cave they discovered the remains of two people wrapped in tule matting. One set of remains, buried deeper than the other, had been partially mummified (the head and right shoulder). The Wheelers, with the assistance of local residents, recovered a total of sixty-seven artifacts from the cave.

These artifacts were examined at the Nevada State Museum where they were initially estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. They were deposited at the Nevada State Museum’s storage facility in Carson City where they remained for the next fifty-four years.

In 1996 University of California, Riverside anthropologist R. Ervi Taylor examined seventeen of the Spirit Cave artifacts using mass spectrometry. The results indicated that the mummy was approximately 9,400 years old (uncalibrated Radio-Carbon Years Before-Present (RCYBP); ~11.5 Kya calibrated) — older than any previously known North American mummy.

In March 1997, the Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of the Fallon Reservation and Colony made a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) claim of cultural affiliation with the artifacts.[4]

Further study has been unable to establish a definitive affiliation of the remains.[5]

The findings were published in the Nevada Historical Quarterly in 1997 and drew immediate national attention.[6][7][8][9]

In September, 2006, the United States District Court for the District of Nevada ruled on a lawsuit by the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and said that the Bureau of Land Management made an error in dismissing evidence without a full explanation. The court order remanded the matter back to the BLM for reconsideration of the evidence.[10]


  1. ^ Asher, Lara J. (September–October 1996). "Oldest North American Mummy" 49 (5). Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  2. ^ "Questions about mummies and bog bodies". Ask Dr. Dig. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  3. ^ Approx. 39°25′31″N 118°36′31″W / 39.425403°N 118.608570°W / 39.425403; -118.608570, Rhode, David; Adams, Kenneth; Elston, Robert (2000), "Figure 2-Map showing location of field trip stops", in Lageson, David, Great Basin and Sierra Nevada, Geological Society of America, ISBN 0-8137-0002-7 
  4. ^ "Spirit Cave Man". Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  5. ^ Barker, Pat; Ellis, Cynthia; Damadio, Stephanie (2000-07-26). "Determination of Cultural Affiliation of Ancient Human Remains from Spirit Cave, Nevada" (PDF). Bureau of Land Management Nevada State Office. p. 39. 
  6. ^ Nevada Historical Society Quarterly 40 (1). 1997.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Spirit Cave Man Update" (PDF). Nevada State Museum Newsletter (Carson City, Nevada: Nevada State Museum) 7 (5): 5. September–October 1999. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  8. ^ Begley, Sharon; Murr, Andrew (1999-04-26). "The First Americans - New digs and old bones reveal an ancient land that was a mosaic of peoples--including Asians and Europeans. Now a debate rages: who got here first?". Newsweek 133: 50–57. ISSN 0028-9604. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  9. ^ Mullen Jr., Frank X. (2000-08-02). "After 10,000 years, dispute remains Clan of the cave man may predate Indians". USA Today. p. 10d. 
  10. ^ Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe v. United States Bureau of Land Management, 3:04-cv-00466-LRH-RAM (United States District Court for the District of Nevada 2006-09-21).

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