Skip to main content

Science Paper Supports WSU Finding of ‘Earliest Known North Americans’

A bone projectile point found in a mastodon rib discovered in S’Klallam’s historical territory in 1977 has been confirmed to be 13,800 years old – 800 years older than stone tools associated with people archeologists believed to be the earliest documented inhabitants of the continent.

“The implications are enormous,” University of Victoria anthropologist Quentin Mackie blogged on Northwest Coast Archaeology. “It’s a major game-changer in how we think about the first peopling of the Americas and about the roots of Northwest Coast archaeology and the ancient presence of First Nations people in the Salish Sea.”

In addition, a bison skull found in 2003 on an island about 35 miles north of the mastodon site has been confirmed to be 14,000 years old.

Emanuel Manis found mastodon tusks and other remains on his property in Sequim, Washington in 1977 while excavating for a pond. At the time, Washington State University professor Carl Gustafson used radiocarbon dating to estimate the remains were 14,000 years old. The remains included a mastodon rib with a projectile tip embedded in it. Bones showed signs that the mastodon had been butchered.

Researchers led by Michael Waters of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University recently used more than a dozen accelerator mass spectrometry readings to date the mastodon rib and tusks. Their findings confirmed Gustafson’s earlier dating.

The finding is one of several made in the U.S. in the last 30 years. "We’re getting mounting evidence for pre-Clovis dates and sites from all over the continent,” said Andrew Duff, chairman of the WSU Department of Anthropology, who teaches about Clovis and pre-Clovis people in his undergraduate courses.

“Clovis” is a reference to the type of tools found in Clovis, New Mexico in 1936-38; at the time, archeologists believed those tools to be evidence of the oldest culture in America, but other finds have been dated as older using newer technology.

“We’re at the point of overturning previously held ideas,” Davis said. “They’re gaining increasing acceptance, especially as evidence is accumulating from over the past decade or so.”

The findings are reported in the October 21 edition of the journal Science.