Researchers Find the Oldest Projectile Points Ever Found in the Americas
Projectile points that are thousands of years older than any previously discovered in the Americas have been discovered by archaeologists in Idaho
Archaeologists have discovered projectile points in Idaho that are thousands of years older than any that have previously been discovered in the Americas. This discovery has helped to fill in the history of how early humans made and utilized stone weapons. According to carbon-14 dating, the 13 complete and broken projectile points, which are razor sharp and range in size from half an inch to two inches, date to a time around 15,700 years ago.
That is 2,300 years older than the points previously discovered at the same Cooper's Ferry location along the Salmon River in modern-day Idaho, and roughly 3,000 years older than the Clovis fluted points discovered across North America. The results were released in the journal Science Advances today. Lead author, Loren Davis says,
"From a scientific point of view, these discoveries add very important details about what the archaeological record of the earliest peoples of the Americas looks like. It's one thing to say, 'We think that people were here in the Americas 16,000 years ago;' it's another thing to measure it by finding well-made artifacts they left behind."
At the Cooper's Ferry site, Davis and other researchers had previously discovered small bone flakes and fragments that suggested human presence around 16,000 years ago. However, according to Davis, the discovery of projectile points offers fresh perspectives on the sophisticated ways in which the early Americans communicated using technology at the period.
The points were discovered near the Salmon River, which is on traditional Nez Perce territory and is known to the tribe as the site of the former settlement of Nipéhe. The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently owns the land in the public interest. According to Davis, the points' age and likeness to projectile points discovered in Japan's Hokkaido island between 16,000 and 20,000 years ago are not the only things that make them revelatory. The idea that the ice period inhabitants of Northeast Asia and North America shared early genetic and cultural ties is strengthened by their presence in Idaho. Davis adds,
"The earliest peoples of North America possessed cultural knowledge that they used to survive and thrive over time. Some of this knowledge can be seen in the way people made stone tools, such as the projectile points found at the Cooper's Ferry site. By comparing these points with other sites of the same age and older, we can infer the spatial extents of social networks where this technological knowledge was shared between peoples."
These thin projectile tips have a symmetrical beveled shape when viewed from the front and have two different ends, one sharpened and one stemmed. Despite their diminutive size, they were devastating weapons, according to Davis, and they were probably tied to darts rather than arrows or spears.
"There's an assumption that early projectile points had to be big to kill large game; however, smaller projectile points mounted on darts will penetrate deeply and cause tremendous internal damage," he said. "You can hunt any animal we know about with weapons like these… Finding a site where people made pits and stored complete and broken projectile points nearly 16,000 years ago gives us valuable details about the lives of our region's earliest inhabitants."
The recently discovered pits are a part of the larger Cooper's Ferry record, which also includes a fire pit that dates back 14,200 years and a food-processing area with the remains of an extinct horse, both of which were previously reported by Davis and colleagues.
In total, they located and mapped more than 65,000 artifacts, accurately documenting their locations to the next millimeter. A financing arrangement between university and the BLM allowed for the discovery of the projectile tips over several summers between 2012 and 2017. The site has been completely covered once all excavation work was finished. At the location, the BLM put up interpretive panels and a kiosk to explain the project.
Since the 1990s, Davis has been researching the Cooper's Ferry site while working as an archaeologist for the BLM. He now collaborates with the BLM to send OSU graduate and undergraduate students to the site over the summer. The team collaborates closely with the Nez Perce tribe to share all findings and to give native children field experiences.
Loren G. Davis, David B. Madsen, David A. Sisson, Lorena Valdivia-Becerra, Thomas Higham, Daniel Stueber, Daniel W. Bean, Alexander J. Nyers, Amanda Carroll, Christina Ryder, Matt Sponheimer, Masami Izuho, Fumie Iizuka, Guoqiang Li, Clinton W. Epps, F. Kirk Halford. Dating of a large tool assemblage at the Cooper’s Ferry site (Idaho, USA) to ~15,785 cal yr B.P. extends the age of stemmed points in the Americas. Science Advances, 2022; 8 (51) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.ade1248