Monday, July 16, 2007

Ancient Obsidian Tools from the Great Basin

Archaeologists and others have been cautious about ancient claims of American Indians in the Great Basin region of the American west. Most contend that there were people moving about, using some of the resources beginning around 9,000-8,000 years ago. When I wrote my book on cultural affiliation in the region, I pushed some of these dates back based on emerging evidence.

Well, today in the journal of Nature I was corroborated. Scientists have now found obsidian tools that they have dated to 10,000 years or earlier. Because the tools are made of Obsidian, they can date them more accurately than lithic tools made from other materials, primarily because obsidian hydration analysis allows for such a precise dating.

"WE have dated some of the oldest examples of obsidian use yet known in America. The obsidian originates from a new location, the Mostin site, which contains about a dozen burials and is located near the Borax Lake site in northern California. There it is thought that man lived as long ago as 10,000 yr and perhaps even at the end of the Pleistocene."

This evidence would seem to do two things for indigenous peoples of North America: 1) give them more time depth in the Americas, and 2) supply further proof for the Northwest Coast route of entry into the Americas. When Monte Verde was formally recognized, the Clovis-first theory was finally disproved. Now there is further evidence, this time from North America. Likewise, because these lithics come from Northern California, they add further weight to the hypothesis that the first Americans migrated down the Northwest Coast to get below the Pleistocene ice sheets, at which point they began to move inland (most likely along river valleys).

This evidence gives indigenous peoples of the Americas even further strength, for it demonstrates that they have been on this continent for over 10,000 years. Whether we can find direct evidence of cultural or biological affiliation, linking these points to a contemporary tribe is most likely impossible. However, one should not have to find such a linear connection to accord contemporary American Indians, First Nation, and Alaskan Native peoples equal say in terms of items their ancestors made.

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