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Paisley Five Mile Point Caves added to listing of nation's most important archaeological sites

Oct. 3, 2014

​The National Park Service has added the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves to the United States' listing of the nation's most important archaeological and historic sites. Situated near the town of Paisley in south-central Oregon, archaeological excavations at the site has produced evidence of human occupation in Oregon beginning 14,300 years ago, nearly 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The occupation of Paisley Five Mile Point Caves predates the appearance of "Clovis" sites by more than 1,000 years. Clovis sites characterized by a distinctive projectile point have been documented throughout many regions of the U.S. and for many years has been widely accepted as evidence for the first human settlement of the Americas.

Led by Dr. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon (UO), a team of researchers conducted archaeological excavations and extensive laboratory analyses to amass information challenging the "Clovis First" hypothesis. Intriguingly, along with stemmed projectile points, grinding stones (for grinding plant materials), modified animal bone and woven plant fiber cordage, Jenkins' team recovered coprolites (feces) containing human DNA involving testing by multiple independent laboratories. Over 200 coprolites were radiocarbon dated to pre-Clovis times. The discovery by UO researchers of 14,300-year-old human feces demonstrates the presence of an ancient human population in America's Far West at the end of the last Ice Age.

"Archaeologists have worked at the site since 1938," said Jenkins who is a research associate at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History and director of the UO Archaeology Field School in the northern Great Basin. "As we have used increasingly sophisticated scientific techniques in recent years, our understanding of the cultural and megafaunal remains at the site has grown dramatically. Analyses by our research team provides significant new information regarding the timing and spread of the first settlers in the Americas."

The site is located on land managed by the U.S. Department of Interior-- Bureau of Land Management.

"BLM is indeed pleased to see the Paisley Five Mile Points officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places," said Stan McDonald, state archaeologist for Oregon and Washington for the BLM." The site's listing underscores the importance of Oregon's archaeological heritage to understanding the full breadth of the human experience. We extend our thanks to our partner the University of Oregon and associated research team for their dedication and commitment to outstanding research."

Now a sagebrush steppe vegetation community, the Paisley site once was grassy plains surrounding a lake, marsh and river. Camel, bison, horse and waterfowl bones have been found in the area. The people living there 14,300 years ago were gathering and consuming aromatic roots, for which they would have needed special knowledge that would have developed over time.

The National Register is maintained by the National Park Service under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. More information about the National Register and recent Oregon listings is online at www.oregonheritage.org (click on "National Register" at left of page).

Other information:

Research at the Paisley Caves

Oregon Archaeology Celebration of October 2014 poster showing the coprolite