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Archaeologists return to Fort Rock Cave

Aug. 24, 2015

Joint Release: University of Oregon/Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

Fort Rock OR -- Archaeologists from the University of Oregon (UO) will be returning to the site of the 1938 discovery of the oldest known footwear in the world.

Fort Rock Cave in northern Lake County is famous for dozens of approximately 10,000-year-old sagebrush bark woven sandals that were found there by the "Father of Oregon Archaeology" Luther S. Cressman, who was on the UO faculty from 1929 until his retirement in 1963.

Scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 4, archaeologists will follow up on Cressman's investigations.

Cressman discovered the sandals beneath a layer of volcanic ash produced by the 7600-year-old eruption of Mt. Mazama - the same eruption that created Crater Lake. The age of the sandals was confirmed in the 1950s through radiocarbon dating. In 1966, Cressman returned to the site with graduate student Stephen Bedwell who uncovered a hearth in Pleistocene (Ice Age) gravels. Charcoal from the fire pit was radiocarbon dated to roughly 15,800 years before present, the oldest reputed hearth in Oregon.

"As important as the site is to the human story of North America, the archaeological work there was done more than half a century ago. We still have important questions about the site that might be answered with recovery methods and analytical techniques that were not available to Cressman and his students," said Tom Connolly, project leader and director of archaeological research for the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. "Our excavation will not be extensive, but will focus on the chronology and dating of the site deposits, and drawing critical samples for later analysis."

Limited public access to the site will be provided by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) in partnership with UO. If interested in visiting Fort Rock Cave during the archaeological excavation, please contact OPRD staff at 541-923-7551 x21 to make arrangements. Fort Rock Cave became part of the OPRD system in 2000 and is accessible only by guided tour.