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Ore. Discovery Challenges Beliefs About First Humans

Until recently, most scientists believed that the first humans came to the Americas 13,000 years ago. But new archaeological findings from a cave in Oregon are challenging that assumption. Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Television reports on the controversial discovery.

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  • DENNIS JENKINS, archeologist:

    We certainly knew that people had lived in the caves, but we did not have adequate dating to prove that they were here at the end of the ice age.


    In 2002, he and his students at the University of Oregon began excavating the caves looking for proof. They discovered 14,000-year-old camel bones and signs they'd been butchered by humans. And then, they found artifacts of the humans themselves.


    It even includes on the top of it what's probably a chunk of feces.


    Although it was hardly the stuff of Indiana Jones.


    We were looking and hoping, of course, to find spear points, evidence of their technology. Instead, what we found was the perfect human signature, their coprolites. It was, if you will, the perfect artifact.


    Coprolites are an archeology term for fossilized feces. Jenkins says they're from humans, and they're more than 14,000 years old.


    So this was the evidence we had dug all summer to get to.


    It's not the first time this area of Oregon has given up clues suggesting humans were here earlier. Seventy years ago, another Oregon archaeologist, Luther Cressman, found these sandals in the cave woven from sagebrush bark.

  • LUTHER CRESSMAN, archaeologist:

    Now, the interesting thing here is that we have a toe flap. The toe fit in here.


    And he found stone tools that carbon dating suggested were from the Pleistocene age, more than 13,000 years old.


    And to find these things down here at Fort Rock Cave, at 13,200 years ago, means that the people were down in the great basin before the last glaciation. That's why these things are so important.