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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Oldest Human Coprolite Found

Human mitochondrial DNA from dried excrement recovered from Oregon's Paisley Caves is the oldest found yet in the New World -- dating to 14,300 years ago, some 1,200 years before Clovis culture.
The Paisley Caves are located in the Summer Lake basin near Paisley, about 220 miles southeast of Eugene on the eastern side of the Cascade Range. The series of eight caves are wave-cut shelters on the highest shoreline of pluvial Lake Chewaucan, which rose and fell in periods of greater precipitation during the Pleistocene.

Clovis culture began sometime between 13,200 and 12,900 years ago. Skeletal remains dating to Clovis culture have proven elusive, leaving researchers with little hard evidence beyond tell-tale cultural components such as the distinctive fluted Clovis points and other tools.

Exactly who these people living in the Oregon caves were is not known. At this point, we know they most likely came from Siberia or Eastern Asia, and we know something about what they were eating, which is something we can learn from coprolites. We're talking about human signature.

“Had the human coprolites at the Paisley Caves not been analyzed for DNA and subjected to rigorous dating methodology,” he added, "the pre-Clovis age of the artifacts recovered with the megafaunal remains could not have been conclusively proven. In other words, the pre-Clovis-aged component of this site could very well have been missed or dismissed by archaeologists.” link
Ref: DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. 2008. M. T. P. Gilbert et al. Science, published on-line April 3.