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Oldest stone weapons of the Americas found in Idaho

A team of archeologists from Oregon State University (OSU) has discovered projectile points in Idaho which are thousands of years older than any other such artifacts previously found in the Americas. These findings could help scientists fill in the history of how early humans crafted and used stone weapons.

Through carbon-14 dating, the researchers discovered that the 13 full and fragmentary projectile points – which are all razor sharp and measure between half an inch and two inches – date to roughly 15,700 years ago. This is 3,000 years older than the Clovis fluted points previously found in North America, and 2,300 years older than the points discovered before at the same Cooper’s Ferry site along present day Idaho’s Salmon River.

“From a scientific point of view, these discoveries add very important details about what the archaeological record of the earliest peoples of the Americas looks like,” said study lead author Loren Davis, a professor of Anthropology at OSU. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We think that people were here in the Americas 16,000 years ago;’ it’s another thing to measure it by finding well-made artifacts they left behind.”

Surprisingly, the points are highly similar to similar objects found in Hokkaido, Japan, dating to 16,000 – 20,000 years ago. Their discovery in Idaho confirms the hypothesis that there may have been early genetic and cultural connections between the ice age peoples of North America and Northeast Asia.

“The earliest peoples of North America possessed cultural knowledge that they used to survive and thrive over time. Some of this knowledge can be seen in the way people made stone tools, such as the projectile points found at the Cooper’s Ferry site. By comparing these points with other sites of the same age and older, we can infer the spatial extents of social networks where this technological knowledge was shared between peoples,” Davis explained.

Although these slender projectile points were very small, being most likely attached to darts rather than arrows or spears, they were probably quite deadly. “There’s an assumption that early projectile points had to be big to kill large game; however, smaller projectile points mounted on darts will penetrate deeply and cause tremendous internal damage,” Davis said. “You can hunt any animal we know about with weapons like these.”

These findings add more detail to our current scientific and historical knowledge of early human populations in the Pacific Northwest. “Finding a site where people made pits and stored complete and broken projectile points nearly 16,000 years ago gives us valuable details about the lives of our region’s earliest inhabitants,” he concluded.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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