These ancient stone weapons may link the ice age peoples of North America and Northeast Asia
The discovery of North America’s oldest-known stone ‘projectile points’ has given archaeologists valuable insights into the use of ancient technology.
A selection of stone ‘projectile points’, which were most likely attached to darts, have been found to be 3,000 years older than any similar examples found in North America.
The remarkable discovery by Oregon State University (OSU) archaeologists, who have been carbon-dating the razor-sharp artefacts, will help to fill in gaps in the history of how early humans crafted and used stone weapons.
Prof Loren Davis, an archaeologist at OSU and head of the group that found the ancient artefacts, points out how the discovery of these projectile points is revelatory, not just because of their age, but because of their similarity to items found in Hokkaido, Japan – dating from 16,000-20,000 years ago.
The presence of the weapons in modern-day Idaho gives more weight to the theory that there may be early genetic and cultural connections between the ice age peoples of Northeast Asia and North America.
The 13 full and fragmentary, projectile points – ranging from about 1.2cm to 5cm in length – have been shown to date from 15,700 years ago, which predates fluted stone points found previously in the US.
They also predate any similar weapons that have been found at the same Cooper’s Ferry excavation site, along the Salmon River, in present-day Idaho by 2,300 years.
“From a scientific point of view, these discoveries add important details about what the archaeological record of the earliest peoples of the Americas looks like,” said Davis.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘we think that people were here in the Americas 16,000 years ago’, but it’s another thing to measure it by finding well-made artefacts they left behind.”
The discovery was made in a site in Idaho, on traditional Nez Percé land known to the tribe as the ancient village of Nipéhe. Currently, the site is in public ownership by the Federal Bureau of Land Management.
“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,” said Davis.
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“By comparing these points with other sites of the same age and older, researchers can then get a sense of the social networks where this technological knowledge was shared between peoples.”
The slender stone artefacts, which were uncovered over summers between 2012-17, are characterised by two distinct ends – one sharpened and one stemmed – as well as a symmetrical bevelled shape (having a sloping edge, rather than a squared one) if looked at head-on. Davis has indicated that they were most likely attached to darts, rather than arrows or spears.
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Neil is a freelance journalist and he has worked across a variety of BBC magazine titles, including BBC Sky at Night Magazine and BBC Music Magazine. He enjoys sky-gazing while camping in Cornwall.