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Clovis-Age Tools Test Positive For Camel, Horse Remains

February 25, 2009

Landscapers in Colorado have discovered more than 80 stone tools in the city of Boulder that appear to have originated in the Clovis era.

Biochemical analysis at the University of Colorado suggests that some of the tools were used to butcher ice-age camels and horses that roamed North America until their extinction about 13,000 years ago.

The study is the first of its kind to discover protein residue from extinct camels on North American stone tools and the second to find horse protein residue on a Clovis-age tool, said study leader Colorado University-Boulder Anthropology Professor Douglas Bamforth.

The Mahaffy Cache ““ named for landowner Patrick Mahaffy ““ consists of 83 stone tools. The Cache is the second Clovis cache to be analyzed for protein residue from ice-age mammals. The first was unearthed in Washington state. One item from the Mahaffy Cache is the first Clovis tool ever to test positive for sheep, and another tested positive for bear.

The cache was unearthed with a shovel under about 18 inches of soil and was packed tightly into a hole about the size of a large shoebox. Brant Turney, who was heading up a landscaping crew working on the Mahaffy property, discovered the cache in 2008.

“The idea that these Clovis-age tools essentially fell out of someone’s yard in Boulder is astonishing,” said CU-Boulder geological sciences Emeritus Professor Peter Birkeland. “But the evidence I’ve seen gives me no reason to believe the cache has been disturbed since the items were placed there for storage about 13,000 years ago.”

“I was somewhat surprised to find mammal protein residues on these tools, in part because we initially suspected that the Mahaffy Cache might be ritualistic rather than a utilitarian,” said Professor Robert Yohe of the Laboratory of Archaeological Science at California State, Bakersfield. “There are so few Clovis-age tool caches that have been discovered that we really don’t know very much about them.’

“It was the camel and horse protein results that were the clincher for me,” said Bamforth. “We haven’t had camels or horses around here since the late Pleistocene.”

One of the tools, a stunning, oval-shaped bifacial knife that had been sharpened all the way around, is almost exactly the same shape, size and width of an obsidian knife found in a Clovis cache known as the Fenn Cache from south of Yellowstone National Park, said Bamforth.

“There is a magic to these artifacts,” said Mahaffy. “One of the things you don’t get from just looking at them is how incredible they feel in your hand –they are almost ergonomically perfect and you can feel how they were used. It is a wonderful connection to the people who shared this same land a long, long time ago.”

Bamforth said the Clovis culture is believed to coincide with the time the first Americans arrived on the continent from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge about 13,000 to 13,500 years ago.

Image Caption: Three stone artifacts from a 13,000-thousand-year-old Clovis-era cache unearthed recently in the city limits of Boulder, Colo. are shown by University of Colorado at Boulder anthropology Professor Douglas Bamforth and Boulder resident Patrick Mahaffy, who owns the property where the cache was found. Two of the more than 80 implements in the cache were shown to have protein residue from now-extinct North American camels and horses. Credit: Photo by Glenn Asakawa, University of Colorado

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