Discovery of ancient spear points could challenge accepted theories

(Texas A&M photo)
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SALADO (KWTX) The discovery of stone spear points at a site outside of Salado that may be the oldest weapons ever found in North America could challenge accepted theories about when the first humans arrived.

The points discovered by a team led by Texas A&M University researchers are 15,500 years old, predating the Clovis, who for decades were believed to be the first people to have entered the Americas.

“We’re trying to identify the tool kit that these people used to survive every day,” Dr. Steven Forman, professor of geosciences and researcher at Baylor University, said.

Forman was one of a group of scientists that wrote a paper that published Wednesday that suggests the stone spear points that researchers found during a 12-year excavation at the Debra L. Friedkin site outside of Salado may be the oldest weapons ever found in North America.

The Buttermilk Creek Complex site is named for the family that owns the land on which the discovery was made.

Data Forman presented show the Buttermilk Creek people and the Clovis people were two distinctive groups of humans, not related.

“They’re two different groups of people and that is supported by other evidence, as well,” Forman said.

“There is no doubt these weapons were used for hunting game in the area at that time,” Texas A&M University anthropologist Michael Waters, one of the lead researchers on the dig, said.

“The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points have yet to be found,” he said.

The points and other stone tools made of chert were found under a layer of sediment, on top of which were found both Clovis and Folsom projectile points, and that sediment showed to be 15,500 years old.

Clovis dates back about 13,000 years.

That natural resource, chert (a type of flint) is one of the reasons people populated Central Texas before recorded history, Forman said.

“It just happened to be the situation that the climate was a bit wetter so there was plenty of water, the weather was temperate and there was lots of good quality chert to make tools,” Forman said, “all of those things came into confluence and it grew.

“There was what must have seemed like unlimited wild game for hunting, so hunters didn’t have to go on long trips because the game literally came to them,” Forman said.

“The dream has always been to find diagnostic artifacts such as projectile points that can be recognized as older than Clovis and this is what we have at the Friedkin site,” Waters said.

“The findings expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America,” Waters said.

“The peopling of the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age was a complex process and this complexity is seen in their genetic record. Now we are starting to see this complexity mirrored in the archaeological record.”

The points would be about 2,000 years older than artifacts found just a few miles away at the renowned Gault Site in Williamson County that date to more than 13,000 years old.

A new discovery there shows that site likely was occupied far earlier than the 10,000 to 12,000 years experts initially believed, possibly as far back as 16,000 years.

In fact, Central Texas, over the 84.6-mile stretch between north of Waco and northwest of Georgetown is proving to be an ancient American hotbed of discovery.

In a story published on on July 18, Dr. Michael B. Collins, chairman of the Gault School of Archeological Research (GSAR), which oversees the remote archaeological dig site in Williamson County, said Gault bears evidence of continuous human occupation beginning at least 16,000 years ago, and now perhaps earlier, which makes it one of a few but growing number of archaeological sites in the Americas where scientists have discovered evidence of human occupation dating to centuries before the appearance of the Clovis culture at the end of the last ice age about 13,500 years ago.

Those two sites aren’t the only Paleo-Indian sites near Waco because as far back as 12,500 years ago a man and a little girl died and were buried under a limestone outcropping upriver from the old suspension bridge.

About 12,500 years ago early humans found a rock shelter along the Brazos River north of what is now Waco and for the next 11,500 years, at least, someone lived there according to the “signs of native American life everywhere here,” said Charlie Walter, director of the Mayborn Museum Complex, at Baylor, where some of the artifacts recovered from the Horn Shelter are on display.

Horn Shelter 1 and 2 are among the oldest continually inhabited sites ever found in North America.

“The Horn Shelter is on our radar,” Forman said. “We need revisit that data and apply what we’ve learned, just to take another look to see if there is more we can learn.”