Utah desert reveals an Ice Age hunting site

Researchers discovered a campsite used by prehistoric hunter-gatherers 12,300 years ago in Utah Desert (USA), when the area was a lush wetland. The site was discovered in the area of U.S. Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range, a proving grounds in the salt flats west of Salt Lake City. The archaeologists were contracted to survey thousands of acres of the range that had never been explored before by archaeologists. After finding a scattering of artefacts near the surface, the team returned this summer to excavate.

Archaeologists working at the site (by Western Digs)
Archaeologists working at the site (by Western Digs)

Artefacts found at the site include the charred remains of an ancient hearth, a finely crafted spear point, and, most surprising, a collection of tobacco seeds — likely the earliest evidence of tobacco use ever found in North America, dated to over 12000-years ago.

Excavations (by Western Digs)
Excavations (by Western Digs)

In addition to the spear tip and seeds, the researchers have found many stone flakes left over from the tool-making process, as well as the broken bones of ducks and geese, the form of trash left behind by hungry Ice Age hunters. Also of significance is that these people were carrying their big-game tool kits, as evidenced by the big point found right next to the hearth. The spear point that the team discovered is 8 to 10 centimetres long, and seems to be over-engineered for hunting birds.

One of stone points (by Western Digs)
One of stone points (by Western Digs)

A dark layer of sediment is still visible in the area, where marshy organic matter had been compressed into a sort of mat, which is still rich with the remains of plants, fowl, and fish. It was this layer, referred to as a “black mat,” that provided the radiocarbon date of 12,300 years. The people who lived and worked in this fecund environment were some of the first known inhabitants of the Great Basin.

(after Western Digs)

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