| Excavation has begun in the Paisley Caves. It has been a busy two weeks "filled with those events that alter and illuminate our time and I was there".
For two weeks Dr. Dennis Jenkins has been leading a group of archaologists in digging in four locations in the caves. All of the people , as you must suspect, are very smart and very committed to the project. Some of them have been here on previous digs. Usually there are native Americans on site during an excavation. Since this site has the oldest human DNA in North America, the local tribes have agreed that native Americans wold not be part of the dig so that their DNA would not contaminate any findings.
The first two days were spent removing dirt that covered previous digs. This served to highlight just how far out of condition I am. Filling sandbags and carring rocks just about wore me out. After that some of the real work started while a couple of boulders were jack hammered to pieces so they wouldn't roll into the excavations.
|Above is the excavation that Dennis is standing behind. This hole is about 2 meters square and in the bottom are several rocks that are roof fall from centuries ago. This excavation is very near bedrock.|
|Christian is one of the people digging in this location. The diggers first use a trowel to scrape the dirt loose from the surface of the floor and then use a soft brush to sweep the loose dirt into a dustpan. The dustpan is emptied into a pail and when the pail is full it is dumped into a screen.
This photo is of Christian searching through the screen for small items. At this site small bones are the most common find - bones of birds, fish, and rodents. All were probably used for food. Then there are plant remains - leaves, twigs, seeds, and flower calyx. We have also found mummified lizard, egg shell, stones from bird crops, insects, and even hair. The best finds are the human made things like cordage and obsidian flakes.
I've done some of the screening and it is rather fun to find some of the things. I didn't know there were so many different bones in so many different animals. A couple of times I've found an inch or two of cordage made of sinew. That's a real prize.
One of the screeners found a length of cordage and I remarked that it looked like a piece of nylon string. It was a piece of fishing net that was so even and so uniform that it looked as if manufactured by machine. An amazing piece of workmanship.
| This is Julia measuring the height of the level she is excavating. The string is screwed into a boulder and the elevation of the screw is measured by a surveyor from a base elevation. Each level goes down 5 centimeters at a time. The dirt removed from a layer is kept separate from all other layers and items found by the screeners are kept in bags labeled with the pit identification and level.
If something interesting is found, its location is measured with regard to the walls of the pit and the elevation. Printed documentation is placed beside the object along with a ruler to show scale and an arrow indicating north. Photos are taken of the assemblage to further document the find. Rocks are left in place until they can be removed without disturbing any of the soil around them.
This is exacting, painstaking work.
|This is Kevin, a tool specialist, preparing to begin excavating a 1 meter square area. I saw an obsidian arrowhead he made and it was very nice. In just a few minutes he made a couple feet of cordage from sagebrush bark and then used it to tie a small bundle of sage branches together. Very impressive.|
| Not a terrific stereo pair but it shows the excavation that Kevin was working in. This pit is rather shallow because it was being guarded by one of the boulders that was jack hammered away.
The bucket is sitting on ashes and the items found in the ashes are kept separate from the items found in the surrounding dirt.
| Some of the people having lunch in one of the caves. The woman on the left is a 29 year old PhD from a DNA lab in Denmark whose sole responsibility was to collect human copralite. Paola would put on hooded Tyvek coveralls and a mask to collect a specimen. She would use sterile forceps to move the specimen from its location into a sterile container which was closed and further taped shut to prevent contamination. All the specimens will be sent to the lab in Denmark for analysis. They will look for human DNA in the samples and do radiocarbon dating. From the last dig the world famous "Paisley Poop" was radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years old.
Native American DNA falls into 5 haplogroups (major populations), A, B, C, D, and X. All of these haplogroups apparently come from Asia. To prevent contamination there were no asians and no native Americans at this dig. DNA samples were taken from everyone working on the site to rule out any contamination if European DNA is found.
This site is known world-wide and is changing archealogical thinking. It's amazing to me that I am here watching history being made. Ain't it funny how the world turns?