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K. Kris Hirst

Paisley Caves: The Discovery of PreClovis Human DNA

By April 3, 2008

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According to a report in Science Express published online on April 3, 2008, a field school from the University of Oregon found a preclovis site this past summer, containing the oldest human DNA yet discovered in the American continents. The site, Paisley 5 Mile Point Cave, is located in a perfect spot to support the Pre-Clovis Pacific coast migration theory of American colonization: in the hinterlands of what is Oregon today, upriver from the Pacific coast along the Klamath River.

Students at Paisley Caves (Oregon).
Students overlooking the spot where the 14,000 year old coprolites with human DNA were found in Cave 5, Paisley Caves (Oregon)
Photo Credit: Dennis Jenkins, Director, UO Northern Great Basin Archaeological Field School, Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Paisley 5 Mile Point Cave is one of four cave sites in the Paisley Caves complex located in south central Oregon. The Paisley Cave system was first investigated by Luther Cressman, back in the late 1930s. Cave 5 is more than 6 meters deep and 9 meters wide. Preservation in the cave is excellent, with extant perishable remains of bones, basketry, cordage, wooden pegs and human coprolites spanning the Late Pleistocene and Holocene periods.

The 2007 field school discovered a small rock-lined hearth some 2 meters below the modern surface. At that level was also discovered a large number of waterfowl, fish and large mammal bones, including extinct camel and horse. These have been dated between 12,750 and 14,290 calendar years before the present, and clearly represent a preClovis occupation.

Human coprolite from Paisley Cave 5 radiocarbon dated to 12,300 BC..
Human coprolite from Paisley Cave 5 radiocarbon dated to 12,300 BC.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Dennis LeRoy Jenkins

Most astonishingly, human coprolites were discovered. These fossilized human feces were given extremely cautious study by scholars at multiple laboratories. The feces were found to contain genetic signatures of haplotypes Hg A and Hg B, which have been recognized as founding Native American mtDNA haplogroups. Organic material in the coprolites produced conventional AMS radiocarbon dates of ca 12,300 RCYBP, or about 1,000 years earlier than any accepted Clovis date.

Human remains from preclovis sites have not been discovered to date--in fact, the oldest human remains on the continent are early Archaic or Late Paleoindian skeletons, such as Spirit Cave, Windover Bog, the Buhl Burial and Kennewick Man, all about 9,000-10,000 years ago. The finds at Paisley Cave 5 are thus the earliest human DNA identified on the American continents to date, and go far to validate a Pre-Clovis occupation of America.


Balter, Michael 2008. DNA From Fossil Feces Breaks Clovis Barrier. Science 320:37.

Gilbert, M. T. P., et al. 2008 DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. Science Express April 3, 2008

Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project at the Paisley Caves

Paleoindian and Archaic Human Burials: A Bibliography

See the Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project website for news about the 2008 fieldschool.

Note: On our bulletin board, Mark McConaughy kindly pointed out that the Arlington Springs human remains have recently been redated to between 10,900 and 13,500 calendar years BP: see the glossary entry for Arlington Springs for more info. Thanks, Mark!


April 4, 2008 at 12:32 am
(1) Ken says:

I bet Dr. Gramly would love to his hands into this poop ! Bet he was there already !

April 4, 2008 at 10:05 am
(2) Kris Hirst says:

Archaeology magazine has a good piece on this:


April 5, 2008 at 5:27 pm
(3) Kris Hirst says:

For people unaware of the background of Ken’s comment, Michael Gramly has some controversial notions about how modern Native Americans are not related to Clovis or preClovis people. Paisley Caves definitely shows Gramly is wrong.

April 7, 2008 at 9:33 pm
(4) rick doninger says:

Paisley Cave does not mean that Gramly is wrong, unless you totally dismiss any possibility of a multiple migration of early man such as an east coast entry by possibly much earlier occupants. the huge collection of mousterian style lithics found in indiana certainly opens up new possibilities. hand axes,lavellois points, backed blades,burins on lavellois blades, scrapers,etc. virtually all of the tools found in Borde’s typology have been assembled for the first time in north america. bone tools,ochre pencils of red,yellow,and black and what are believed to be personal adornment items all open up the possibility of a late lower to middle paleolithic occupation. A lithic style unique to the neanderthal cultures certainly provokes one to be a little more open minded. We’ll just have to wait and see.

April 8, 2008 at 7:38 am
(5) Chuck L Heppner says:

And Willerslev, the grad student didn’t think that the coprolites would be that important.

It’s a damn good thing that the samples didn’t get freezer burned, after 2 yrs. in cold storage.

This is cryogenic hot shat!

April 8, 2008 at 10:42 am
(6) Kris Hirst says:

Isn’t that amazing? Makes you want to be darned careful to record and store your assemblage no matter where you’re excavating or under what circumstances.

April 9, 2008 at 9:51 pm
(7) Verle E. Wenneker says:

Now, finally, the “Clovis Culture” fanati’s can put aside their long held belief that “Clovis was first”. And, more and better, is yet to come.

June 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm
(8) Amanda says:

I live in Paisley, have for 30 years. We used to go rattlesnake hunting out there, etc. If only! I want to go out there and dig!

June 6, 2009 at 9:46 am
(9) Kris Hirst says:

Well, Amanda, I know you’re only half-serious, but, seriously, you should contact Dennis L. Jenkins at the University of Oregon and find out if he needs any volunteer labor. They’re planning on excavating this summer; so at least you could ask if you could go visit the excavations and see how it works.


June 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(10) Dan says:

When I retired, I wanted to be a rock hound like other retirees. Well as a beginner I found some nice agates and lots of just rocks, then buying this place near Christmas Valley, and reading about Dennis. I want to learn more about people, humans, or is it human people, I was told there is a difference and the Clovis are people, but not humans, so the NA are humans and are people, so the stone age people who made tools and little boats were people not humans. I think as a beginner, I should just hunt rocks because I know they aint either, but finding poop has a more scientific hold on my interests and I would like to help find something of a real contribution before I leave this world.
Howdy Paisley folks. Yer on the Map for sure. Now I wonder? Does this make ALL NA Oregonians or all people and humans in that age of times Oregonians?
I am getting a twist on the people or human part as being a retired mechanic I thought a few were something else
This year should bring a good dig for Dennis. As over worked as he is, this must be taxing with the entire world of Science looking in.

June 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm
(11) Kris Hirst says:

Dan, I’m not sure what you mean, “Clovis were people but not human” because Clovis were indeed human, as much human as you and I are, and in fact so were the stone age people who made little boats and tools. What do you mean? How do you distinguish between “human” and “people”?


August 28, 2009 at 6:01 pm
(12) Greg789 says:

Comment on “DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America”
Paul Goldberg,1,2,* Francesco Berna,1,3 Richard I. Macphail1,4

Clovis still lives

Gilbert et al. (Reports, 9 May 2008, p. 786) presented DNA analysis of coprolites recovered from an Oregon cave as evidence for a human presence in North America before the Clovis culture. Results of our micromorphological and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy analyses of one of the reported coprolites are difficult to reconcile with the DNA results identifying the coprolite as human.

January 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm
(13) Lester Lewis says:

I am surprised no local tribe has come forward to claim their ancestral poop…

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