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Paisley Caves (Oregon)

Pre-Clovis Western Stemmed Tradition Sites in Oregon


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)

Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project at the Paisley Caves
Western Stemmed Points from Paisley Caves

Displayed in the hand of University of Oregon Dennis Jenkins are three bases for Western Stemmed projectiles from the Paisley Caves in Oregon. The bases date to some 13,000 years ago.

Photo by Jim Barlow, ©Science

The Paisley Caves (a.k.a. Paisley Five-Mile Point Caves) are seven rockshelters located in south central Oregon, several of which contain evidence of Paleoindian occupation related to the Western Stemmed Tradition. The caves are all wave-cut rockshelters, located on the highest shoreline of now-extinct Lake Chewaucan. At the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, the lake level began to fall, and the caves were filled with wind-deposited silt and sand. The dry condition of the cave interiors has led to the excellent preservation of organic human artifacts, spanning the late Pleistocene and Holocene periods.

Primary to understanding the deposition history of Paisley caves is the Mt. Mazama tephra, a volcanic deposit found in the caves and securely dated to 7627±150 calendar years before the present (cal BP). This tephra was noted by the original excavator Luther Cressman, although Cressman did not know the age of the deposit. Cordage, mat fragments, basketry, Western Stemmed points and crescents have all been found beneath the Mazama pumice in several of the caves. More recent excavations since Cressman's time have pushed the date of occupation sufficiently far back into the past to lead scholars to argue that Paisley Caves may be the first evidence of Preclovis occupation by descendants of people who arrived in the Americas along the Pacific Coast.

Living in Paisley Caves

The arid condition of the Columbia Plateau has led to excellent preservation of much perishable organic material in Paisley Caves, including animal bones, basketry, cordage, wooden pegs and human coprolites spanning the Late Pleistocene and Holocene periods.

A small rock-lined hearth was identified during the 2007 field school, some 2 meters (~six feet) 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 cal BP.

Cordage and matting made from sagebrush bark was recovered from Paisley Cave 1, by Luther Cressman and Walter Perry in the 1930s. One close-twined specimen had a cord warp and z-twist weft, and it was decorated with a technique known as "false embroidery": employing both grass and feather quill as decorative elements. This piece of cordage was diect-dated to 6,560 RCYBP (7,400 cal BP).

Four obsidian Western Stemmed Tradition point fragments were recovered from two subsequent levels in a pit excavated during the 2010 field investigations at Paisley Cave. These were in close association with horse bones and and a possible hearth. The levels are radiocarbon dated between 13,075-13,722 cal BP. Debitage recovered from the site are ~80% obsidian, suggesting bifaces were made within the cave.

Human Coprolites at Paisley Caves

In 2007, fourteen human coprolites (fossilized human feces) were recovered from Paisley Caves and subjected to analysis. DNA and blood protein analysis on three of the specimens indicated that the fossil feces were from humans containing Native American haplogroups. A suite of radiocarbon dates on the coprolites were reported in Faught 2008 to range between 12,140-12,400 RCYBP (13,990-14,400 cal BP), about 1,000 years earlier than any accepted Clovis date.

Archaeological History

Paisley Caves were originally excavated by Luther Cressman in the 1930s. Four of them were reopened between 2007-2011 Dennis Jenkins and colleagues.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Pre-Clovis, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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Beck C, and Jones GT. 2012. Clovis and Western Stemmed Again: Reply to Fiedel and Morrow. American Antiquity 72(2):386-390.

Connolly TJ, Fowler CS, and Cannon WJ. 1998. Radiocarbon Evidence Relating to Northern Great Basin Basketry Chronology. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 20(1):88-100.

Cressman LS. 1966. Man in Association with Extinct Fauna in the Great Basin. American Antiquity 31(6):866-867.

Faught MK. 2008. Archaeological Roots of Human Diversity in the New World: A Compilation of Accurate and Precise Radiocarbon Ages from Earliest Sites. American Antiquity 73(4):670-698.

Gilbert MTP, Thomsen PF, Binladen J, Willerslev E, Jenkins DL, Götherstrom A, Naveran N, Sanchez JJ, Hofreiter M, Higham TFG et al. 2008. DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. Science 320(5877):786-789.

Jenkins DL, Davis LG, Stafford Jr. TW, Campos PF, Hockett B, Jones GT, Scott Cummings L, Yost C, Connolly TJ, Yohe II RM et al. 2012. Clovis Age Western Stemmed Projectile Points and Human Coprolites at the Paisley Caves. Science 337:223-228.

Tadlock WL. 1966. Certain Crescentic Stone Objects as a Time Marker in the Western United States. American Antiquity 31(5):662-675.

Zdanowicz CM, Zielinski GA, and Germani MS. 1999.Mount Mazama eruption: Calendrical age verified and atmospheric impact assessed. Geology 27(7):621-624.

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