Austin, Texas has become something of a Millennial city. It’s a place where a unique, younger generation celebrates nostalgia and innovation all at once. Austin is a place where one can appreciate a bygone age while living new age values.
It is therefore appropriate that not far from this bustling hub of nostalgia-driven individuals, a team has recently discovered a link to a civilization far older than America but that was, in their own time, years ahead of everyone else.
The excavation of ancient artifacts near Buttermilk Creek (40 miles outside of Austin) has been going for nearly a decade. For 10 years, archeologists from many different organizations have worked together to uncover what many believe to be one of several “cradles of civilization” in the Americas.
It wasn’t until very recently that these assembled archaeologists found the evidence that might actually prove this theory. Of all the remarkable things they have dug out of the ground over the past decade, this most recent discovery may be their most important yet – possibly the most important find of the past half-a-century.
What Were They?
To anyone else, the items the archeological team uncovered might have been little more than old, roughly-carved rocks. The initiated understood exactly what they had discovered. They’d found a number of 3- to 4-inch weapons, many of which appeared to be fashioned into spear points.
The spears made of chert, a hard, dark, opaque rock composed of microscopic quartz crystals. Like Obsidian, scientists believe that chert is one of the perfect stones to create simple stone tools in prehistoric times. Like flint, another common stone-age rock, chert is also good for starting fires. But how old were these spear points exactly?
After taking the spear points in for an examination and looking at the sediment in which the chert spears were located, researchers believe the weapons to be the oldest weapons ever found in all of North America. Researchers at Texas A&M estimate the spears to be around 15,500 years old.
Answers And Questions
Though the discovery provides some answers about our understanding of American prehistory, it also raises a host of other questions about it as well. The estimated age of the spears is so old that the find might actually replace our previous assumptions about who actually migrated to North America in the first place.
Before the Buttermilk Creek discovery, scientists believed the Clovis people to be the very first human beings to have migrated to and chosen to settle upon the North American continent. We know this because of the distinctive spear-like weapons found all across the United States and into parts of Mexico.
These spears were characterized by distinctive markings. These “Clovis points,” constructed of bone and ivory, were studied by archaeologists for decades. Over the years, these scientists were able to make precise determinations based on the radiocarbon of the tools and placing the Clovis in North America roughly 13,200 to 12,900 calendar years ago.
Simple, Though Problematic
Until the Buttermilk Creek finds, the Clovis people were considered to be the ancestors of most of North America and even South America’s indigenous cultures. As interesting as this theory was, however, some scientists believed that it was too simple of an explanation for so many different cultures and people across the Americas.
Bering Strait Bridge
The widespread presence of these “Clovis points” indicated that once they arrived here, they spread across the continent, settling into separate tribes. It is assumed that the Clovis, and possibly others, made their way through Asia and then eventually into North America by way of the Bering Strait land bridge.
Nevertheless, it now appeared that the makers of the Buttermilk Creek spears had come to North America long before the Clovis. Had they come the same way? Were they linked to indigenous peoples that came thereafter? How could scientists determine this through carbon dating alone? First, though, they had to figure out how they were used.
Michael Waters, a professor of anthropology and director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, spoke about how the findings, “Expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America.” He added that the tools found at Buttermilk Creek were most certainly used for hunting.
Early man hunted all sorts of prey animals during the last Ice Age. In those days, mastodon, antelope, and giant ground sloths were among the “easiest” for our prehistoric ancestors to bring down. That said, all of these creatures would have been potentially deadly threats to engage and we wouldn’t have wanted to do so without the proper gear.
The spearheads found at Buttermilk Creek were much like the Clovis points in that they were also designed to hunt large animals like the aforementioned mastodon. They would have caused significant damage upon impact and might have even broke-off during a fight, leaving the animal to bleed out slow if it tried to retreat.
Waters also discussed the significance of the find in relation to the previous Clovis and Folsom finds. “The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points have yet to be found. These points were found under a layer with Clovis and Folsom projectile points…
Waters also admits that our understanding of how the Americas became populated at the end of the last Ice Age is still in its infancy. “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,” he explained.
Current evidence indicates that the first humans entered the Americas about 15,000 years ago, around the same time as the initial examination of the Buttermilk Creek spears suggest. However, another recently published study postulates that humans might have arrived here much earlier, at least 130,000 years ago.
“Over the past decade, genetic studies of modern Native Americans and prehistoric skeletons have shown that the initial movement of people south of the continental ice sheets occurred as early … and that there is genetic continuity between the first immigrants to enter the Americas and modern Native Americans,” says Waters, citing the study.
Waters and his colleagues admit that there is still much to be studied in regards to the Buttermilk Creek tools. They want to gain a better handle on all this of course, but all involved understand the importance of taking it slow and making sure that evidence follows any resulting theories from the find.
If more of these chert spears are found elsewhere, it may show without a doubt that the Clovis weren’t the first to settle and spread through North America. Finds like these are rare and as the Clovis finds before them, it’s very possible that the Buttermilk Creek weapons will help shape future theories about the way America’s indigenous peoples came to be.