Archaeological research on the first peoples to occupy the Americas, focusing primarily on western North America
Archaeology of the First Americans
I direct a research group that primarily focuses on the discovery and study of archaeological sites from western North America that date before 12,000 years ago. This time period, known as the Pleistocene, corresponds with the earliest evidence of human occupation in the Americas. The quest to find early sites takes me and my students to different locations in western North America including western Idaho’s lower Salmon River canyon, Oregon’s northern Great Basin, Willamette Valley, and Pacific coastline, and also to the Baja California peninsula in northwestern Mexico. This research is supported by private donations, including the million-dollar endowed Keystone Archaeological Research Fund, and grants from agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the National Science Foundation. Read the sections below to learn more about research in these areas.
Lower Salmon River Canyon
Between 1997-2018 I directed research at several sites in the lower Salmon River canyon of west-central Idaho, many of which produced evidence of early cultural occupation. Most notably, reinvestigation of the Cooper's Ferry site resulted in the discovery of a cache of stemmed points and lithic tools, which have been dated to ~13,000 years ago. From 2009-2018, I directed the OSU Archaeology Field School at the Cooper’s Ferry site. You can learn more about our work our our project YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/CoopersFerrySite.
Our research at the Cooper's Ferry site has revealed the earliest radiocarbon-dated evidence of humans in the Americas and is featured in several research papers, including a 2019 Report featured in Science Magazine, which can be downloaded here
Northern Great Basin
I worked as part of an interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Dennis Jenkins to reinvestigate the Paisley Five Mile Rockshelter, located in the Summer Lake basin near Paisley, Oregon. This work led to the discovery that people lived in and around the site from ~14,450 years ago and repeatedly returned to the site through time. Our findings were published in Science Magazine: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/337/6091/223.
I am interested in learning more about the earliest archaeological record of western Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Working with OSU students and colleagues, we have begun to explore places that might hold buried deposits dating to 12,000 years ago and earlier. In the fall of 2019, we will bring our search for the “dirt of the right age” to the OSU campus by offering a new class entitled “ANTH 199: Expedition OSU—Mammoth Quest”. This class will introduce students to the early environmental and archaeological records of the Pacific Northwest and we will use different methods to explore part of OSU’s campus near the location where mammoth remains were discovered in 2016: https://www.oregonlive.com/today/2016/01/mammoth_bones_unearthed_at_ore.html.
The Pacific coast of Oregon is well known for its stunning beauty; however, dynamic environmental changes that occurred since the end of the last glacial period caused sea levels to rise more than 300 feet (~130 m), submerging ancient coastal landscapes and early archaeological sites. As a result, this is one of the most challenging places where I work to find early archaeological sites. Over the years, I have worked at coastal sites in the Oregon State Parks system and have more recently collaborated with other researchers to find evidence of submerged landscapes and sites that might remain on Oregon’s continental shelf. This research involves the use of ships that support geophysical investigations to map the surface and buried contents of the sea floor and to take sediment cores from key locations. Our work on Oregon’s coast is part of a larger research theme that seeks to address questions about whether early peoples initially settled the Americas by way of a coastal migration route. Watch this video to learn more: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/most-archaeologists-think-first-americans-arrived-boat-now-they-re-beginning-prove-it.
Baja California, Mexico
I currently co-direct a National Science Foundation funded research project to learn more about early archaeological sites on Cedros Island, located on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico. This project is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Matthew Des Lauriers (Cal State Northridge) and Antonio Porcayo-Michelini (National Institute of Anthropology and History-Baja California). Our work has produced the earliest evidence of deep-sea fishing in the Americas and has shed new light on the maritime lifeways of the first Americans. Read more about this project here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/most-archaeologists-think-first-americans-arrived-boat-now-they-re-beginning-prove-it.
Pacific Slope Archaeological Laboratory
My laboratory is part of the Department of Anthropology at OSU and is a place where I work with students and colleagues to conduct research in support of the projects listed above. Current laboratory projects involve studying the Cooper’s Ferry archaeological collection and developing advanced 3D scanning and analysis approaches for stone tools. Visit the laboratory webpage here: http://oregonstate.edu/psal/.