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Digging up ancient history in Central Oregon


A team of researches and students with the University of Oregon are working to unravel the mystery of America right in Central Oregon’s backyard — the Fort Rock State Natural Area.

All month long, a team from the university’s archeological field school has been working to prep and re-excavate an early human site within a complex of caves about an hour and a half south of Bend.

“What we’re looking for here is artifacts related to making a living,” said Dr. Dennis Jenkins.”We are hoping we will potentially find remains that are 13,000 to 14,000 (years old) that suggests people got here another way, which would be along the Pacific Coast.”

Jenkins said this even earlier proof of human existence discredits long-held beliefs that the first people of the Americas came over later from Siberia on an ice-free corridor through present-day Canada.

Ancient artifacts found in the site in Fort Rock could help add to to these newer theories.

For decades, much has been found in and around the caves.

“A lot of broken baskets, human coprolites –which is just a nicer way of saying human poo. It’s just a garbage dump, which to us is gold,” said field tech Chantel Saban.

But last year, the team only found a single bone needle at the site. This time, they’re digging deeper.

“When we get to the bottom, we’re back to maybe 18,000 years ago, 17,000 years ago,” Jenkins said.

The deeper the team gets, the more careful the work.

Just before NewsChannel 21 was about to leave, something was found in a layer of dirt about 8,000 years old.

“It looks like a drill or awl made of an obsidian-type stone,” said student Josh Zeigler, who found the tool. “I’m excited — this is exactly what we’re here for. “It’s a part of history, and this is what I came to school for.”

To see the artifact, dig site and hear from more students, watch the video clip.

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