We humans dream of changing the world, of leaving marks in the annals of time for a bolt of insight or hard-won accomplishment. Yet some go down in history for strange, unexpected, even unwanted deeds. Certainly prehistoric Americans living in Oregon never thought that in the year 2012 they would become famous for dropping their guts in a cave.But that’s precisely what’s happened. Archaeologists have found pieces of dried feces (in science circles called “coprolites”) in Oregon’s Paisley Caves, where they believe to have found a prehistoric toilet of sorts. What makes these coprolites and their long-ago owners famous is their age: with carbon dating of the DNA scientists were able to pinpoint some pieces that appear to be 14,500 years old, making them the oldest direct evidence of humans in America discovered to date.
Equally interesting, but perhaps less unappetizing were four weapon-like projectile points, pictured above, uncovered in other parts of the caves. These projectiles were made in the “western stemmed” style, not the Clovis style, which archaeologists believed was the first projectile weapon style in America.
"It looks like you've got a separate group of people on the landscape, and these people are making different kinds of arrowheads or spear points," says archaeologist Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon. Jenkins and his colleagues think the western stemmed points are as old as, or older than, the earliest Clovis points previously discovered.
This especially surprised scientists because previously they had believed that western stemmed points developed from and after the Cloves points. Now it appears that the two technologies were developed by two separate groups of humans at roughly the same time. These projectiles are evidence that not one but two “technologically divergent, and possibly genetically divergent” groups made up the original Americans.
Being famous for your long-lasting coprolites is perhaps better than not being famous at all. But if winning fame and fortune means doing my business in the same cave where I make my tools, suddenly mundane obscurity sounds good enough for me.