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“The flaking patterns are also completely different,” he said.
“These were not made using Clovis technology.” But the fact that these artifacts were different from, and deeper than, the Clovis points didn’t necessarily prove that they were older.
“[It’s] a roughly two-by-three-meter rectangular gravel pad about 10 centimeters thick of rounded river gravels in a narrow range of sizes, with artifacts of at least Clovis age on and around it,” Wernecke said.
“The indications from the surrounding data are that it had a structure on it.” The presence of Clovis-era stone tools suggested that the paved floor dated to about 13,000 years ago.
It was those finds that Wernecke and his colleagues went to investigate further, when they began working at the Gault site in 2002.
“At the time, we were interested in Clovis, and we had no idea of anything earlier there,” he said.
“We were all taught [North America was first populated] 13,500 years ago, and it appears that people arrived 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.” [See what may be the oldest known artifact in the West: “Stone Tool Unearthed in Oregon ‘Hints’ at Oldest Human Occupation in Western U.
S.” The location in Texas where the new finds were made, known as the Gault site, was first identified in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that archaeologists discovered the first tools, like tapered-oval spear heads, that were clear signs of the ancient Clovis culture.
Clovis projectile points can be identified by their long parallel-sided shape — a form known as lanceolate — as well as by their thin bases, and notches where a shaft could be hafted onto the stone.
[See a clear-crystal Clovis point recently found in Mexico: “Ancient Clovis Elephant-Hunting Camp Discovered in Mexico“] But many of the newly found, deeper artifacts didn’t fit that description.
“The morphology is completely different,” Wernecke said.
Archaeologists in Texas thought they’d made an important discovery in the 1990s, when they unearthed a trove of stone tools dating back 13,000 years, revealing traces of the oldest widespread culture on the continent.
But then, years later, they made an even more powerful find in the same place — another layer of artifacts that were older still.
After several years of digging test pits and making chance finds, the team ended up focusing on two of the most striking parts of the site.