Fossilized human feces hints at long-lost, 13,500-year-old West Coast culture

Maybe the 1992 movie Brendan Fraser film Encino Man wasn’t too far from the mark? Fossilized human feces and other evidence from a West Coast cave demonstrates the existence of a long-lost, 13,500-year-old American culture, scientists said Thursday.

The fossilized feces, known to researchers as a coprolite, from the Paisley Caves in Oregon has turned assumptions about the history of the Americas on its ear.

“Coprolites are as good as a human skeleton,” Dr. Thomas Stafford, Jr. of Stafford Research Laboratories said during a briefing for science journalists. This particular one left him stunned.

Archaeologists and paleontologists had long thought that a culture called Clovis once inhabited New Mexico, basing that belief on evidence from arrowheads and spear points carved in a certain way. Clovis was long regarded as the New World’s first inhabitants.

Stafford believes the newfound coprolite suggests that the Oregon cave dwellers who lived here so long ago and the other, pre-historic humans at Clovis were “contemporaneous and parallel” — a finding that rewrites history in North America.

Dr. Dennis Jenkins, lead author of the paper and an archaeologist with the University of Oregon, said that four years ago, when he and his team first published its research on the Paisley Caves, they had “very few artifacts” as evidence for the existence of the Western Stem People, the name researchers have given to the Oregon cave dwellers.

“That raised questions about the veracity of our findings,” he said. “We were looking at human life, but we wondered if it was possible the DNA reached us through contamination or leaching.”

In a 2011 dig, he set out to recover more artifacts and prove that DNA evidence there was not contaminated by water, rodents or other means, Jenkins said. The team conducted a stratographic and chronological analysis of the cave and its contents.

“We separated any extraneous carbon that may have attached itself to the artifacts,” said Jenkins.

Another researcher on this project, Dr. Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, noted that during the first dig, scientists did not wear rubber gloves. So this time, they also screened for the possibility that their own DNA from sweat, hair and skin may have contaminated the site.

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