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Idaho Museum Unveils 16,000-year-old Tools

POCATELLO, Idaho - The Idaho State University archaeological team was merely called to the scene to ensure that a planned outhouse at a new state park wouldn't encroach upon an old homestead. In the late summer of 2006, the researchers dug up pieces of an iron stove, dated 1900,a 1905 nickel and a row of buried fence posts. Curious about the forgotten ranch, they dug deeper, and they serendipitously unearthed the oldest human artifacts ever found in Idaho.

Indeed, the stone tools they extracted from the hole predate the Clovis culture of 13,000 years ago, thought until recent years to mark the advent of humans in North America.

With some of the tools estimated at nearly 16,000 years old,the treasure trove the group found at Castle Rocks State Park, part of City of Rocks National Reserve in south-central Idaho, is among the nation's oldest archaeological discoveries. For the rest of October, it's available for the public to see in a new display at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. Though the final report on the pre-Clovis stone tools is not yet complete and there hasn't been ample time to have the findings peer-reviewed, the museum opted to display them anyway to provide a talking point for the Oct. 24 Idaho Archaeological Society meeting to be hosted at ISU.

Digging at the site continued through the summer of 2007. Coral Moser, now a third-year archaeology student in ISU's master's program, was part of the team and is helping to draft the report. Moser and the others broadened their dig site after finding the remnants of the homestead. As they dug deeper into an underground Pleistocene stream, their findings became gradually more significant. First, they found the base of a white, chert arrowhead, estimated at about 500 to 600 years old.

Park Superintendent Wallace Keck offered the team the chance to finish digging the latrine in order to find more artifacts. They found the oldest specimens in an ancient, sandy stream bank about 7 feet deep. "Every level we dug down, we were finding more human-made artifacts," Moser said. "You're so excited because you know it's man-made, and the other part is, I hope I'm doing it well and taking good notes.' "You always want to make sure you're on your game just in case you find something great, you're reporting is great, too. There are a lot of neat sites out there that don't get as much credit as they deserve because the notes weren't scrupulous enough."

The Clovis culture, one of several Paleoindian groups, persisted for about 500 years. Clovis people were known for making distinct fluted points from easy-to-flake rocks. Skip Lohse, director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History and the lead member of the ISU team that made