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A Journey to a New Land

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Dr. Richard Shutler

Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University

Tule Springs

We went to Tule Springs in the fall of 1962 with an interdisciplinary group to check out the claims that had been going on for that site for about thirty years. In 1933, Findlay Hunter from the American Museum of Natural History was surveying in the area and he found what he thought was some charcoal, some obsidian flake and some camel, horse, and bison bones, and he collected the charcoal. Years later when radiocarbon dating had been invented, he sent it to Dr. Libby in Los Angeles and got a date of 28,000 years, which really shook up the people that were interested in that subject!

Then Dr. Raymond Harrington from the Southwest Museum went out to do some more checking in the same area Findlay Hunter worked in and he found some more charcoal and a couple of bones that he thought had been worked. That was saved until the radiocarbon dating system was available, and they got a date of 23,800 years, but it turned out to be a mixed sample from some other site.

In the spring of 1962, Dr. Willard F. Libby held a conference in southern California of people interested in Early Man Studies, to sort out exactly what was going on. These claims of ancient occupants of the area had begun to accumulate, but nobody had enough information to solve any problems. At the end of that conference it was decided that Tule Springs would be the ideal place to carry on because we knew there was a lot of stuff there. It was recommended by Dr. Robert F. Heizer of Berkeley that we have an interdisciplinary study at Tule Springs with me in charge. At that time, I was at the Nevada State Museum. We very quickly wrote up a request for money from the National Science Foundation which we got, and we showed up at the Tule Springs site (10 miles west of Las Vegas) on October 1, 1962. We had a crew of palynologists, geologists, Dr. Vance Haynes (who went on to be a great authority on Early Man in the New World), a number of students, and paleontologists and so forth. It was totally an interdisciplinary study.

The outcome was that we were unable to substantiate the 23,000 or 28,000 year old dates for the occupancy of people there. But we did find a lot of fossils, camel, horse, mammoth and bison that were 40,000 years old and were much deeper in the stratigraphy. We did obtain what I think are three bone artifacts which date between 12,000 and 13,000 years. This fits right in with all the claims that are coming out now - 13,000 years at Meadowcroft, 13,000 at Monte Verde, places like that. I think we have to take another look.

To accomplish what we did we were able to obtain the world’s two largest bulldozers – a DC25 and DC30, owned by the Caterpillar company.

We were able to criss-cross the valley with stratigraphic trenches up to thirty feet deep and the width of the blade on the bulldozer. With that, Vance Haynes was able to develop a complete stratigraphic sequence for the Tule Springs valley. We ended up with a thick publication and I think it was a good experience for the students and everyone involved. Now that they seem to think that the Clovis wall has really been broken, I’m going to have to go back and have a look at our 13,000 year old “bone artifacts”.