CSUB professor verifies rare artifacts in major archeological discovery

March 6, 2009
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, kmiller26@csub.edu or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720, mnewell1@csub.edu
Major Archeological Discovery Photo

Anthropologists worldwide are marveling at the recent discovery of a stone tool cache unearthed in Boulder, Colo. The 83 artifacts were shipped to California State University, Bakersfield's anthropology professor Robert Yohe for a biochemical analysis that confirmed the tools were left behind about 13,000 years ago during the Clovis-era.

"This is an extremely rare find," noted Yohe, who directs CSUB's Laboratory of Archaeological Science. "There are so few Clovis-age tool caches that have been discovered that we really don't know very much about them."

The artifacts range from salad plate-sized, elegantly crafted bifacial knives and a unique tool resembling a double-bitted axe to small blades and flint scrapes. Yohe conducted a protein residue analysis of all items, repeating the process three times for any items that showed traces of animal protein.

"I was somewhat surprised to find mammal protein residues on these tools, in part because we initially suspected that the cache might be ritualistic rather than utilitarian," Yohe said. "The fact that landscapers unearthed this treasure under just 18-inches of soil and packed into a hole about the size of large shoebox is phenomenal."

Named the Mahaffy Cache after Boulder resident and landowner Patrick Mahaffy, the study is the first to identify protein residue from extinct camels on North American stone tools and only the second to identify horse protein residue on a Clovis-age tool.

The collection is one of only two Clovis-era caches the other is from Washington state that have been analyzed for protein residue from ice-age mammals. In addition to the camel and horse residue, a third item from the Mahaffy Cache is the first Clovis tool ever to test positive for sheep, and a fourth tested positive for bear.

"It looks like someone gathered together their most spectacular tools and other ordinary scrapes of potentially useful materials and stuck them all into a small hole in the ground, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them," added Douglas Bramforth, professor of anthropology at University of Colorado, Boulder, who was notified of the cache by Mahaffy.

One of the tools, a stunning, oval-shaped bifacial knife that had been sharpened all the way around, is almost exactly the same shape, size and width of an obsidian knife found in a Clovis cache known as the Fenn Cache from south of Yellowstone National Park, said Bamforth. "Except for the raw material, they are almost identical. I wouldn't stake my reputation on it, but I could almost imagine the same person making both tools," he said.

This is not the first major archeological discovery for Yohe. Last year he had a hand in presenting new evidence that humans were in the New World more than 1,000 years earlier than previously reported. Additionally, his research surrounding Christian mummies in Egypt was featured on the Discovery Channel. Yohe has recently been named associate director of the Tell El-Hibeh, Egypt, archeological project and plans to return to the region this summer to continue his work.

For more information about the Mahaffy Cache, contact Yohe at (661) 654-3457.