The oldest weapon heads ever found in the Americas have been discovered.
Dating back 16,000 years, the projectile points discovered by archaeologists in Idaho are about 3,000 years older than any previously found.
Scientists say they were probably attached to darts, rather than arrows or spears, and, despite their small size, they were “deadly” hunting weapons.
The 13 complete and fragmentary projectile points – “razor-sharp” and ranging from about 0.5 to 2 inches long – date to around 15,700 years ago, according to carbon dating.
The research team says this is about 3,000 years older than fluted Clovis points found across North America, and 2,300 years older than points previously found at the same Cooper’s Ferry site on the Salmon River in present-day Idaho.
The Salmon River site where the spikes were found is on traditional Nez Perce land, known to the tribe as the ancient village of Nipéhe.
The leader of the excavation group, Professor Loren Davis, of Oregon State University (OSU), said: “From a scientific perspective, these finds add very important detail to what the archaeological record of the first peoples of the Americas.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘We think people were here in the Americas 16,000 years ago;’ it’s another thing to measure it by finding well-made artifacts they left behind.
Previously, Professor Davis and other researchers working at the Cooper’s Ferry site had found single shards and pieces of bone indicating human presence around 16,000 years ago.
But he said the discovery of projectile points reveals new information about how early Americans expressed complex thoughts through technology at that time.
Professor Davis said the spikes are telling not only in their age, but also in their similarity to projectile points found in Hokkaido, Japan, dating from 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.
He says their presence in Idaho adds more detail to the hypothesis that there are early genetic and cultural connections between the Ice Age peoples of Northeast Asia and North America. .
Professor Davis said: “Early people in North America possessed cultural knowledge which they used to survive and prosper over time.
“Some of this knowledge can be seen in the way people made stone tools, like the projectile points found at the Cooper’s Ferry site.
“By comparing these points with other sites of the same age and older, we can infer the spatial extents of social networks where this technological knowledge was shared between peoples.”
He says that the slender projectile points are characterized by two distinct ends, one sharpened and the other shank, as well as a symmetrical beveled shape when viewed from the front.
Professor Davis says they were probably attached to darts, rather than arrows or spears.
He said: “There is an assumption that early projectile points had to be large to kill big game; however, smaller projectile tips mounted on darts will penetrate deep and cause enormous internal damage.
“You can hunt any animal we know of with weapons like these.”
Professor Davis says the finds add to the emerging picture of early human life in the Pacific Northwest, adding: “Finding a site where people dug pits and stored complete and broken projectile points nearly 16,000 years ago gives us valuable details about the life of our region’s first inhabitants.”
The newly discovered pits are part of Cooper’s Ferry’s largest record, where Professor Davis and colleagues previously reported a 14,200-year-old hearth and food processing area containing the remains of an extinct horse.
Scientists have found and mapped more than 65,000 objects, recording their locations down to the millimeter for accurate documentation. All excavation work has been completed and the site is now covered.
The team also worked closely with the Nez Percé tribe to provide field opportunities for the tribe’s youth and to communicate the results.
The latest findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.