A discovery made northeast of Reno, NV just might shake the foundations of North American anthropology: petroglyphs located there have been dated to around 15,000 years ago.
NPR covered the story. Paleoclimatologist and scientist emeritus with the U.S. Geological survey, Larry Benson, relied upon his expert knowledge of the Nevada climate to conduct the more precise dating. “I think it’s really amazing that people that far back were creating such wonderful things,” he said.
Because material remains in good condition are so rare in archaeology, much of the culture that the first peoples would have enjoyed is lost. Clothing, baskets, tools or pottery are all either decomposed or too fragmented to recognize. The significance of the petroglyphs is hard to gather, but the people who carved them were wonderfully creative.
Located on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, the glyphs were discovered about 10 years ago. Larry Benson observed a series of boulders covered in geometric patterns, many of which are carved deep into the rock and are very ornate. Benson was tipped off to the glyph’s age when he observed a white coating that would have remained after the rocks were submerged in a lake.
Daniel Jenkins, an archaeologist with the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, commented that “To get something this complex this early is very, very rare.” Jenkins had previously uncovered the oldest human remains in North America from a series of caves in Oregon, but he had found little in the way of passable art.
The new petroglyph findings, according to Jenkins, permit scientists to learn a great deal about the first peoples of North America. Intense climatic shifting caused a lot of lakes around the Great Basin to change dramatically, and Jenkins hopes that Benson’s techniques for analyzing the coating left behind on rocks may permit scientists to understand the methods used in the creation of art by long lost civilizations.
Image courtesy Larry Benson