Humans might have lived in the Boundary Waters area much earlier than previously thought

An archaeology project on Knife Lake has indicated that people were living in what is now the Boundary Waters very shortly after the glaciers receded. New tests will be performed on artifacts recovered from the site, seeking to prove that they date to at least 10,000 years ago.

The research team, headed up by Professor Mark Muñiz of St. Cloud State University, is sending items to a lab which should be able to date them within 100 years of their origin.

A Knife Lake artifact

A Knife Lake artifact, photo courtesy Superior National Forest

“I have travelled and done archaeological work all over. This is one-of-a-kind as far as an archaeological site goes. There probably isn’t another one like it in the U.S,” [Lee Johnson, Superior National Forest archaeologist, said].

In 2010, charcoal samples were collected from the site. Muniz will use the MHS grant funding to send them to a lab for dating. He said he hopes to have the results back some time before next summer.

The technique that dates the charcoal, called AMS, should return results that are accurate to within 100 years, Johnson said. If Muniz’s hypothesis proves correct, Paleo-Indians were present in this area of Minnesota between 11-12,000 years ago, long before widely accepted timelines of habitation. To this point, it has been thought that the environment could not support human life so soon after the recession of glaciers, the researchers say.

Samples of stone tools and stone fragments show that flintknapping techniques were used by inhabitants of the area to fashion needed implements from the 2.3 billion year old siltstone. Some of these artifacts were found in place as though the craftsman (or woman) had just stepped away for a caribou sandwich.

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The Friends sponsored a presentation about this project in September 2009. We are looking forward to following its developments!

Previous coverage:

Eye-opening discovery – St. Cloud Times, September 23, 2011

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