Return to Fort Rock Cave: Assessing the Site's Potential to Contribute to Ongoing Debates about How and When Humans Colonized the Great Basin


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May 2017


Oregon's Fort Rock Cave is iconic in respect to both the archaeology of the northern Great Basin and the history of debate about when the Great Basin was colonized. In 1938, Luther Cressman recovered dozens of sagebrush bark sandals from beneath Mt. Mazama ash that were later radiocarbon dated to between 10,500 and 9350 cal B.P. In 1970, Stephen Bedwell reported finding lithic tools associated with a date of more than 15,000 cal B.P., a date dismissed as unreasonably old by most researchers. Now, with evidence of a nearly 15,000-year-old occupation at the nearby Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, we returned to Fort Rock Cave to evaluate the validity of Bedwell's claim, assess the stratigraphic integrity of remaining deposits, and determine the potential for future work at the site. Here, we report the results of additional fieldwork at Fort Rock Cave undertaken in 2015 and 2016, which supports the early Holocene occupation, but does not confirm a pre–10,500 cal B.P. human presence.

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American Antiquity, Vol. 82, no. 3 (2017-05-16).