By Arlene Jensen, Kenosha News

Monday, March 13, 2000 --

It's official. After years of testing, it has been confirmed that Kenosha County contains two of the three oldest sites that show evidence of human existence in North America. Scientists have proven that two sites in Kenosha County, called the Schaefer and Hebior sites, are at least 800 years earlier than similar sites in the western United States.

Carbon dating puts an age of 12,310 years on mammoth bones butchered by humans at the Kenosha locations. It puts us on the scientific map as two of the three oldest sites in the New World, said Dan Joyce, curator and archaeologist for the Kenosha Public Museum. We're not just pretenders. Museum officials will announce their findings today at 3:30 p.m. during a reception at Madrigrano Marina Shore, 302 58th St. The reception will also include an update on fund-raising efforts for the museum's new facility. Joyce said studies looked at 26 sites in North America that claimed to be older than 11,500 years. Only three held up to the testing, he said. We are helping to rewrite the history of the way the whole New World was populated, Joyce said. There are lots of exciting discoveries.

The Kenosha County mammoth bones were sent to Dr. Tom Stafford at Stafford Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., for the final tests. Stafford uses a method of cleaning off all contaminants that could skew the testing, Dr. Joyce said.

Syke Sellars, geochemist at the Stafford lab, said, What we do is make sure we are dating the bones of the animal, not the things in the soil. Sellars said the absolute cleanliness of the bones allows scientists to get at the true dates. It allows confidence in the dates, she said.

Milwaukee archaeologist David Overstreet said all trajectories of evidence are beginning to converge to show very early evidence of occupation of Wisconsin.


Archaeologist Dan Joyce

Overstreet said the evidence shows that people were living here in an ice-marginal environment, very close to the front of the continental glacier. Because the mammoths that were killed here showed signs of being butchered and eaten, Overstreet said the people who lived here were well adapted to an icy frontier environment.

The mammoth was 12 to 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed six or seven tons. Killing one of them would take a weapon capable of piercing a thick hide. Spear points have been found here. They were clever and able folk, not savages, Overstreet said. Overstreet said Wisconsin has gained new respect in recent years. Previously, Clovis, N.M. was thought to be the oldest site of human habitation. But the bones found in Clovis were determined to be about 11,800 years old. In 1997, Elizabeth Brenchly, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote that no one had had the temerity to suggest any pre-Clovis sites in Wisconsin. They dismissed us in one paragraph, Overstreet said.

But last fall at a Clovis and Beyond conference in Santa Fe, N.M., Joyce and Overstreet presented their evidence. Overstreet said one researcher stood up in front of 1,400 people and admitted he had never looked bellow the Clovis level. Things have changed, he said - changes so much that an archaeological conference is planned for Milwaukee in 2003. There will likely be open excavations and tours in Kenosha County to highlight that conference.

We have a lot of work to do, Overstreet said, but we'll be ready.