Paisley Caves Now A “Most Important” Archaeological Site

As October is Oregon Archaeology Celebration Month, it seems only fitting that Paisley Five Mile Point Caves have been added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The caves, located near Paisley in south-central Oregon, were the site of human habitation over 14,000 years ago, and have long been the subject of archaeological excavation and exploration.

Earliest Evidence of Human Settlements

Archaeological finds from Paisley Five Mile Point Caves provide evidence of occupation nearly 1,000 years earlier than previous indications from so-called Clovis sites. Clovis sites, known for their distinctive projectile points, have been found throughout the country and were for many years considered to be definitive evidence of the continent’s first human settlements.

In the early 2000s, an archaeological research team led by Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon conducted a number of excavations, as well as considerable laboratory analysis, to gather information that would ultimately contradict previously-held beliefs based on Clovis finds. Jenkins and his team discovered projectile points (arrowheads and spear heads), grinding stones, and woven plant fiber rope, as well as coprolites (fossilized poo) that contained human DNA.

Old-timey gals exploring one of Oregon's many historic caves. Photo credit: OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Old-timey gals exploring one of Oregon’s many historic caves.
Photo credit: OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Using carbon dating technology, the coprolites were dated to pre-Clovis times. This, along with other factors, helped establish the presence of ancient human populations near the west coast of North America at the end of Earth’s last ice age.

“The Importance of Oregon’s Archaeological Heritage”

The land surrounding Paisley Five Mile Point Caves is managed by the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. “[The] BLM is indeed pleased to see the Paisley Five Mile Points officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” said the BLM’s state archaeologist for Oregon and Washington, Stan McDonald, in a statement. “The site’s listing underscores the importance of Oregon’s archaeological heritage to understanding the full breadth of the human experience.”

Other Oregonian sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places include the Mosier Mounds Complex, the Greaser Petroglyph Site, Abert Lake Petroglyphs, Picture Rock Pass Petroglyphs, the Five Mile Rapids site, Fort Rock Cave, and the Sunken Village Archaeological site.

For more information about Oregon’s National Register sites, visit oregonheritage.org.