Monday, July 16, 2012

Oldest Painted Object in North America

  Nothing like it had ever been seen. The design, known as a lightning bolt, was unmistakeably man-made. 

"When you find something like that, you're very careful in cleaning it up," Lee said. "We took a gazillion photos of it." 

Nearby, the crew found the animal's skeleton, suggesting the skull had not been taken to or away from the site. The implications were profound. Lee and his crew wanted other archaeologists to witness the skull where it lay, but this was the pre-cell phone era. They carefully draped a cloth over the skull, covered that with a dustpan and some more soil, and headed back to town to make phone calls.

"It had been absolutely dry for the past month," Lee said. "That night, we got two inches of rain."

Lee and the others feared the worst: that after being buried for 10,000 years, the sudden deluge would wash away the paint.

"When we went back to the site, everything was mud. So we let it all dry out, then slowly peeled off the cloth, and there it was, the red lightning bolt intact."

The skull was taken to a lab, where the red hematite paint radiocarbon dated to roughly 10,500 years ago. That makes the Cooper skull the oldest painted object ever discovered in North America. The image below represents where a Folsom hunter or perhaps a shaman painted several designs. Only the lightning bolt was visible to the naked eye. The story doesn't end there, however.


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