Mathews man dredged up ‘oldest formal artifact found in the Americas’

by Elsa Cooke Verblya - Posted on Aug 10, 2011 - 05:10 PM

Photo: Formal presentation of America’s oldest artifact took place Saturday at the Gwynn’s Island Civic Center, as the Parker family of Mathews gave the ancient blade to the Smithsonian Institution. From left are Pia and Dean Parker, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian, and  Elske Parker. Photo by Elsa Cooke Verbyla.

Formal presentation of America’s oldest artifact took place Saturday at the Gwynn’s Island Civic Center, as the Parker family of Mathews gave the ancient blade to the Smithsonian Institution. From left are Pia and Dean Parker, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian, and Elske Parker. Photo by Elsa Cooke Verbyla.

A stone knife dredged up in the Atlantic Ocean by a Mathews man has been identified by Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution as "the oldest formal artifact found in the Americas." It has been dated to 22,760 years ago, plus or minus 90 years, Stanford said. He is curator of the Paleo-Indian Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

This is significant, he said, because "up until the discovery of this artifact we thought people weren’t here much before 12,000 years ago." The knife would indicate a much earlier occupation of this continent.

Stanford said Saturday he is sure that even older artifacts remain to be discovered, as the knife is made of rhyolite obtained from a site in South Mountain, Pa. "This is confirmed by X-ray fluorescence or … comparison of the elements" found in the blade and in a sample from South Mountain, he said.

While there is no information yet on who made and used the knife, Stanford said there are striking similarities between it and the tools used by the Solutrean people of Europe. "It was made exactly the same way (bifaced, or flaked on both sides) during the same time period." And that time period, he was, was during the last Ice Age, when most of Europe was glaciers and an ice bridge connected Europe with America.