for National Geographic News
Crude stone "tools" found in northern Minnesota may be at least 13,000 years old, a team of archaeologists recently announced.
The discovery, if confirmed, would put the objects among the oldest human artifacts ever found in the Americas.
The team found about 50 such objects during a routine survey for road construction in the town of Walker, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Park Rapids (see a Minnesota map).
The finds include what appear to be a large hammerstone, beveled scrapers, rudimentary choppers, a crude knife, and numerous flakes that could have been used for cutting.
"We were certainly very surprised to find these objects here," said Matt Mattson, a biologist and archaeologist who has worked extensively with the Leech Lake Heritage Sites program, based near Cass Lake, Minnesota.
But the late Ice Age relics still need to be positively dated and confirmed as human-made before the stones' significance can be established, Mattson and other experts caution.
David Meltzer is an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas. He said that "there's simply no way to gauge the significance of the discovery until some reliable dates are obtained, and until it's shown that these are truly artifacts."
Choppers and Scrapers
Archaeologists from the Leech Lake Heritage Sites program—a for-profit company owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians—had been hired by Walker government officials to help evaluate the future site of a new community center.
Led by program director Thor Olmanson, the team discovered the ancient stones underneath a band of rock and gravel on a forested hill.
The team believes the items may be between 13,000 and 15,000 years old, based on the surrounding soil deposits.
"The only thing we have to go by for dating right now is this association with the glacially derived soil," Mattson said.
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