9,000-year-old artifact stirs archaeological excitement

From: http://www.jacksonholestartrib.com/

Dec 30, 2006

The black flint stone shaped like a spearhead immediately caught Joan Rennick's eye during a routine beach stroll one summer afternoon seven years ago. A talisman collector, Rennick had been limited to a moose tooth and a hollow rock during her previous wanderings across New Brunswick.

But this discovery was different.

"Gee! It's my lucky day," she recalled thinking. She started wearing the rock around her neck every day, for good luck, without knowing her talisman was a 9,000-year-old artifact that could help scientists understand the cultural sequence of North American civilization.

Now, after the prehistoric tool was authenticated, a local archaeologist is planning to dig the beach around the fittingly named Cape Spear region on the province's east coast.

Archaeologist Brent Suttie believes Ms. Rennick's rock was crafted into a hunting weapon between 7,000 and 7,500 B.C.

It's a period that marked a transition for Eastern North American civilization, as populations started shifting from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary one. Few artifacts and even fewer sites dating from that time have been discovered on the East Coast, Suttie said. In this context, Rennick's finding could be instrumental in understanding the nature and cause of the changes.

"If we could actually find a site, we could find who the population was, what they were eating, perhaps exchange networks that they had had," Suttie said. "It's going to give us something to hang other dates on.

"This could be the point where we could start to put back to back really important information that we need."

So far, scientists have found only a few archaeological sites in Maine that could shed light on the Paleo-Indian Period, Mr. Suttie said.

That 1,000-year time frame separates the Paleo-Indian Period, which started after the end of the last Ice Age, and the Archaic Period, which spanned until 1,000 BC in North America.

During the transition between the two periods, indigenous populations traded their projectile points made of flint stones for axes and gouges made of larger and heavier ground stones.

They used their new tools to carve canoes and other wooden objects. In turn, this enabled them to adapt to life on small surfaces of land, instead of following animal herds over long distances, Suttie said.

But scientists are puzzled as to whether the changes developed within communities on the East Coast or were brought by migrant populations.

This is why Rennick's artifact is so important, Suttie said.

Rennick was expecting none of this when she, her husband and other friends were strolling the beach near her house, about 100 kilometers east of Moncton.

She had been fascinated by objects found on beaches for as long as she could remember.

"I always figured I would find something of interest," she recalled in an interview yesterday. "I just picked it up and I didn't think much of it."

She said she brought the rock to Moncton Museum about four years ago, and officials failed to recognize the value of the object. "They couldn't tell me too much about it, and I didn't really stick around."

But last December, as she watched a National Geographic show on Discovery Channel that illustrated how prehistoric men hunted, Ms. Rennick was startled to see that the spearheads pictured on television looked exactly like her talisman.

She called back the museum and, after some persistence, an official put her in touch with Mr. Suttie, who immediately recognized the object when he saw it in February.

The archaeologist photographed, measured and weighed the rock. Then, he returned it to its owner.

"We told her right away how old it was," Suttie said.

"It was just astounding, to say the least," said Rennick, who plans to keep on wearing the rock around her neck. "God, Jesus is only 2,000 years old. So it's awesome."