Category Archives: U.S.A

This 2,400-year-old mushroom is the largest living organism on the planet

This 2,400-year-old mushroom is the largest living organism on the planet

The largest living thing on the planet is not a whale or any other animal you might expect. It is a giant fungus that kills anything in its path, currently taking up more than three square miles of Oregon.

The Armillaria ostoyae, more popularly known as the honey mushroom, began from a single spore too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. It has been entwining its black shoestring filaments over the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, which causes trees to die as it grows.

Spreading through the roots of trees, this fungus covers 2,200 acres today, which makes it the largest living organism ever to be found.

“When you’re on the ground, you don’t notice the pattern, you just see dead trees in clusters,” said Tina Dreisbach, a botanist, and mycologist working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Oregon.

Extremely similar to a mushroom, the outline of this giant fungus extends 3.5 miles across, and fairly stretches three feet into the ground, covering an area as large as 1,665 football fields. No one has yet estimated its weight.

Dead Trees Reveal Fungus

In 1998, Catherine Parks, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in La Grande, Ore., discovered this. She heard about a large tree die-off from root decay in the forest east of Prairie City, Ore.

With aerial shots, Parks checked out an area of dying trees and gathered root samples among 112 of them.

She singled out the fungus through DNA testing. Then, through comparing cultures of the fungus developed from the 112 samples, she was able to determine that 61 of them were from the same organism, which means that a single fungus had grown bigger than anyone had ever illustrated before.

Dry Climate May Encourage Growth

As it is microscopic, the only evidence of the fungus on the surface are clumps of golden mushrooms that materialize in the fall with the rain.

“They are edible, but they don’t taste the best,” said Dreisbach. “I would put lots of butter and garlic on them.”

Unearthing the roots of one affected tree, something that matches white latex paint can be observed. These are actually mats of mycelium, which sip water and carbohydrates from the tree as fungus grub, thus interfering with the tree’s absorption of nutrients.

Rhizomorphs are the black shoestring filaments that stretch as long as 10 feet into the soil, infesting tree roots through a mixture of pressure and enzyme action.

Scientists are absorbed in learning to control Armillaria as it kills trees, however, they soon realize that the fungus has served a purpose in nature for millions of years.

A California Couple Found $10 Million In Gold Coins In Their Backyard

A California Couple Found $10 Million In Gold Coins In Their Backyard

After all, a California couple who have discovered a $10 million cache of hidden gold coins may not be so lucky The coins may have been stolen from the U.S. Mint in 1900 and thus be the property of the government, according to a published report.

A search of the Haithi Trust Digital Library provided by Northern California’s fishery guide Jack trout, who is also a historian and collector of rare coins, brought up the news of theft on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The anonymous California couple spotted the edge of an old can on a path they had hiked many times before several months ago. Poking at the can was the first step in uncovering a buried treasure of rare coins estimated to be worth $10 million.

This image provided by the Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s, Inc., shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous.

“It was like finding a hot potato,” the couple told coin expert Don Kagin from Kagin’s, Inc. The couple hired the president of Kagin’s, Inc. and Holabird-Kagin Americana, a western Americana dealer and auctioneer, to represent them.

The coins are mostly uncirculated and in mint condition, and they add up in face value to $27,000. “Those two facts are a match of the gold heist in 1900 from the San Francisco Mint,” the newspaper reported.

Jack Trout told the paper that an 1866 Liberty $20 gold piece without the words “In God We Trust” was part of the buried stash, and the coin may fetch over $1 million at auction because it’s so rare.

A California couple found 1,427 Gold-Rush era U.S. gold coins in their yard when they were out walking their dog last year. The collection — valued at $11 million

“This was someone’s private coin, created by the mint manager or someone with access to the inner workings of the Old Granite Lady (San Francisco Mint),” Trout told the newspaper. “It was likely created in revenge for the assassination of Lincoln the previous year (April 14, 1865). I don’t believe that coin ever left The Mint until the robbery. For it to show up as part of the treasure find links it directly to that inside job at the turn of the century at the San Francisco Mint.”

Mint spokesman Adam Stump issued this statement when contacted by ABC News: “We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility. Surviving agency records from the San Francisco Mint have been retired to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), under Record Group 104.  When news of the stash first broke, coin dealer Kagin spoke about the rarity of such a find.

“Since 1981, people have been coming to us with one or two coins they find worth a few thousand dollars, but this is the first time we get someone with a whole cache of buried coins… It is a million to one chance, even harder than winning the lottery,” Kagin told ABCNews.com.

The couple is trying to remain anonymous after finding the five cans of coins last spring on their Tiburon property in northern California and conducted an interview with Kagin.

“I never would have thought we would have found something like this. However, in a weird way I feel like I have been preparing my whole life for it,” the couple said.

“I saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that we had walked almost every day for many, many years. I was looking down in the right spot and saw the side of the can. I bent over to scrape some moss off and noticed that it had both ends on it,” they said.

It was the first of five cans to be unearthed, each packed with gold coins.

“Nearly all of the 1,427 coins, dating from 1847 to 1894, are in uncirculated, mint condition,” said Kagin told ABCNews.com.

He said that the couple plan to sell most of the coins, but before they do, they are “loaning some to the American Numismatic Association for its National Money Show, which opens Thursday in Atlanta.”

“Some of the rarest coins could fetch as much as $1 million apiece,” said Kagin. He also said that they wish to sell 90 percent of the collection through Amazon.com and on the company’s website.

“We’d like to help other people with some of this money. There are people in our community who are hungry and don’t have enough to eat. We’ll also donate to the arts and other overlooked causes. In a way, it has been good to have time between finding the coins and being able to sell them in order to prepare and adjust. It’s given us an opportunity to think about how to give back,” said the couple.

Kagin and his colleague David McCarthy, senior numismatist, and researcher at Kagin’s, met with the couple last April, two months after the hoard was found.

When McCarthy and Kagin told the couple that their bonanza will be in the annals of numismatic stories for quite some time, the couple said, “It would have been quite a pity not to share the magnitude of our find. We want to keep the story of these coins intact for posterity.”

Archaeologists Find 16,000-Year-Old tools in Texas

16,000-Year-Old Tools Discovered in Texas, Among the Oldest Found in the West

In the 1990s, archeologists in Texas claim they made a significant find by uncovering a cache of stone tools from 13,000 years ago that showed evidence of the continent ‘s oldest widely spread civilization. But then, years later, they made an even more powerful find in the same place — another layer of artifacts that were older still. About a half-hour north of Austin and a meter deep in water-logged silty clay, researchers have uncovered evidence of human occupation dating back as much as 16,700 years, including fragments of human teeth and more than 90 stone tools.

In addition to being some of the oldest yet found in the American West, the artifacts are rare traces of a culture that predated the culture known as Clovis, whose distinctively shaped stone tools found across North America have consistently been dated to about 13,000 years ago. Indeed, an entire generation of anthropologists was taught that Clovis represented the continent’s first inhabitants. But, along with a handful of other pre-Clovis finds, the Texas tools add to the mounting evidence that humans arrived on the continent longer ago than was once thought, said Dr. D. Clark Wernecke, director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research.

“The most important takeaway is that people were in the New World much earlier than we used to believe,” Wernecke said.

The pre-Clovis artifacts include more than 90 stone tools, such as bifaces and blades, and more than 160,000 flakes left over from the point-making process.

“We were all taught [North America was first populated] 13,500 years ago, and it appears that people arrived 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.”

The location in Texas where the new finds were made, known as the Gault Site, was first identified in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that archaeologists discovered the first tools, like tapered-oval spearheads, that were clear signs of the ancient Clovis culture. It was those finds that Wernecke and his colleagues went to investigate further when they began working at the Gault site in 2002.

“At the time, we were interested in Clovis, and we had no idea of anything earlier there,” he said. After several years of digging test pits and making chance finds, the team ended up focusing on two of the most striking parts of the site. The first part, known as Area 12, revealed an unusual “pavement” constructed out of cobbles buried deep beneath the surface.

“[It’s] a roughly two-by-three-meter rectangular gravel pad about 10 centimeters thick of rounded river gravels in a narrow range of sizes, with artifacts of at least Clovis age on and around it,” Wernecke said.

“The indications from the surrounding data are that it had a structure on it.”

The presence of Clovis-era stone tools suggested that the paved floor dated to about 13,000 years ago. The team kept digging, and about 1 meter below the pavement and the Clovis tools, they found nine more flakes of shaped stone, along with a scattering of animal bones. Assuming that material found below the Clovis pavement must be older than Clovis, the researchers were intrigued. But there was not much to go on.

Researchers found stone tools fashioned in the signature Clovis style. But several centimeters below that, an abundance of new material appeared — including human teeth.

“In Area 12, you have the pavement, lithics, and bone, and not much else,” Wernecke said. However, the team also turned its attention to another area nearby, where it discovered significantly more, and larger, artifacts that were also older than Clovis. Here, at a spot named Area 15, the researchers first found a few more stone tools fashioned in the signature Clovis style. But several centimeters below that, an abundance of new material appeared — including human teeth.

Among a pile of limestone rocks, the team discovered the enamel caps of four adjacent teeth from a young adult female. No human bones were found, and enamel can’t be radiocarbon dated, Wernecke noted, so details about the woman — like how and when she lived and died — remain a mystery for now. However, within this same, deep, older-than-Clovis layer of sediment, the researchers unearthed yet another compelling find — more than 90 stone tools, fashioned in a style that clearly wasn’t Clovis. Clovis projectile points can be identified by their long parallel-sided shape — a form known as lanceolate — as well as by their thin bases, and notches where a shaft could be hafted onto the stone.  But many of the newly found, deeper artifacts didn’t fit that description.

“The morphology is completely different,” Wernecke said. “They are not lanceolate points with basal thinning.

“Three of them are very small stemmed points, and the fourth is a somewhat thick sort of lanceolate point. In addition to the 90 tools, the artifacts include more than 160,000 stone flakes left over from the tool-making process. And they, too, are different from the flakes found with Clovis tools, Wernecke said.

“The flaking patterns are also completely different,” he said.
“These were not made using Clovis technology.”

But the fact that these artifacts were different from and deeper than, the Clovis points didn’t necessarily prove that they were older. To establish their age, Wernecke and his colleagues submitted 18 of the artifacts to a lab for optically stimulated luminescence dating — a process that analyzes tiny grains in the soils to reveal when they were last exposed to sunlight, thereby giving a sense of how long they’ve been buried. The results showed that the artifacts were between 13,200 to 16,700 years old. At their most ancient, that’s some 3,000 years older than the earliest known signs of Clovis culture anywhere in North America.

“We compared these [dates] with relative dating of artifacts and radiocarbon dates wherever possible,” Wernecke added. “All seem to agree well.”

The discovery of all of these older-than-Clovis artifacts raises tantalizing questions about what that earlier culture was like, and how it compared to the Clovis culture. According to Wernecke, the pre-Clovis tools suggest that their makers were likely direct predecessors of the Clovis. Many aspects of their technology — like how they made biface blades — were similar but not identical, he said.

A comparison of a Clovis point found at the Gault site (left) with the bases of older points found below the Clovis layer.

“Blade technology does not seem to have changed a lot — a little bit in technique, but both cultures were making similar blades,” he said.

“Likewise, many of the tools are the same basic tools — easily recognizable to either technological culture but made in a different fashion. A different set of technological tools and instructions were used to arrive at similar tool types.” This continuity in technology might indicate a similar continuity of culture, Wernecke added, a gradual transition from one culture to the next.

“You would logically expect some similarity,” he said. “If people adopted new technology, some of the old would hang around.

“If [the tools] were completely different, you would expect to find another culture in between [the Clovis and older-than-Clovis layers], or evidence for total replacement of the population.”

Much more work remains to be done at the Gault site, Wernecke said. But the discoveries made there so far have enormous implications for our understanding of the history of human migration and the peopling of the Americas, Wernecke said. 

“In 1590, [Spanish missionary and naturalist] Jose de Acosta wrote that the people in the New World were primitive humans who must have walked here, and we have built on that premise ever since,” he said.

“But it was not possible to walk here until much later, with 3-mile-high glaciers in the way.

“If people got here 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, they had to have come along the coast in boats.” Moreover, he added, the diversity of artifacts uncovered at the Gault site also shows that the continent’s earliest peoples were not a static or monolithic group.

“We are beginning to understand that the first peoples in the new world were just like us,” Wernecke said, “intelligent, inventive, creative — and they found ways to adapt to a rapidly changing world.”

14,000-Year-Old Poop Found in Oregon Cave Turns Out to Be Human

14,000-Year-Old Poop Found in Oregon Cave Turns Out to Be Human

Gizmodo reports that archaeologists John Blong and Lisa-Marie Shillito of Newcastle University and their colleagues tested 21 coprolites unearthed in Oregon’s Paisley Caves for the presence of human sterols and bile, which are not soluble in water and thus chemically stable. Previous mitochondrial DNA testing of the ancient waste indicated that all of the samples were human in origin, but critics argued that DNA from later occupation of the cave may have washed into lower, older cave sediments and contaminated the samples.

Outside the Paisley Caves entrance.

“We address issues of potential DNA contamination through fecal lipid biomarker analysis, providing evidence that there likely was DNA moving from younger human occupations into older cave sediments and coprolites, but also confirming that people were camping at the caves as early as 14,200 years ago,” Blong said.

Genetic analysis of the coprolites suggested they came from humans, but some researchers questioned this result, citing possible contamination of the samples. The progeny of the poop remained unresolved for years, but new research is providing a fresh look at these stale but incredibly important piles of dung.

Paisley Caves

Humans first entered North America around the end of the last ice age, sometime between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago. Further confirmation of exactly when and how this migration took place would be a big deal, even if the evidence in question is literally full of crap. Coprolites, in order to last for so long, require an arid environment. Plenty of dry caves exist in western North America, but Paisley Caves are special in that they’re the only ones known to harbor evidence of human activity dating back to the Pleistocene-Holocene transition.

That said, this evidence is not great. Aside from the supposed human coprolites, the only other evidence at Paisley Caves from this time period tends to be flakes left over from the manufacturing of stone tools (which can’t be reliably dated) and butchery marks found on the bones of possible prey animals (which might actually be gnaw marks made by non-human animals). This is where ancient poop can help—when skeletal or other lines of evidence are either scarce or non-existent.

“The most convincing evidence for many archaeologists was a collection of preserved feces containing Native American mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) deposited 14,400 to 14,000 years ago, making them the oldest directly dated human remains in the Western Hemisphere,” John Blong, a co-author of the new study and an archaeologist at Newcastle University, wrote in an email to Gizmodo. “This evidence was criticized, though, because several of the coprolites contained both human and dog mtDNA, suggesting that the human mtDNA may be the result of contamination from overlying layers. No one doubts that the coprolites are as old as the radiocarbon dates say they are, they just doubt they are human.”

That the prior mtDNA analysis was deficient is a distinct possibility. People and animals have been sharing these caves for millennia, so it’s very possible that genetic material from one pile of poop leached onto others.

“If you’ve ever watched a crime show on TV, you know that DNA can get everywhere,” said Blong. “Organisms constantly shed DNA in hair, skin cells, sweat, saliva, and so on.” At the same time, DNA is soluble in water, making it highly mobile in wet environments.

“Even though the interior of the Paisley Caves is very dry, we do see clues in the sediments that there were occasional, short-term wetting events,” Blong explained. “Imagine a storm with heavy rain that blows into the caves. The rain soaks into the cave sediments and dries a day or two later. Even in this short period of time, the water can transport human DNA left by a later group down into the deeper sediments representing an earlier time.”

Archaeologist Lisa-Marie Shillito collecting cave samples.
Archaeologist Lisa-Marie Shillito collecting cave samples.

Thankfully, DNA isn’t the only clue available to scientists, as coprolites also contain fecal lipid biomarkers, which can be pinned to certain types of animals. Moreover, lipids—organic molecular compounds that include fats, oils, steroids, and other biosignatures—are not very soluble in water, so they don’t tend to move around caves when things get wet. They’re also chemically stable, so they preserve well over long timescales.

“These characteristics make lipids a more reliable source for identifying human coprolites in a setting where cave sediments occasionally get wet,” said Blong.

With this in mind, Blong, along with study co-author Lisa-Marie Shillito and other colleagues, analyzed the lipid biomarkers found in 21 coprolite samples taken from Paisley Caves, all of which were previously found to be of human origin through mtDNA analysis. The researchers ran tests to determine sterol and bile content, in order to discern human feces from those produced by other animals. The researchers then compared these samples to the surrounding sediment, finding that minimal leaching occurred between the coprolites and the cave environment.

Of the 21 samples analyzed, 13 were identified as belonging to humans, two of which had been previously dated to the 14,000-year-old timeframe. Interestingly, one poop sample was linked to a panther and another to a lynx. Details of this analysis were published in Scientific Reports.

Study co-author Helen Whelton working on samples in the lab.

“Our study addresses persistent criticisms of the DNA evidence for the earliest human occupation of the Paisley Caves,” said Blong. “We address issues of potential DNA contamination through fecal lipid biomarker analysis, providing evidence that there likely was DNA moving from younger human occupations into older cave sediments and coprolites, but also confirming that people were camping at the caves as early as 14,200 years ago.”

Katelyn McDonough, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University, told Gizmodo that the fecal biomarker approach is “very exciting,” as lipids “preserve better and move less than other materials, such as DNA.” Overall, “this study both advances and showcases the fecal biomarker approach and makes a good case for the use of this method in tandem with DNA analysis in the future,” said McDonough, who wasn’t involved in the new research, though she has spent time working in Paisley Caves.

McDonough said she was “somewhat surprised” by the disagreement between the DNA and biomarker readings for some of the coprolites, “but that goes to show that we shouldn’t always rely solely on DNA and that multiple lines of evidence are best, when possible.”

For the new study, the authors also directly dated a cultural remnant found in the caves. A bulrush fragment, either from a basket or mat, was found to be roughly 14,000 years old, “further confirming the earliest human occupation,” said Blong. McDonough said the directly dated piece of basketry is “incredible” and an “extremely unique glimpse into plant use and textile production around 14,000 years ago.”

“We still have a lot to learn about when the first people arrived in the Americas, where they came from, and what routes they took to get here,” said Blong. “Our study adds to growing evidence that people were in the Americas more than 14,000 years ago, prior to the widespread Clovis culture.”

Indeed, the new paper is further evidence that humans reached this part of the world prior to the emergence of Clovis culture and its iconic stone tool technology. The Clovis people, who emerged around 11,500 to 11,000 years ago, were once considered to be the first inhabitants of North America, but this theory is increasingly coming into doubt. Archaeological evidence excavated in western Idaho suggests humans were in the region well over.

As Blong pointed out, these coprolites are the oldest directly dated human remains in the Western Hemisphere, but there’s other important archaeological evidence to consider. A study from last year, for example, showcased some of the earliest evidence of humans in North America, specifically at the Cooper’s Ferry site in western Idaho. Stone tools, animal bones, traces of fire pits, and other signs of human occupation were dated to between 16,560 and 15,280 years ago.

It’s also worth pointing out that the colossal ice sheet separating North America from Siberia began melting around 14,800 years ago. That humans were living in Oregon’s Paisley Caves soon afterward is not much of a surprise, but it’s good to have this extra bit of poopy evidence. Excitingly, these human coprolites have more stories to tell. As Blong told Gizmodo, he and his colleagues are currently analyzing the coprolites to figure out what these pioneering humans were eating.

1,000-Year-Old Buffalo Jump Discovered in Wyoming

1,000-Year-Old Buffalo Jump Discovered in Wyoming

For Curt Ogburn and Wade Golden, the journey to the excavation of the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump near Baggs began almost 30 years ago, when the two high school students first found an old bison skull on state land.

Wade and I were like brothers,” Ogburn said. We found all kinds of stuff out in the desert, and it was our playground. One day in 1991, Ogburn and Golden were out in the hills, doing the thing so many Wyoming teenagers do: scaling rocks, climbing hills, and exploring.

“We were hiking around the Red Desert west of Baggs, and found a buffalo skull,” Golden said. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ so we picked it up and took it back to the high school science lab where we gathered around and looked at it… That was it.”

In about 2008, Golden started wondering — could he find that site again?

“As I was hiking in, I started finding artifacts. I found a lot more buffalo skulls and a lot more bones all around,” Golden said. Golden said that after a few attempts to contact the Wyoming State Archaeologist, Spencer Pelton, who took the job in November, agreed to investigate.

The Wyoming State Archaeologist is investigating a site near Baggs where prehistoric people likely drove bison to the edge of a steep embankment on foot, where they then shot them with bows and arrows. Discovered in the early 1990s by two Wyoming high school students, the site is home to artifacts over 1,000 years old.

“I get a lot of calls, but this one seemed promising,” Pelton said, adding that the two first headed to the site in late June.

“We discovered this was an archaeology site used to kill bison, and it was used between around 1,000-1,500 years ago,” he said. “This particular site is — the best way to put it is that there is no way that bison bone would have ended up where it was without humans having a role in it. These bison bones are perched upon some pretty steep, cliffy areas, and it is not in a place where you would expect an animal to die naturally.”

For what were the earliest users of the bow and arrow, the journey to the area started 1,000-1,500 years ago. This was a millennium before the introduction of the horse to North America, around the time people transitioned from using a spear, or atlatl, to the bow and arrow. Several arrow points directly associated with the bones have also been discovered.

“These are probably some of the first people to use the bow and arrow,” Pelton said. “The site wasn’t so much of a cliff, but a steep embankment where the animals would become increasingly confined near steep, broken terrain. As these bison got more and more confined, it got easier for people to kill them.”

Bison hunting was a very dangerous endeavor, he said.

“To some extent, hunting is still dangerous compared to our day-to-day lives,” Pelton said. “But especially in prehistoric days, chasing these giant animals with stone tools, there is not a lot of room for error in that process.”

Landscape at any given site is unique, but the bones at the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump were preserved in a mudstone layer of rock.

“The bones became incorporated with the sediments in this area, which have gradually eroded down to where we found them today,” Pelton said. “This place is in a unique setting. I have never actually seen anything like it.”

Slopes are typically not great for preservation because they’re constantly eroding, but in this case, the bedrock mudstone preserved the bones in just the right way, Pelton said. Wyoming likely had its prehistoric population peak around 1,000-1,500 years ago, when people lived in semi-permanent seasonal camps that they would return to on an annual basis. There is evidence that people in the area had a complex, large society with an extensive trade network reaching the Pacific Ocean.

The exact location of the Ogburn-Golden Bison Jump is confidential for the time being, to preserve the opportunity for study.

“It is really important that when we find an archaeology site of some significance that one, there is confidentiality involved,” Pelton said. “We don’t want folks collecting things because that would impact our ability to interpret how the site was used, and two, this site, in particular, doesn’t lend well to public interpretation. It is in a really dangerous spot, so how we handle something like this is we conduct an excavation, write up our findings and establish an exhibit in a local museum.”

For Golden, preservation is first and foremost.

“This is history that should be shared with everyone,” he said. “It is very neat. I knew immediately, once I started finding artifacts, what it was, and the importance of it. Ogburn said that to a 16-, 17-year-old kid, finding the bison skull was a novelty, but it is only now that he can fully appreciate what he and his best friend stumbled on three decades ago.

“We knew what it was, but we didn’t know the extent until the State Archaeologist came to look at the site,” he said. “Wade has always been the geologist, archaeologist type. We grew up together since we were four years old, and I used to tease him that he could get out of a car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot and trip over an arrowhead. He is that kind of guy. He is lucky — but he knows what he is looking for.”

Ogburn’s own son is 10 now and loves Wyoming’s history. That his name will forever be on a bison jump in Carbon County — that is pretty amazing.

“I am just so glad Wade kept up with this. My son is 10, and he loves this kind of thing,” Ogburn said. “It is pretty cool.”

The ancient giants of Nevada and the mystery of lovelock cave

The ancient giants of Nevada and the mystery of lovelock cave

For more than a century, a story has persisted about the skeletons of giants being found in Lovelock Cave in northern Nevada. For many years, human remains were put on display in museums here and elsewhere, but that changed. Most of the bones and skulls that were once considered to be historical artifacts have been returned to tribes for burial.

If oversized bones from the so-called Lovelock giants ever existed, they are no longer available to the public. But their story behind the legend persists. Slicing through the bone-dry Humboldt sink on a long dirt road, it’s hard to imagine that all of it was once underwater.

Remnants of a vast ancient lake can still be seen in the distance. For generations of first Americans, this was a lush paradise of tules, fish, and waterfowl. Humans have climbed the same narrow path up the jagged mountain for more than 4,000 years. That’s how long indigenous peoples lived in and around the Lovelock Cave.

The roof of the cave is coated with soot from countless campfires lit by ancestors of the Paiutes. According to tribal lore, a race of red-headed giants made its last stand in the cave.

Reporter George Knapp: “Among today’s Paiutes, do most say the giants were real?”

Devoy Munk: “All that I’ve talked to say yes. I’ve haven’t heard anybody say no.”

Devoy Munk, a Lovelock historian, has spent all of her 80-plus years in Lovelock. Her family’s home today houses a small museum, jam-packed with artifacts and depictions documenting centuries of native culture and pioneer life.

Munk has earned the trust of Paiute elders who say the stories are true, and that the red-headed interlopers not only killed but ate their ancestors.

“My Indian friends tell me they were cannibals, that they set traps. They dug holes in pathways where they walked, covered them, and then Indians would fall in, and they said the best parts to eat were the thighs,” Munk said.

On Internet sites and alien-themed TV shows, the gruesome legend has blossomed, but it’s hardly new. Versions have been told and retold in magazines, even scholarly journals for more than a century.

Famed Nevadan Sarah Winnemucca first wrote in her acclaimed book that the Paiutes waged a three-year war against a tribe of red-headed cannibals before trapping — then killing — the last of them inside lovelock cave.

Her book doesn’t mention giants, and mainstream archeologists have vigorously rejected the entire story, to the point that the state museum in Winnemucca admonishes visitors at its front entrance that the red-headed giants are a myth.

“There have been skeletons pulled out of the Reid collection,” said Bill Snodgrass. “They found some in there roughly 6’2″. When you think about it, back then, six-foot was a very tall individual.”

Snodgrass is the curator of the Marzen House Museum in Lovelock and thinks there is a reasonable basis for parts of the story. In the early 20th century, guano miners began excavating the Lovelock Cave and uncovered thousands of artifacts along with mummified remains including a few specimens much taller than the typical Paiute of centuries past.

Later scientific excavations found troves of native antiquities along with bones. Some human remains were destroyed. Others went to museums for display. A few, Snodgrass says, were consumed in bizarre initiation rituals. He adds there is evidence — including basketry — of an unknown culture that lived near the cave. Records show some of them had red hair.

“I can’t say who they were, redheads or not. Some say uric acid changes the color of hair, but there was definitely a different people here,” Snodgrass said.

Many, if not most, of the visitors who end up at the Marzen House Museum, have questions about the red-headed cannibals. The locals still enjoy the debate.

Reporter George Knapp: “The two of you disagree but it’s a friendly disagreement?”

“Oh yes. We’ve had this discussion and he hasn’t convinced me and I haven’t convinced him,” Munk said. Whether the red-headed giants ever existed, visits to the two museums are worth the drive. 

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Uncovered in Michigan

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Uncovered in Michigan

Excavators working at Mackinac State Historic Parks have uncovered a heart-shaped ring, a sleeve button made of glass or crystal, a gunflint, a plain pewter button, a plain brass button, and part of a bone knife handle at the site of a house at Colonial Michilimackinac, a fort first established by French traders and missionaries on Mackinac Island.

An intact heart-shaped ring was found during the beginning of the 2020 archaeological season at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Researchers discovered what seems to be an intaglio bottle, or perhaps the quartz, jacket ring, according to Dr. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks

“We are not sure who the figure is, but it appears to be a Classical figure, which might have appealed to an educated man of the eighteenth century.

It was found in what we believe to be the second cellar of the house, where we have been finding British-era artifacts.

An intaglio glass, or possibly crystal, sleeve button (cuff link) was also found during one of the first archaeological digs of the 2020 season at Colonial Michilimackinac.

We have found other intaglios at Michilimackinac, including another one at this house, but the others have all been round and appear to have been busted in the style of the eighteenth century.

An intaglio glass, or possibly crystal, sleeve button (cuff link) was also found during one of the first archaeological digs of the 2020 season at Colonial Michilimackinac. (Mackinac State Historic Parks)

Archaeologists also found a gunflint, a plain pewter button, and part of a bone handle from a knife in the root cellar in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Along with the findings, two horizontal planks, perhaps the floor, are starting to be exposed, said Evans.

A plain brass button and an intact heart-shaped trade ring have also been exposed in the same area.

The archaeological dig at Michilimackinac began in 1959, making it one of the longest-running archaeology programs in North America. House E was first occupied by Charles Henri Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville, and later by an as-yet-unidentified English trader.

New Plant Identified in 1,400-Year-Old Pipe in Washington

New Plant Identified in 1,400-Year-Old Pipe in Washington

Rhus glabra, a herb commonly known as smooth sumac, was smoked by people in the Washington State more than 1.400 years ago.

The finding was made by a team of researchers from the State University of Washington is the first time scientists in an archeological pipe have detected the remains of a non-tobacco plant.

The Native American pipe, unearthed in Central Washington, also contained residues N. quadrivalvis, a tobacco species currently not cultivated in the area but which is believed to have been widely grown in the past. Until now, Ancient people in the American Northwest had only thought about using special smoking herb mixtures.

Replica pipes used to experimentally “smoke” tobacco and other native plants in WSU laboratories for the study. The charred residue is then extracted, chemically “fingerprinted”, and compared to the residue of ancient archaeological pipes.

“Smoking often played a religious or ceremonial role for Native American tribes and our research shows these specific plants were important to these communities in the past,” said Korey Brownstein, a former WSU Ph.D. student now at the University of Chicago and lead author of a study on the research in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences. “We think the Rhus glabra may have been mixed with tobacco for its medicinal qualities and to improve the flavor of smoke.”

The discovery was made possible by a new metabolomics-based analysis method that can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residue collected from pipes, bowls, and other archeological artifacts. The compounds can then be used to identify which plants were smoked or consumed.

“Not only does it tell you, yes, you found the plant you’re interested in, but it also can tell you what else was being smoked,” said David Gang, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and a co-author of the study. “It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that this technology represents a new frontier in archaeo-chemistry.”

Previously, the identification of ancient plant residues relied on the detection of a limited number of biomarkers, such as nicotine, anabasine, cotinine, and caffeine. Gang said the issue with this approach is while the presence of a biomarker like nicotine shows tobacco was smoked it doesn’t distinguish which species it was.

“Also, if you are only looking for a few specific biomarkers, you aren’t going to be able to tell what else was consumed in the artifact,” Gang said.

In addition to identifying the first non-tobacco plant smoked in an archaeological pipe, the WSU researchers’ work also helps elucidate the complex evolution of tobacco trade in the American Northwest.

Analysis of a second pipe that was used by people living in Central Washington after Euro-American contact revealed the presence of a different tobacco species, N. Rustica, which was grown by native peoples on the east coast of what is now the United States.

“Our findings show Native American communities interacted widely with one another within and between ecological regions, including the trade of tobacco seeds and materials,” said Shannon Tushingham, an assistant professor of anthropology at WSU and co-author of the study.

“The research also casts doubt on the commonly held view that trade tobacco grown by Europeans overtook the use of natively-grown smoke plants after Euro-American contact.”

Moving forward, the WSU researchers’ work could ultimately help scientists studying ancient societies in the Americas and elsewhere around the globe identify which plant species ancient people were consuming, providing important information about the evolution of drug use and similar plant-human dynamics.

Closer to home, the WSU team is also putting their work to use helping confirm connections between ancient plant management practices from before the arrival of Western settlers with cultural traditions of modern indigenous communities such as the Nez Perce.

The researchers shared their work with members of the tribe who also used some of the seeds from the study to grow some of the pre-contact tobacco.

The smoking of tobacco is a sacred tradition for Native American groups including the Nez Perce, Colville, and other northwest Tribes and before now it was impossible to tell which kind of tobacco their ancestors smoked.

“We took over an entire greenhouse to grow these plants and collected millions of seeds so that the Nez Perce people could reintroduce these native plants back onto their land,” Brownstein said.

“I think these kinds of projects are so important because they help build trust between us and tribal communities and show that we can work together to make discoveries.”