Bloodstained Tools From 13,000 Years Ago Found in a Suburban Backyard

By Eliza Strickland | February 26, 2009 8:50 am

tools ColoradoThe tools found in Colorado resident Patrick Mahaffy’s backyard weren’t the typical collection of weed whackers and shovels. Instead Mahaffy’s yard hosted a collection of chipped stone knives and axes that date from the time of the Clovis people, who are believed to have been among the first inhabitants of America around 13,000 years ago. “The idea that these Clovis-age tools essentially fell out of someone’s yard in Boulder is astonishing,” [anthropologist Douglas Bamforth] said. “But the evidence I’ve seen gives me no reason to believe the cache has been disturbed since the items were placed there for storage about 13,000 years ago” [LiveScience].

The prehistoric tool cache was turned up when landscapers were digging a hole for a fishpond in Mahaffy’s backyard, and struck stone. The collection contains 83 knives, axes, and smaller pieces of flint, and a chemical analysis of blood residue left on the blades revealed that the tools had been used to butcher extinct types of North American camels and horses, and well as bears and sheep.

Bamforth says the protein residue from the butchered animals suggests that the tools weren’t buried as part of a ritual, but were instead tucked away for safekeeping. “It looks like someone gathered together some of their most spectacular tools and other ordinary scraps of potentially useful material and stuck them all into a small hole in the ground, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them,” Bamforth said [LiveScience].

The tools aren’t notable merely for the unusual circumstances of their discovery, Bamforth says; they’re also of great interest to researchers because only a scant handful of tools from that era have ever discovered in North America. Homeowner Mahaffy adds that the tools are also remarkable for their meticulous craftsmanship. He said he was struck by the beauty of the tools and also how well designed they seemed to be. “They’re ergonomically perfect,” Mr. Mahaffy said. “They fit perfectly in your palm, and your fingers curl over just where they should” [The New York Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Once Humans Crossed the Bering Land Bridge to America, Where Did They Go?
DISCOVER: The New Americans suggests that the Clovis had contemporaries in South America
DISCOVER: Were the First Americans Wiped Out by an Asteroid?
DISCOVER: Coming to America

Image: Glenn J. Asakawa/University of Colorado

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins
  • Katy

    If I didn’t know better I’d think that you had gone back to your old practice of publishing a “spoof” for April Fool’s Day. I remember the one about finding a chalice in the holy land (if I remember correctly) with traces of blood in it. If blood is still discernable on 13,000 year old stone tools, well that truly is amazing. (By the way, I really do miss the April Fool’s Jokes…I really liked the one about Neanderthal’s wind chimes).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    We took a little creative license in the headline by calling the tools “bloodstained”: it’s not like they had thick crusts of dried blood on them. But they did indeed have the residue of animal proteins that researchers were able to isolate and identify.

  • Mitch McKee

    It would have been nice to have more/bigger pics.

  • Bruce Doxey

    Please, how about a lot more and better pictures?!?!?!?

  • S.

    Hahaha!!! I just stumbled this, and thats my teacher, he’s awesome!! (P.S. Not an april fools joke, I’ve handled those tools)

  • olarssen

    I bet they were planted, just like the dinosaur bones.

  • randy

    ok well i wish the pic was larger i found a weired rock in my garden is sharp on both ends and liioks blood staind it differnt

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