Letter to Editor – Archaeologist Responds to Questions about 12,000-year-old Solstice Site

Other than prehistoric Pueblo in the American Southwest, above-ground prehistoric structures do not exist in the U.S., especially dating to the paleo-era. Dwellings in villages were made from organic materials and, naturally, disappeared with time. One of the oldest buried sites in the East is the Thunderbird Paleoindian site in Warren County, Virginia. The Spout Run site is in nearby Clarke County and provided an opportunity for more paleo-investigations.

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The Thunderbird site quarry was used by the Indians to mine jasper for their stone tools. It was a preferred material by them, and they traveled many miles to obtain this stone. It is this stone preference that led the author to conclude that Spout Run was a Paleoindian site dating 12,000 years. The Indians at Thunderbird are known by their tools as Clovis, and this early date for them has been established at numerous paleo-sites in the eastern U.S.

The Spout Run site landowner, Mr. Chris White, asked the author to investigate a set of concentric rings on his property. Upon the initial investigation, the author confirmed the rings were man-made, and being 15+ miles from the Thunderbird Paleoindian jasper quarry, suggested that it was a paleo-site. The author has investigated and published 5 solstice sites in the Middle Atlantic area and recognized the possibility that the site had solar orientations.

This ringed-site is located around a mile from the Shenandoah River. It is located down-hill from a mountain rock-cliff face that, when viewed during the summer solstice, the sun passes directly over the rock face and the site.

When no surface artifacts were found in the area, an excavation was needed to confirm it as a site, and prove its relationship to the Thunderbird site, if any. Excavating passed the humus zone, and a small piece of jasper was found. But, a man-made object would be better, and at 17 inches, a jasper spurred scraper was found. It is made from Ft. Royal jasper. The presence of buried jasper was used to argue that the site was of Paleoindian age.

On June 21, 2011, a solar observation was made to confirm the site’s summer solstice alignment. The site was confirmed previously as having equinox and winter solstice orientations.

Knapping is restricted to warm weather as cold stone is brittle and difficult to knap. All of which suggests that Paleoindians made seasonal trips to the quarries and Spout Run was used for their ceremonies. By using the equinox sighting, the site provided a calendar for the Paleoindians.

The paleo-era was during the Younger Dryes geological period, and winters were extremely cold especially for uplands where Spout Run was located. By using a very large boulder-set past the outer ring, a direct line from site center points directly east. It is argued here that this points to a September time period which meant – time to leave the area and return to a more moderate climate such as was found out on Maryland and Virginia’s eastern coastal area. Thus, the site was a calendar for the Paleoindians.

The average accepted date for Clovis in the East is 12,000 YBP. Thus, by inference the Clarke County observatory dates somewhere around that paleo-date. While the concentric rings still need mapping, there is enough evidence to suggest that the Spout Run site is the oldest, extant above-ground site in North America.

The site has been reported to the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond and is waiting for a state archaeological site number.

For more information, see:

Hranicky, Wm Jack

(2009) Material Culture from Prehistoric Virginia (2 vols). AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN.

 

William Jack Hranicky RPA

Comments

  1. Do any American Bald Eagles ever visit this spot?

    • Yes, interesting that you ask. Two days ago we saw an Eagle sitting in a tree about 50 feet from the site. She’s about 18-inches tall with a 5-foot wing span. She’s a strong reminder of life. May the Eagle remind us all to soar great heights, stay grounded with purpose, grasp life with intent and use a sharp beak with caution. Thanks for your interest.

      • shes a big one! wonder if she is of the same family that lives down on the Shenandoah River…definitely a reminder of life and freedom.

  2. “Other than prehistoric Pueblo in the American Southwest, above-ground prehistoric structures do not exist in the U.S., especially dating to the paleo-era.”

    But isn’t this statement incorrect? There are man-made earthen mound structures (some faced with or including stone) all over the eastern United States. Obvious examples are Watson’s Brake (http://www.saa.org/AbouttheSociety/Publications/AmericanAntiquity/Volume70Number4October2005/WatsonBrakeaMiddleArchaicMoundComplexinN/tabid/501/Default.aspx) with mounds dating to BC3500, and Cahokia (http://cahokiamounds.org/) with mounds (including one with a base larger than any Egyptian Pyramid) dating to AD1150. They are not paleo-era, but they are certainly structures from a prehistoric America that predates southwestern Ancestral Pueblo people.

  3. Serpent Mound is an impressive native American historical site in southwest Ohio. This long above ground mound is located about 10 miles southeast of Berrysville, Ohio on state highway route 73 by Louden. The ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado are amazing.