OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU archaeologist to investigate first West Coast humans with $1-million gift

10/07/2008

CORVALLIS, Ore.—The work of a pioneering Oregon State University archaeologist has attracted a $1-million gift to investigate the first human populations in the Pacific Northwest, coastal California and Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.

OSU Assistant Professor Loren Davis, whose studies are helping change how archaeologists view early human migrations on the North American continent, will be the executive director of the Keystone Archaeological Research Fund, established through a gift from Joseph and Ruth Cramer of Denver, Colo. A retired geologist who worked for many years in oil exploration, Joseph Cramer has had a long interest in archaeology, particularly the issue of when people first arrived in the Americas. The Cramers have set up the same type of funds for Paleoamerican research at the University of Arizona, the University of Kansas, the University of Nevada at Reno, Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University.

"It's a great honor to be among this prestigious group of peers," said Davis. "This is a highly significant gift. It will allow us to create a center of excellence at OSU in pursuit of this grand archaeological problem - the peopling of the New World."

The Keystone Fund at OSU and its companion funds are focused on research of the earliest prehistoric humans who came to occupy North, Central and South America during what is known as the Pleistocene Epoch, more than 12,000 years ago. Traditional theories assume that the first Americans originated from Asia and entered North America by walking from Alaska southward through an unglaciated corridor into what is now the Great Plains, but Davis and Cramer are part of a group of scientists who question that theory and seek evidence of early human entry along routes that follow the Pacific Coast.

"This fund will allow Loren to expand his research, leading, we hope, to revolutionary discoveries that will revise how we think of the first migrations," said Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. "This generous gift is important not just for the college and OSU, but for the entire field of archaeology."

Davis, an expert in geoarchaeology, which applies the concepts and tools of earth sciences to archaeology, has been involved in major discoveries that have revised estimates of when people appeared in Oregon. His work at the Indian Sands site on Oregon’s southern coast, published in the Journal of Field Archaeology in 2004, led to the discovery of an early cultural occupation that extended Oregon coastal prehistory back in time by nearly 1,500 years. Davis also conducted geoarchaeological research in southeastern Oregon as part of the much publicized Paisley Caves expedition, which is now considered to hold some of the earliest evidence for human presence in the Americas.

Davis employs a wide range of methods to find, study and interpret early archaeological sites. He uses landscape-scale models of past environmental conditions to predict the location of hunting sites near ancient lakes in now desiccated Baja California deserts or to project the distribution of Pleistocene-age geologic deposits in Pacific Northwest canyons and coastlines. Recently, his search efforts have also extended into underwater areas. Last May, he participated in a search for submerged prehistoric sites off the coast of Baja California Sur, and he hopes to use similar methods in the future to find early sites off the Oregon coast.

Davis said the Cramers' gift will allow him to buy new laboratory and field equipment, give OSU undergraduates the chance to participate in exciting field research, attract talented graduate-level students and pursue innovative research projects.

"This funding means we will have the freedom to try new methods and pursue research topics that may not be popular at the moment but can take us in exciting directions with dramatic results," said Davis. “Having this support will allow us to pursue some very compelling archaeological questions about the first Americans: when did humans first come to the Americas and what were their lives like in that process of migration? I hope to make many meaningful contributions to our knowledge of the peopling of the Americas because of this gift."

The Cramers' gift is part of The Campaign for OSU, the university's first comprehensive fundraising campaign. Guided by OSU's strategic plan, the campaign seeks $625 million to provide opportunities for students, strengthen the Oregon economy, and conduct research that changes the world. Approximately $442 million has been committed to date.