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Students to present findings on artifacts

Four Cameron University students will present their research findings on artifacts from a local archeological site at the Oklahoma Archaeology Conference March 1-3. 

The presentation is being made possible by artifacts and fossils from the Museum of the Great Plains, a unique educational opportunity at Cameron and help from the museum's archeological staff.

The fossils, fauna, spores and dirt the undergraduate biology students have been researching since last fall came from the museum, which has stored more than 4,000 objects from the Domebo Paleo-Indian mammoth kill site in Caddo County since its discovery in 1961, said Debra Baker, archeologist at the Institute/Museum of the Great Plains. Although there was some initial research into the items at the time of discovery, lack of funding has limited or prevented any additional research into theories surrounding the objects and the site.

The ongoing partnership between the museum and Cameron provides archeological research opportunities that are usually reserved for graduate students. "The research they are doing opens the door to grad school," she said.

"When (the museum) gets new materials, then we talk about students working on it," said Mike Dunn, Cameron professor of biology, explaining that with the recent renovation of the museum, the material that had been stored from the Domebo site  much of it never researched  was available for the students to research. 

The students are willing to find out if what they find fits the theories they are looking to confirm and, if not, develop new theories, Baker said. "A theory is a theory; it can be blown apart. You get these new students and new research and it adds more" to the knowledge base.

The path students Kacie Foreman, Nicole Hill, Isaias Gonzalez and Tanner Olsen are exploring began in September 2017 when they were invited to take Dunn's one-semester special topics class  Mesofossils of the Domebo Fossil Beds. Although the class ended in December, they are still continuing to work with Dunn and Baker on the research and preparing to present their findings during the conference at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of National History in March. They will also publish a research paper in the Great Plains Journal, Baker said. 

Due to cutbacks in education, special topic courses are not offered often at Cameron. 

"There are only so many classes we can offer, but every once in a while we get to do this," Dunn said, adding that there was a waiting list for the class  a class he didn't get paid to teach. He chose the four students who "really wanted something new and exciting."

This special topic class "is more time intensive, but they are doing the labor. I am watching them and helping them, so it is much like a graduate class," he said.

Initial research focus and refocus

As the name of the class, mesofossils, indicates, the students were tasked with looking for items such as bones, plants and other material that can be seen with the naked eye. The theory was that they would be able to find those meso objects that on the size scale between the megafossils  for example, large mammoth or bison bones  and microfossils  objects such as pollen or spores that can only be seen under a microscope, Dunn said. 

"The only real success we had with it was with Kacie. She found and got the best results out of coprolite, or petrified poop," Dunn said, explaining that in the coprolite, small bones, a tooth and other mesofossils were found. 

Foreman's presentation states that "a single coprolite was among the artifacts," but indicates that "contaminants from the site revealed that not everything was from the Pleistocene" epoch  which lasted from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, with the end of the epoch being at the time of the last glacial period. The mammoth fossils found at the site were dated from the late-Pleistocene timeframe. 

That conclusion met the other research theory  were the site materials collected "contaminated" by successive waves of animal or human inhabitants, or both, over time.

When a lack of mesofossils other than the coprolite, the students researched the materials from big (mega) to small (micro).

"I looked at how humans affected the site, so we stared off with the Paleo-Indians" and the larger animal bones, Hill said. 

Paleo-Indians, also known as Clovis People, are believed to have been the first people who entered and then inhabited the Americas near the end of the last glacial period.

"We did find a lot of evidence of that, and then we started going down deeper and deeper on the site," contamination of the site from different time frames were discovered including artifacts that may be from very recent times, she said. In her presentation, she examined what she hypothesize to be two different types of bison vertebra and "charring on bones indicate possible human interaction" along with obvious butcher marks on a mammoth bone. 

Tanner was reassigned to do an estimated timeline of animals and humans interacting with the Domebo site based on the initial research and his fellow students' research.

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