Paul Hooge stood in a horseshoe-shaped hollow and recognized what people had thought for nearly 12,000 years: Hills to the north, east and west block winter winds. Open land to the south lets in winter sunshine. There are nut trees and water close by.
It made the little spot a great place to live.Hooge, executive director of the Licking County Archaeology and Landmarks Society, says two years of excavating by society workers, volunteers and researchers from Ohio State University resulted in discovery of the earliest undisturbed open-air Indian living site in Ohio.
Because farm plows haven't churned the soil, the site offers the potential for a wealth of information about the first Americans, called Paleo-Indians.
"There's an accumulation of cultural debris. It's a perfectly stratified site," Hooge says. "There are 12,000 years of history in one little spot. This is your proverbial time capsule."
Dee Anne Wymer, a senior research archaeologist with the society, plans to examine pottery, flint spear points, plant parts, nut shells, seeds, wood, charcoal and other debris she hopes will show how the continent's first humans lived.
Hooge and Wymer fix the age of the site because in September they found a nearly 12,000-year-old spear or knife point that is of the oldest type of Indian artifact found in Ohio. Archaeologists refer to the type of fluted point found at the site as a Clovis point.
"It may be the oldest Boy Scout knife in the state," Hooge says while leading a tour of the area.
The dig is called the pig site because farmers once raised pigs nearby. The property is owned by local developers Herb and Frank Murphy, who encourage the research.
Clovis points are characterized by a long groove running from the base of the point. That helped Indians jam the point into a bone or wooden shaft to use as a knife or spear, says archaeologist Brad Lepper of the Ohio Historical Society.
Clovis points were common across the continent about 11,000 to 11,500 years ago, he says.
Lepper says the pig site probably was a campsite because the point was never finished. It is fluted on only one face.
The pig site represents the best hope for learning about Paleo-Indians. Lepper said other ancient campsites discovered in Ohio had been disturbed by farming.
"The earliest people could have moved here was 12,000 to 15,000 years ago when the glaciers were receding," Hooge says.
The pig site was used by other cultures as well. Wymer says members of a later Indian culture that descended from Paleo-Indians, known as the Archaic culture, lived at the site about 8,000 years ago.
Like the Paleo-Indians, the Archaic Indians were nomads.
Most of the material at the site - pottery shards, fire-cracked rock and various kinds of projectile points - was left 1,600 to 2,000 years ago by an Indian culture know as the Hopewell.
The Hopewells built many of the large ceremonial earthworks found in Ohio.