Nothing about America’s future today, only our distant past. Archaeologists from the University of Oregon have just announced the discovery of the oldest known human DNA in the Americas: coprolites—fossilized doo-doo—radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago. The petrified dung was uncovered in the Paisley Caves, near the town of Paisley, Oregon (named by a settler after the mill town in Scotland where the famous Persian teardrop pattern was introduced to the West), and so we can hope that the original depositors will become known as the Paisley People.
For seventy years the oldest known humans in America were the Clovis People, whose 13,000-year-old spear tips and cutting tools were unearthed in Clovis, New Mexico. (When I was a kid I learned about them as Clovis Man, because that’s how they did it then. Java Man, Peking Man, Piltdown Man. Sometime around 1970 archaeologists got reluctantly in touch with their feminine sides and started talking about the Clovis People, making our antecedents sound less noble but more homey.) Some archaeologists have disputed their place as “first known Americans” for years, but no one has been able to provide the hard data to strip them of the title—not until Dennis Jenkins and his UO team found, not stone tools that could be dated only roughly by the stone strata they were buried in, but the perfect, dateable organic relic.
That in itself is a miracle. Picture it: some guy takes a dump in a cave, a minute later he's forgotten that particular dump forever, but the stuff somehow survives all the dung-eating bugs and molds until it gradually turns to stone so that 14,300 years later it’s thrilling the scientific community and getting written up in our family newspapers. It’s one of those times you really wish people could have a sudden glimpse of the future. “Who are these wondrous beings with their vast villages and miraculous devices? And what are they doing with my crap?!”
What a symbol of eternity! What a reminder of the continuity of time and life. It’s like the Clock of the Long Now, except instead of a whirring masterwork of perfectly calibrated machinery it’s a pile of turds.
But here’s the real revelation: the first known Americans were the Paisley People of Oregon. The Paisley People. Of Oregon. Forget your noble savages, man. Forget your bronze-skinned warriors and your blood-stained hunters of the plains. This has always been a hippie nation.