Dinosaur toe, ancient sandals, 14,000-year-old fossilized poop: archaeological finds in Oregon (2022)

University of Oregon scientists discovered a dinosaur fossil, a toe bone, thought to be roughly 103 million years old, dating back to the Cretaceous period. It belonged to a creature called an ornithopod, a 17-foot long herbivore that weighed up to 1,500 pounds and walked on two legs. Here are some other interesting archeological finds in Oregon.

Dinosaur toe, ancient sandals, 14,000-year-old fossilized poop: archaeological finds in Oregon (1)

Kristin Strommer, publicist for the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, poses with the fossil. Courtesy/University of Oregon

Dinosaur toe

Scientists from the University of Oregon have made a rare and extraordinary find: a bone belonging to a terrestrial dinosaur, the first ever fossil from a land-dwelling prehistoric creature discovered in the state.

The discovery came in 2015 when earth sciences professor Greg Retallack was in central Oregon, leading a field expedition of students looking for fossilized plants near the town of Mitchell at a hot spot for ancient rocks called the Hudspeth Formation.

The group came upon a pile of ammonites, spiral shaped sea creatures that went extinct around the same time as the dinosaurs. Sitting there, on top of the pile, was a bone, Retallack recounted.

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Dinosaur toe, ancient sandals, 14,000-year-old fossilized poop: archaeological finds in Oregon (2)

Courtesy/Liz White/University of Oregon

Retallack's revelation was first revealed in a paper published this month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The fossil, a toe bone, is thought to be roughly 103 million years old, dating back to the Cretaceous period. It belonged to a creature called an ornithopod, a 17-foot long herbivore that weighed up to 1,500 pounds and walked on two legs.

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The Oregonian file photo

Fort Rock sandals

The world's oldest sandals, made of sagebrush bark, were found in 1938 at Fort Rock Cave in central Oregon by archaeologist Luther Cressman. The ancient footwear are approximately 10,000 years old.

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Luther Sheeleigh Cressman became known as the father of Oregon anthropology for work that punched holes in the prevailing theory of the prehistoric Northwest. His discovery of sandals in a cave near Fort Rock forced scientists to more than double their estimates of how long ago the first man came to the Pacific Northwest.

"He established, against what was the received opinion of the day, that Oregon was not simply a backwater in the archaeological history of the Pacific Northwest, but that it had been very early occupied by the first Oregonian,"' said Theodore Stern, professor emeritus of anthropology in the department Cressman founded at the University of Oregon.

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Cressman firmly believed that early man moved from south to north along the western side of North America -- not, as long believed, from north to south. With meticulous attention to detail, Cressman and his students traveled thousands of miles and snooped through mountains of layered earth in his quest to support the theory.

The discovery for which he was best known emerged from the pumice layers of Fort Rock Cave southeast of Bend in Lake County in 1938. Digging through the cave as thick dust swirled and the temperature soared above 100 degrees, he found sandals made of sagebrush bark.

Cressman's find remained controversial, however, until radiocarbon dating techniques developed in the late 1940s backed his claim.

Most anthropologists of the era had believed the first man came to Oregon about 4,000 years ago, not the 9,000-plus years proved by Cressman's sandals and ornate baskets found nearby.

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Terry Richard/The Oregonian

Fossilized human poop

Oregon Archaeology Celebration of October 2014 poster showing the Paisley Cave coprolite.

Near the marshy edge of an ancient lake in south-central Oregon, wandering Stone Age hunters took shelter in a shallow cave at the foot of a basalt ridge.

They camped only briefly, leaving little evidence of their stay: a flaked-stone spear or arrow point, a few shards suggesting tool-making or sharpening, a grinding stone and – most important for researchers – several piles of excrement preserved in the dry cave floor.

From these unintended time capsules, scientists say they've extracted DNA that is unquestionably human. And carbon dating suggests that people first occupied the caves 14,300 years ago – more than a thousand years before the rise of the Clovis hunters, long presumed to be the first Americans.

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Ice sheets covered nearly all of Canada 14,000 years ago. Camels, mammoths and bear-sized ground sloths roamed a wetter, swampier Oregon. A massive lake spanned the dry basin that now contains Summer Lake and Lake Abert, about 220 miles southeast of Eugene. Its waves carved a row of caves into a west-facing ridge, now called Paisley Caves, where a team of researchers led by Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon conducted archaeological excavations.

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Along with stemmed projectile points, grinding stones, modified animal bone and woven plant fiber cordage, Jenkins' team recovered coprolites (feces) containing human DNA. The evidence was verified by multiple independent laboratories.

More than 200 coprolites were radiocarbon dated to pre-Clovis times. The discovery by UO researchers of 14,300-year-old human feces demonstrates the presence of an ancient human population in America's Far West at the end of the last ice age.

Cressman first excavated three caves in 1938, finding bones of extinct horses, camels and other animals mixed with stone tools. Jenkins led excavations using updated and more exacting methods starting in 2002.

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University of Oregon Archaeological Field School

Prehistoric camel teeth

According to a 2012 Bureau of Land Management release:

Near the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter outside of Riley, Oregon, archaeologists recently discovered evidence suggesting one of the oldest known human occupations in the western United States.

Archaeologists with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the University of Oregon Archaeological Field School have been excavating at the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter since 2011.

Their discoveries have included a number of stone projectile points and tooth enamel fragments likely belonging to a prehistoric camel (Camelops sp.) that became extinct approximately 13,000 years ago.

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Agate knife

The release continues:

But what has the archaeological community most excited is a small stone tool found below a layer of volcanic ash.

Near the bottom of a 12-foot deposit, archeologists discovered a layer of ash that was identified as volcanic ash from a Mt. St. Helens eruption about 15,800 years ago.

Beneath the layer of volcanic ash, archaeologists discovered a small orange agate tool believed to have been used for scraping animal hides, butchering, and possibly carving wood. A blood residue analysis of the tool revealed animal proteins consistent with bison, the most likely species being Bison antiquus, an extinct ancestor of the modern buffalo.

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Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

Biface tools

Archaeologists unearthed the first recorded Native American tools of their kind in the Willamette Valley in August 2016.

While building a pond on his property, the landowner, who was not identified, found 15 obsidian hand axes. He reported his discovery to the Oregon State Historical Preservation Office, which led an archaeological dig at the site in June.

The tools, known as bifaces, are a rare find, said assistant state archaeologist John Pouley, who led the dig.

"Of approximately 35,000 recorded archaeological sites in Oregon, few, likely less than 25, consist of biface caches," he said.

The tools are an estimated 1,000 to 4,000 years old. They were found on the traditional territory of the Santiam Band of the Kalapuya, which stretches between present day Portland and Roseburg.

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University of Oregon

Dennis Jenkins (right) with a reporter during a visit to the Paisley Caves in 2008. The National Park Service added the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves to the listing of the most important archaeological and historic sites. Excavations at the site have produced evidence of human occupation beginning 14,300 years ago.

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Rob Davis/The Oregonian/OregonLive

Other archeological sites listedin Oregon include Abert Lake Petroglyphs, Fivemile Rapids Site, Fort Rock Cave, Greaser Petroglyph Site, Mosier Mounds Complex, Picture Rock Pass Petroglyphs Site and Sunken Village Archeological Site.

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City of Portland

Mammoth tusks, black with age and weather, are displayed by Hugo Clapp, field foreman for the Bureau of Water Works, after their discovery at an excavation project in Northwest Portland.

Bones from woolly mammoths have been found in Oregon, including some in 2016 when construction crews unearthed the bones of ice age creatures under Reser Stadium's football field. The bones, including those of a prehistoric mammoth, a bison and a camel, have been removed from the dirt.

Thediscovery of the ancient mammal bones is not unusual in the Willamette Valley, where mammoths once roamedby the thousands.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian/OregonLive

Where to look for fossils in Oregon

According to the state of Oregon:

Fossil collecting is permitted on private land with the owner's approval. Collecting fossils is prohibited or a collecting permit is necessary to collect fossils on state and federal lands and in parks. Collecting is prohibited in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Lots to explore at the John Day Fossil Beds, however.

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You can also see Oregon's rich archaeological history in museums such as the Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

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FAQs

Have they ever found dinosaur bones in Oregon? ›

FIRST-EVER OREGON DINOSAUR BONE FOUND BY SCIENTISTS

Prior to the dig, the University of Oregon's Professor of Earth Sciences Greg Retallack and a team of paleontological researchers found a dinosaur toe bone in 2015. The find was a first of its kind for the Beaver State, Fox News reported when the story broke in 2018.

How old is the oldest fossil found in Oregon? ›

The UO team, led by fossil dig foreman Greg Carr, found the 103-million-year-old specimen on Bureau of Land Management land four miles northwest of Mitchell, the Times Journal reported. The dig site is near where UO professor Dr.

How much is a dino fossil worth? ›

A complete dinosaur skeleton can cost millions, even many millions! A real dinosaur tooth can run anywhere from $20 to a few thousand dollars depending on the quality of the tooth and how rare it is to find a particular species. Bone fragments, coprolite, and eggshell pieces can be very reasonably priced.

What is the rarest dinosaur bone ever found? ›

Complete Deinonychus fossils are among the rarest of all dinosaur skeletons, and Hector is the only complete specimen in private hands, according to Christie's (two others reside in museum collections).

What kind of dinosaurs were found in Oregon? ›

Let's dispense with the bad news first: because Oregon was underwater for most of the Mesozoic Era, from 250 to 65 million years ago, no dinosaurs have ever been discovered in this state (with the exception of a single, disputed fossil, which seems to have belonged to a hadrosaur that washed up from a neighboring ...

What fossils have been found in Oregon? ›

The state's earliest fossil record includes plants, corals, and conodonts. Oregon was covered by seaways and volcanic islands during the Mesozoic era. Fossils from this period include marine plants, invertebrates, ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs, and traces such as invertebrate burrows.

What is the oldest human fossil ever found? ›

Scientists determine age of some of the oldest human bones Some of the oldest human remains ever unearthed are the Omo One bones found in Ethiopia. For decades, their precise age has been debated, but a new study argues they're around 233,000 years old.

How do you tell how old a fossil is by looking at it? ›

To establish the age of a rock or a fossil, researchers use some type of clock to determine the date it was formed. Geologists commonly use radiometric dating methods, based on the natural radioactive decay of certain elements such as potassium and carbon, as reliable clocks to date ancient events.

What is the oldest fossil found in the United States? ›

OLDEST FOSSILS IN U.S. REPORTED
  • The oldest known animal fosin sits n the United States and possibly North America have been discovered in North Carolina in volcanic ash deposits dated at more than 620 million years of age. ...
  • The worms, belonging to the class of polychaete annelids.
4 Jun 1975

What fossil is worth the most money? ›

Most Expensive Dinosaur Fossils
DinosaurPrice
1.. Stan”, T-Rex$31.8 Million
2. “Hector”, Velociraptor$12.4 Million
3. “Sue”, T-Rex$8.3 Million
4. “Big John”, Triceratops$7.2 Million
6 more rows
30 Jul 2022

Can you sell fossils that you find? ›

In the U.S., fossils excavated from the collector's personal property or with permission from other private property may be sold freely as a “finders-keepers” possession.

Do museums buy fossils? ›

Public institutions receive fossils from shorter field expeditions, in addition to purchasing them from private owners or receiving donations. Sometimes museum donors will even pool money in order to purchase skeletons at auction, according to Witmer.

What was the last surviving dinosaur? ›

For now, however, the 65-million-year-old Triceratops is the world's last known surviving dinosaur.

What is the weirdest dinosaur ever found? ›

This is Deinocheirus mirificus, which translates to "unusual, horrible hand." He's a new, old creature announced by the paleontologists at the Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (Kigam) in South Korea. In the 1960s, scientists discovered excessively long arms belonging to a dinosaur of unknown type.

Have they ever found a full set of dinosaur bones? ›

It's extremely rare to find a complete skeleton of a dinosaur. It's rarer still that such a skeleton needs to be found twice.

Why are there no dinosaur bones found in the Pacific Northwest? ›

Even then, however, most of the region was covered by shallow seas. This helps explain why the Pacific Northwest's early fossil record mainly features seagoing animals and very few land animals, including dinosaurs. The Pacific Northwest was a much drier place after the dinosaurs perished.

What states have T rex been found? ›

rexes lived on Earth. So far over the past century, scientists have found about 100 fossils, mostly in the Dakotas, Montana and Colorado. There are only 32 largely complete T. rex skeletons in museums around the world.

What prehistoric animals lived in Oregon? ›

Harlan's ground sloth. Thousands of years ago, Oregon was home to giant mammals like beavers, Columbian mammoths, and the 7-foot-tall Harlan's ground sloth. Come examine the state's deep past through real fossils and life-size replicas of these amazing animals.

Are there rubies in Oregon? ›

You can find marvelous agates, thundereggs, opals, geodes, quartz, jaspers, jades, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, sunstones, and moonstones. Today, I will dissect the state of Oregon and unveil the best rockhounding sites available and what you can find.

What precious stones can be found in Oregon? ›

The six major categories of material available include: Agate, Jasper, Limb Casts, Obsidian, Petrified Wood, and Thunder Eggs. Less common rocks and minerals found in central Oregon include opal, amethyst, gem quality calcite, cinnabar, selenite (gypsum), and amygdaloid nodules.

Where are the dinosaur fossils in Oregon? ›

Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center (in Newport) and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (in Portland) are two locations where you'll find exhibits of fossils discovered on Oregon's beaches.

Have they ever found a full set of dinosaur bones? ›

It's extremely rare to find a complete skeleton of a dinosaur. It's rarer still that such a skeleton needs to be found twice.

Why are there no dinosaur bones found in the Pacific Northwest? ›

Even then, however, most of the region was covered by shallow seas. This helps explain why the Pacific Northwest's early fossil record mainly features seagoing animals and very few land animals, including dinosaurs. The Pacific Northwest was a much drier place after the dinosaurs perished.

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