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Woods County

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Woods County, Oklahoma

The Burnham Site

Burnham site photo

Burnham site. Bones of extinct animals from the Ice Ages were eroding from grey clay on banks

The Burnham site came to the attention of archaeologists at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey in 1986. Dr. Don Wyckoff, now with the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, visited the site at the request of the landowner, Mr. Vic Burnham. Mr. Burnham had noticed unusual bones which he uncovered while bulldozing a stock pond.

The first bones examined proved to be from a now-extinct bison from the period called the Pleistocene. During the Pleistocene, glacial ice covered half of North America a mile deep in places. Sea levels dropped as the ocean's waters were tied up in ice, opening a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Archaeologists believe the first humans came to North America over this land bridge.

The timing of the arrival of the first people is a matter of interest and debate among archaeologists. Some believe that people came to the continent toward the end of the Pleistocene, perhaps 12,500 years ago. However, others, based on evidence gathered from a few sites throughout the Americas, believe the arrivals occurred in a series of migrations, perhaps beginning as far back as 30,000 years ago.

At the Burnham site, Pleistocene animals including camels, mammoths, extinct forms of bison and horses, and even alligators died and their bones were preserved in the marshy clays. While interesting, what really excited Wyckoff and other archaeologists were the chert flakes found among the bones, flakes which result from human tool-making.

Excavations at the Burnham site continued for five years. Snail shells and bone recovered from the site have been dated to 33,000 years ago. The stratigraphy, or layers of soil deposited over time, at the Burnham site has proven to be very complex -- so complex that it may not be possible to prove or disprove that the flakes found near the animal bones are of the same age as the dated bones. However, the careful study of the Burnham excavations has revealed much interesting information about this ancient time and will be useful to others looking for evidence of the earliest people who called Oklahoma home.

Skull of 30,000 year old bison, Bison alleni.

For further reading:

The Burnham Site in Northwestern Oklahoma: Glimpses Beyond Clovis? compiled and edited by Don G. Wyckoff, James L. Theler and Brian J. Carter. Joint publication of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Anthropological Society, Memoir 9, 2004.

Number of Prehistoric Sites in Woods County Identified to Time Period

Paleo = ?-8,000 BP / Archaic = 8,000-2,000 BP / Woodland = 2,000-1,000 BP / Village 1000-500 BP
BP (before present)


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