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Cimarron County

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The Kenton Caves Sites

In 1928, a county farm agent and avid amateur archeologist named William "Uncle Billy" Baker discovered a cave in Cimarron County near the border with New Mexico with obvious signs of ancient human occupation. The very dry climate allowed for remarkable preservation of materials which have usually disappeared in the archeological record with the passage of time.

Fieldwork by the Colorado Museum of Natural History, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma continued throughout the 1930's. Seven cave and shelter sites were eventually identified near Kenton, all with archeological remains.

 

Prairie dog hide bag used to store seeds

Prairie-dog skin bag stuffed with seed corn

Prehistoric corn cobs

Prehistoric corn cobs of different varieties

 

Among artifacts recovered from the Kenton Caves are hide and yucca-fiber sandals, shell, bone and wooden beads, squash rinds, beans, baskets, stone arrowpoints and spearpoints, and a wooden atlatl (spear throwing tool).

Unfortunately, in spite of the incredible preservation of rarely-found artifacts at this series of rockshelters, there is much more unknown than known about the people who lived there. Since most of the sites were excavated before rigorous scientific techniques, archeologists are unable to say with certainty who the Kenton cave inhabitants were, where they came from, or even when they lived here.

Because of the range of artifact styles, it is believed that occupation of the caves may have continued through several thousand years. People of the late Archaic, see chart below, who used the atlatl and spears for hunting, probably lived in the caves. The most recent Native American inhabitants were probably people from the Protohistoric time period some 500 years ago when European explorers had begun colonizing North America. The presence of European glass trade beads in one cave are indicators of this period.

Geometric design petroglyphs

Deer and other animal petroglyphs
Rock art from the Kenton Caves

The questions about the Kenton Cave people which remain unanswered are what different groups used the site, what seasons of the year were they used, when did agriculture (indicated by the presence of corn and squash) become important in the area, and what household activities were carried out in which parts of the caves. The excavations, as all excavations do, destroyed the context of the artifacts in relation to one another and to the site as a whole. Unfortunately, inadequate record-keeping by the original excavators will not allow modern archeologists to recreate these important clues to site activities.

The Kenton Caves, as important archeologically as they are, could have answered all these questions had the archeological excavations been carried out in a scientific manner. The Kenton Caves and other sites around the world like them have taught archeologists a valuable lesson in the importance of preserving sites for future generations when scientific advances willl allow even more information to be gleaned from the archeological record.

For further information on the archeology of Cimarron County, read a report by Leland C. Bement and Casey R. Carmichael:

From Top to Bottom: Pedestrian Survey of the Black Mesa Region Cimarron County, Oklahoma

 

Number of Prehistoric Sites in Cimarron 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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