The Afton Springs Site
Mastodon teeth uncovered at Sulphur Spring.
Photo from Holmes' excavation of the spring in 1901.
William Henry Holmes (1846-1933), curator of Anthropology
at the Smithsonian National Museum in the early 1900's, traveled
to Oklahoma in 1901 to investigate a report of prehistoric mammoth
and mastodon bones being found in association with spear points.
Holmes believed that humans had been in the Americas no longer than
4,000 years and thus humans and Ice Age (or Pleistocene) animals
could not have co-existed on the continent at the same time.
Holmes discovered near the town of Afton a marsh where
settlers had boxed in a flowing spring which produced drinkable
water with a slight sulphur taste. The spring was known locally
as Sulphur Springs. Using the labor of a hired crew, Holmes diverted
the water flow from the spring and cleared about two feet of accumulated
"muck" from the area. Below, he found a layer of compacted,
fine sand. Further digging revealed mammoth and mastodon teeth and
bones jumbled together with modern horse bone, prehistoric spear
and arrowpoints, deer antler billets used to shape stone tools,
bone awls and stone knives.
The association of the modern horse bone with the
Ice Age elephant bones demonstrated that the stone tools were not
necessarily Pleistocene in age. Since most of the materials were
confined to an area about three feet in diameter, Holmes concluded
that the bones and tools were either washed or were thrown into
the spring basin and settled together in a heap at the base of the
This work at Sulphur Springs in Ottawa County represents
the first excavations in Oklahoma undertaken by a professional archaeologist.
Over the 20th century the springs filled and were cultivated. Now
the area can only be distinguished by being slightly wetter than
the surrounding land.
The stone spearpoints recovered during the Holmes
excavation have been compared to points from other sites and now
are believed to date to the Woodland
period (2,000 to 1,200 years ago). A deer antler from
the springs has been radiocarbon dated to around 3,000 years before
While the Holmes expedition to northeast Oklahoma
could not substantiate the association of Pleistocene animals and
human hunters, further work in Oklahoma has helped push the arrival
date of people to the continent back to at least the end
of the Ice Age and perhaps much earlier.
"Flint Implements and Fossil Remains from a Sulphur
Spring at Afton, Indian Territory" by William Henry Holmes,
Report of the US National Museum for 1901, Paper #2, 1903.
Number of Prehistoric Sites in Ottawa
County Identified to Time Period