Published: June 1, 2009

doug bamforth

Anthropology professor Douglas Bamforth shows a portion of more than 80 artifacts unearthed about two feet below Boulder resident Patrick Mahaffy’s front yard during a landscaping project this past summer.

Anthropologists often travel the world for their research, but this discovery involved just a six-block stroll from the Boulder campus: a rare stone tool cache containing traces of camel and other animal proteins from 13,000 years ago.

Last year, Boulder resident Patrick Mahaffy decided to install a fishpond in his backyard. But landscape workers hit a strange-sounding stone 18 inches below the surface while digging. They unearthed 83 tools, and Muhaffy called the anthropology department. CU anthropology professor Douglas Bamforth took the lead to analyze the find.

“It looks like someone gathered together some of their most spectacular tools and other ordinary scraps of potentially useful material and stuck them all into a small hole in the ground, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them,” Bamforth says.

A biochemical analysis released in April indicates early humans used some of the implements to butcher ice age camels, sheep and horses that roamed North America 13,000 years ago during what is known as the Clovis era. It coincided with the time the first Americans arrived on the continent from Asia via the Bering land bridge. Camels, along with woolly mammoths and others, became extinct shortly after.

The trove is one of only a handful of major tool caches of this age ever found in North America.