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Oldest known rock art in North America found in Nevada

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new analysis suggests that petroglyphs, found on the west side of Nevada's dried-up Winnemuca Lake are the oldest to have been discovered yet in North America, dating back to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - These recent discoveries coupled with an analysis of sediment core nearby suggests the petroglyph-decorated rocks were exposed first between 14,800 and 13,200 years ago and again between about 11,300 and 10,500 years ago.

"Prior to our study, archaeologists had suggested these petroglyphs were extremely old," study researcher Larry Benson said in a statement. "Whether they turn out to be as old as 14,800 years ago or as recent as 10,500 years ago, they are still the oldest petroglyphs that have been dated in North America."

The petroglyphs are found on the west side of Winnemucca Lake. There are several limestone boulders with deep, ancient carvings. Others resemble trees and leaves. Still others are more abstract designs that look like ovals or diamonds in a chain.

While the lake is now barren, in the past the lake was so full of water the rocks would have been submerge, spilling its excess contents over Emerson Pass to the north.

To determine the age of the rock art, researchers had to figure out when the boulders were above the water line. The lake left crusts of carbonate on these rocks. Radiocarbon tests revealed that the carbonate film underlying the petroglyphs dated back roughly 14,800 years ago, while a later layer of carbonate coating the rock art dated to about 11,000 years ago.

The oldest previously believed rock art in North America could be found at Long Lake, Oregon, in carvings that were created at least 6,700 years ago, before being covered in ash from the Mount Mazama volcanic eruption.

The deeply carved lines and grooves in geometric motifs in the petroglyphs at Winnemucca Lake share similarities with the ones found in Oregon. Researchers are at loss to ascribe their meanings.

"We have no idea what they mean," Benson says. "But I think they are absolutely beautiful symbols. Some look like multiple connected sets of diamonds, and some look like trees, or veins in a leaf. There are few petroglyphs in the American Southwest that are as deeply carved as these, and few that have the same sense of size."

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