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Even though she's been dead for about 9,500 years, "Sarah" may have something to say about the history of America.

Unearthed by an excavation team headed by Buffalo archaeologist R. Michael Gramly, the cremated remains nicknamed for the wife of an Illinois landowner are the oldest found in that state and among the oldest human remains yet found in North America.

They could offer clues to the earliest migrations east of the Mississippi, and whether Sarah and her fellow "paleoamericans" were ancestors of modern Native Americans, Gramly said.

"Sarah," Smithsonian Institution anthropologists recently verified, was a small adult female whose cremation left identifiable human arm, skull and leg bone fragments intact.

"What we have is a very partial human skeleton," said Gramly, who has led volunteer teams on several annual excavations at the Olive Branch site in Illinois' Alexander County.

While only between 8 percent and 15 percent of the skeleton survives, it's rare to find any human bone that old. Evidence from the site places the death in the "Dalton Culture" at 9,000 to 9,500 years ago, a time when non-cremated human remains generally can be traced only by high phosphorus levels in the soil.

The Olive Branch site was a major paleoamerican site that has yielded about 75,000 projectile points, Gramly said, but an old railroad cut destroyed what may have been the main cemetery of the settlement.

Finding Sarah's bones, he said, "gives a human dimension to the stone artifacts from the site."

-- Mike Vogel

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