Gore Creek Skeleton, an Early Human in North America

Forensic analysis of the skeleton revealed that it belonged to a man in his twenties or early thirties.

Gore Creek Skeleton
Wall where the Gore Creek skeleton bones were found in 1975, in a gully located near Pritchard, BC. The uppermost white line is Mount St. Helens Y tephra (ash) dated at 3200 years BP, and the lower white line is from the Mount Mazama eruption that took place almost 7000 years ago (courtesy Jerome Cybulski).

Gore Creek Skeleton, an Early Human in North America

The Gore Creek skeleton is the oldest known set of human remains in Canada and this country's contribution to knowledge about North America's earliest inhabitants. The remains were discovered by chance in 1975 when bones were noticed eroding from the wall of a rain-soaked washout in a gully 40 km east of Kamloops, British Columbia. The bones were in the exposed face of the deposit and positioned below a layer of ash left by a volcanic eruption that blanketed the Pacific Northwest from California to Alberta almost 7000 years ago. Besides the ash layer, all that is left today of the volcano known as Mount Mazama is Crater Lake in the US state of Oregon. Radiocarbon dating of the skeleton itself confirmed its place in history by providing an age of 8250 ± 115 years before the present or, roughly, 6300 BCE. The Gore Creek skeleton is therefore comparable in antiquity to Kennewick Man in the United States.

Forensic analysis of the skeleton revealed that it belonged to a man in his twenties or early thirties. The skull and lower jaw were missing, but many of the small bones of the hands and feet were present, indicating, together with the geological context, that this man had been killed and buried by a mudflow. The skull probably had rolled away and become lost through later erosion of the site.

The physique and chemical makeup of the man tells much about the local population of the time. He was likely a member of a small band of inland hunters who not only chased game such as deer and elk but occasionally ate plant foods and fish. The hunter in him was reflected by his relatively tall stature for the time - 168 cm or 5'6" - and strong lower limbs built for running long distances. The chemical signature (§13C) in his bones, just above a figure that usually indicates a diet solely dependent on terrestrial protein, showed that the Gore Creek individual also ate some marine foods during his lifetime (likely Pacific salmon that spawned up river). That he also ate plant foods (roots and bulbs) may be inferred from comparative studies of later human skeletal remains from the coast and interior of British Columbia.


Further Reading

  • Jerome S. Cybulski, "Human Skeletal Variation and Environmental Diversity in Northwestern North America" in Human Variation in the Americas: The Integration of Archaeology and Biological Anthropology (2010); Andrei M. Sarna-Wojcicki, Duane E. Champion, and Jonathan O. Davies, "Holocene Volcanism in the Conterminous United States and the Role of Silicic Volcanic Ash Layers in Correlation of Latest-Pleistocene and Holocene Deposits" in Late Quaternary Environments of the United States, Volume 2, The Holocene (1984); Brian S. Chisholm and D. Erle Nelson, "An Early Human Skeleton from South-Central British Columbia: Dietary Inference from Carbon Isotopic Evidence" in Canadian Journal of Archaeology 7(1) (1983); Jerome S. Cybulski, Donald E. Howes, James C. Haggarty and Morley Eldridge, "An Early Human Skeleton from South-Central British Columbia: Dating and Bioarchaeological Inference" in Canadian Journal of Archaeology 5 (1981).