Geology Paper on Cactus hill’s archeological discoveries

Cactus hill’s archeological discoveries


            The Cactus hill refers to an archeological site that is situated in Northeastern side of Virginia in United States. The site is located on the sand dunes that lie beyond the Nottoway River forty five miles from Richmond. According to Holloway (2010), Cactus Hill derived its name from the spiny pear cacti that has for a long time been found growing on the site’s sandy soil. The hill is one of the long lived archeological sites that constitutes to the American’s history and is estimated to have been inhibited from as early as eighteen to twenty thousand B.P (before present). As explained by Gabriel (2011), Cactus Hill is made up of almost a complete stratification of archeological sequence with radiocarbon dated between eleven and fifteen thousand B.P.  Geologically, the hill is underlain with shallow Aeolian sand, silt-like clay as well as sand and gravel. The Aeolian deposit is said to have begun during early glacial intervals when United States’ climate was colder as well as windier than the present. The accumulation rate of this layer fluctuated drastically from a maximum of four centimeters per one hundred years in about nine thousand years B.P to essentially no accumulation at present. Several excavation activities at this site have, throughout the years, revealed various archaeological discoveries that could eventually change overall Virginia’s history (Michael, 2007). This paper outlines the various archeological discoveries made at the Cactus Hill.

Discoveries made at the Cactus Hill

            Various discoveries made at the Cactus Hill have for a long time given scholars sufficient reasons to revise their theoretical propositions explaining various activities as well as human settlements in the region. Before any discoveries had been made in 1990s, most scholars assumed that ancient human populations immigrated into the American territory about thirteen thousand years ago. According to Holloway (2010), scholars believed that these human populations, which were believed to represent the Clovis culture, had immigrated into the American territory from Siberia through the Bering Bridge. Excavations undertaken at the Cactus Hill site however suggested that human populations might have lived in other locations including regions situated along the glaciers found at the Pacific region in North America. As such, scholarly investigations undertaken at the site suggested that people living there may not have been the first population to settle in this region, which triggered archeological investigations for older settlements (Nei, 2008).

Archeological discoveries at the Cactus Hill were first made by artifact collectors working in this region in mid-1980s. The hill was first discovered and recorded as archeological site 44SX202 by Howward MacCord. Subsequent excavations were systematically carried out between the year 1993 and 2002 by different archeological professionals that were directed by McAvoy, who reported various archeological components that confirmed earlier human settlements in the region. As explained by Gabriel (2011), the earliest archeological component was discovered in the 1990s by members of the Nottoway-River Survey committee (NRS). This component comprised of charcoal as well as various blade-like flakes that were excavated various inches underneath the Clovis-age human living surface. In comparison, the Clovis-age surface had Clovis-like points as well as various Clovis tools. The discovered artifacts were mainly made of stones, an aspect that was consistent with the kind of materials preferred by the Clovis-age human populations. This discovery showed that there was an uninterrupted living surface above the pre-Clovis surface that may have prevailed in about eighteen or twenty thousand years ago (Nei, 2008). Similarly, NRS discovered a piece of pine charcoal as well as a date from underneath the blade-like flake, which they estimated to have existed for over eighteen years ago. Another date was discovered on a piece of white-pine charcoal at different location of the Cactus Hill and it was estimated to have been in existence in about twelve thousand years ago. These dates were consistent with other Clovis-age dates that were discovered in other North American regions (Holloway, 2010).

As explained by Michael (2007), additional archeological discoveries were made in 1996 and they comprised of two broken Clovis-points and a chain of blade-like flakes that lay in a critical stratigraphic context in about eight inches beneath the Clovis Level. This discovery showed that hafting may have been used to make various Clovis tools useful. Although the Clovis points reportedly had fractured tips, they have been interpreted as indicating that they had projections that may have broken as a result of impact. Further excavations at the Cactus Hill led to the discovery of reworked lanceolate, two triangular points, additional Clovis tools as well as dates, which indicated that there were possible human settlements that prevailed in about eighteen or twenty thousand years ago. According to Gabriel (2011), the triangular shape of the points confirms that humans may have shaped them into an intended shape and were not simply reworked into their respective shapes through impact. Thinness of these pieces as well as the presence of attractive platforms shows that they were intentionally hafted and used for a particular purpose. More than ninety percent of the stone tools discovered underneath the Clovis-age surface were blades. Archeological discoveries showed that these blades were hafted in a manner that could enhance butchery as well as hide processing. Further discoveries showed that some of the hafted blades may have been struck, rather than being re-sharpened, and used in hide scraping.

Several faunal remains were also discovered underneath the Clovis-age surface. Examples of such remains included two turtle shell remains, the white dear toe bone remains and five shark teeth that are likely to have been brought to the Cactus Hill site from the fossil deposits prevailing about twenty kilometers from the site. A whale skeleton was also discovered at the Cactus Hill site and was estimated to be about seven or eight million years old. Other whale fossils were equally discovered in other parts of the cactus hill site and they were equally estimated to be about seven million years old. According to Holloway (2010), the discovery of large portions of whale skeletons shows that human settlements in about eighteen thousand years B.P may have led to the extinction of aquatic species including whales. This argument is supported by the discovery of Clovis tools lying slightly above the skeletons.

Further archeological investigations led to the discovery of increased phosphate level, which was assumed to confirm early human occupation underneath the Clovis-age human’s surface. Additionally, discovery of large amounts of phytoliths, including silica structures existing in plants, showed significance correspondence with various cultural materials, which further confirmed early human settlements. According to Michael (2007), significant decline in phytoliths beneath the Clovis-era deposits corresponded with sterile sand layers, while greater amounts of phytoliths at the lower levels corresponded with increasing cultural materials. Radiocarbon samples were also discovered and they in return suggested that the initially discovered dates may have developed from rootlets as well as partly carbonized hickory wood that intruded into the level underlying the Clovis-age surface. This assumption relating to the development of the initial dates is supported by recent samples obtained from hickory wood, which yield dates that are similar to the pre-Clovis dates (Nei 2008).

Additional discoveries at the Cactus Hill site entailed fractured human skulls that did not only confirm early human settlement but also indicated possible cases of cannibalism among the early human subjects. According to Gabriel (2011), discovered human skulls were estimated to have been about five hundred years old, which corresponded with droughts recorded in history in 1600s. During this time, severe drought as well as conflict between the colonialists and the local Indians prevented daily activities including hunting. People were reported to have started consuming things like dogs, cats as well as fellow humans, although this declaration had remained vague until recently. The discovery of a fractured skull as well as a shin bone belonging to a young girl however confirmed early existence on an early cannibalistic community. Saw as well as chop marks that were discovered on the skull showed that the young girl must have been butchered.


             The Cactus Hill constitutes to one of the important archeological sites that play a critical role in shaping Virginia’s history. Past scholars argued that human populations that are currently distributed throughout this region may have emigrate from other parts of the world. However, archeological discoveries made at this site showed possible earlier human settlements, which led to greater archeological interests to investigate this issue. Various archeological investigations undertaken by various artifact collectors showed that human populations may have settled in the Cactus Hill region in about eighteen or twenty million years ago. Such discoveries included pieces of charcoal, Clovis points, Blade-like flakes, dates, blades, faunal remains and human skeletons.



Gabriel, S., 2011, Editorial, Jewish Bible Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 2, p.1102-1507.

Holloway, T., 2010, A Companion to Latin American History: New York, Willey Blackwell, 304 p.

Michael, P., 2007, Readings in Late Pleistocene North American and Early Paleoindians: Selections from American Antiquity, Southern Archaeology, v. 26, no. 2, p. 129-167.

Nei, P., 2008., Palimpsest: The Future of the Past, Visible Language, vol. 42, no.3, p. 178-309.


Discoveries made at the archaeological site-cactus hills (near Sussex, Virginia)