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One of some 700 coprolites, ancient feces, that were unearthed in caves near Paisley, Ore.

Cannon knew University of Oregon archaeologist Luther Cressman had dug here in the 1930s, along with numerous looters.

Cannon can show you the rusty nail Cressman drove into the wall of Cave No.

While there is a growing body of evidence and acceptance of the idea that people were in North America before Clovis, the evidence remains skimpy and confusing, with no coherent thread like a common way of flaking obsidian into spear points, he said.

But a few years ago, University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins and his students started digging where no one had dug before.

Then in the fall of 2003, he received an unexpected e-mail from Alan Cooper of Oxford University, who was looking for sites to test with techniques he was developing to extract ancient DNA from soils.

Cooper and Jenkins arranged for Eske Willerslev, then a Danish postdoctoral fellow working for Cooper at Oxford, to deliver a paper on his work with ancient DNA before the Northwest Anthropological Conference.

What the team discovered in an alcove used as a latrine and trash dump has elevated the caves to the site of the oldest radiocarbon dated human remains in North America.