UO archaeology helps kick off National Geographic series

Excavation at Rimrock Draw

Two years ago an archaeological site near the community of Riley made national news when a small, orange-colored tool and hearths found at the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter suggested that the southeastern Oregon site was among the oldest human occupations in the Western United States.

Rimrock rises back into the national spotlight Monday, March 6, when the National Geographic Channel launches the series “Origins: The Journey of Humankind” at 9 p.m. Pat O’Grady of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and Scott Thomas, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management’s Burns District, were interviewed at the site for the series.

“We spent a gloriously sunny November day at Rimrock Draw with the film crew,” said O’Grady, a staff archaeologist with the museum and director of the Rimrock Draw excavations. “Their objective was to produce a documentary on the archaeological evidence for fire in the Americas.”

Rimrock was included, he said, because of the site’s deep antiquity, the presence of botanical materials in fire hearths that point to an environment that was much different when the site was occupied, and for the rough desert scenery that surrounds the site.  

The orange agate tool was discovered in a layer of ash from a Mount St. Helens eruption that occurred 15,800 years ago. The Rimrock site was found in 2009, and excavations began two years later.

Jason Silva will be the host of the National Geographic series, which will transport viewers back to the beginning of humans on Earth and explore innovations they made along the way to today’s modern world.

“I was interviewed about the site, the UO’s research objectives and the nature of the sedimentary deposits and landforms there,” said O’Grady, who will lead the museum’s Archeological Field School's sixth year of excavation at the site June 26-Aug. 4.

The National Geographic segment featuring Rimrock is scheduled to appear in the series' debut show, “The Origins of Fire.” See the National Geographic Channel for a short video teaser about the series.