Cactus Hill is an archaeological site in southeastern Virginia, United States, located on sand dunes above the Nottoway River about 45 miles south of Richmond. The site receives its name from the prickly pear cacti that can be found growing abundantly on-site in the sandy soil. Cactus Hill is one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Americas, and its historical importance is still relevant to those hoping to get a better understanding of the area’s ancient history.
Hill is one of the oldest and most well-dated archaeological sites in the
Americas, with the earliest human occupations dating between 18,000 and 20,000
years ago. It also contains one of the most complete stratified prehistoric
archaeological sequences yet discovered in Virginia.
Cactus Hill is on a
stable hill consisting of mostly sand and silt derived from the adjacent
Nottoway River floodplain. 12,900–11,500 years ago, during what scientists call
the Younger-Dryas cold reversal, the current river began running from north to
south. Between 18,000 and 20,000 years ago, when humans were first settling in
the area, the channel appears to have flowed from west to east, adjacent to the
older parts of the site, which are currently located approximately 1,000 feet
east of the modern channel. The early human occupied areas are now covered by roughly
three feet of loam and sand.
Although sandy soil is
generally thought of as being ill-suited to the preservation of strata, the
Cactus Hill site has still managed to produce eleven types of evidence that
support such early dating.
Many pieces of evidence
could have alternative explanations, but the simplest clarification for each in
and of itself, and all taken together, is that they support the idea of Cactus
Hill's pre-Clovis occupation, dating 18,000–20,000 years ago.
Cactus Hill was first noted by archaeologists and artifact collectors in
the 1980s. Since then, several archeological surveys and attempts to dig up the
land have been made over the years. Uncovering artifacts and pieces of
environmental history alike, Cactus Hill has gone on to be an important area
for our understanding of the ancient past of the US; in fact, it was placed on
the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2001.