Author: Michael F. Johnson

formerly the senior archaeologist of the Fairfax County Park Authority

Cactus Hill Archaeological Site

The Cactus Hill Archaeological Site is located on a wind-deposited (eolian) terrace of the Nottoway River in Sussex County. The site gets its name from the prickly pear cacti commonly found growing on the site’s sandy soil. Cactus Hill is one of the oldest and most well-dated archaeological sites in the Americas, with the earliest human occupations dating to between 18,000 and 20,000 years ago. It also contains one of the most complete stratified prehistoric archaeological sequences yet discovered in Virginia. Prior to the discoveries at Cactus Hill, which were made in the mid-1990s, most scholars believed that the earliest humans arrived in the Americas approximately 13,000 years ago. Representing the so-called Clovis culture, these people were believed to have come to the Americas from Siberia across the Bering land bridge. Cactus Hill has since given scholars cause to revise that theory; they now propose that people may have skirted along the glaciers located near the Pacific coast of North America, or they may have crossed pack ice from Europe to the Atlantic coast of America. Investigations done at Cactus Hill by the Nottoway River Survey and the Archeological Society of Virginia suggest that the people there may not have been the first, leading scholars to look for even older settlements.