EARLY MODERN HUMANS REACH THE AMERICAS
It had long been thought that the first Americans were hunters who crossed a land bridge across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska about 13,500 years ago and followed an “ice-free corridor” southward though glacier-covered North America, presumably chasing mammoths, bisons and mastodons as they went. This theory has largely been dismissed. The latest and most widely accepted theory on the first Americans is that they were fishermen or maybe hunters who traveled in small boats along the coasts of eastern Asia and western America, bridging the two continents by island hoping between Siberia and Alaska. One of main points of contention these days is when these first Americans arrived: the general consensus seems to be around 20,000 years ago. The Bering Land Bridge was exposed and present-day Alaska was connected to the Russian Far East (Siberia) during the last ice age, roughly 38,000 to 11,700 year ago,
Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post: “For decades paleontologists believed that an ancient culture known as Clovis took a north-south route through the gap between the glaciers, starting in Alaska and then making their way into the previously uninhabited expanse of the Americas. But recent discoveries of settlements far older than that ice-free corridor have challenged that theory, suggesting that people arrived here before the route was navigable.” [Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, June 7, 2016]
Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: “In 1908 a cowboy in Folsom, New Mexico, found the remains of an extinct subspecies of giant bison that had roamed the area more than 10,000 years ago. Later, museum researchers discovered spearpoints among the bones—clear evidence that people had been present in North America much earlier than previously believed. Not long after, spearpoints dating to 13,000 years ago were found near Clovis, New Mexico, and what became known as Clovis points were subsequently found at dozens of sites across North America where ancient hunters had killed game. [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, January 2015 /~]
“Given that Asia and North America were connected by a broad landmass called Beringia during the last ice age and that the first Americans appeared to be mobile big-game hunters, it was easy to conclude that they’d followed mammoths and other prey out of Asia, across Beringia, and then south through an open corridor between two massive Canadian ice sheets. And given that there was no convincing evidence for human occupation predating the Clovis hunters, a new orthodoxy developed: They had been the first Americans. Case closed. /~\
“That all changed in 1997 when a team of high-profile archaeologists visited a site in southern Chile called Monte Verde. There Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University claimed to have discovered evidence of human occupation dating to more than 14,000 years ago—a thousand years before the Clovis hunters appeared in North America. Like all pre-Clovis claims, this one was controversial, and Dillehay was even accused of planting artifacts and fabricating data. But after reviewing the evidence, the expert team concluded it was solid, and the story of the peopling of the Americas was thrown wide open. /~\
“How did people get all the way to Chile before the ice sheets in Canada retreated enough to allow an overland passage? Did they come during an earlier period of the Ice Age, when this inland corridor was ice free? Or did they come down the Pacific coast by boat, the same way humans got to Australia some 50,000 years ago? Suddenly the field was awash in new questions and invigorated by a fresh quest for answers. /~\
Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org; Hominin Species talkorigins.org ; Paleoanthropology Links talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations genographic.nationalgeographic.com ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; University of California Museum of Anthropology ucmp.berkeley.edu; BBC The evolution of man" bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ArchaeologyInfo.com ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life ; PBS Evolution: Humans pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog johnhawks.net/ ; New Scientist: Human Evolution newscientist.com/article-topic/human-evolution;
Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide thoughtco.com ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/nova; The Neanderthal Museum neanderthal.de/en/ ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink greenwych.ca. Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet ; Cave of Lascaux archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) africanrockart.org; Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown peterbrown-palaeoanthropology.net. Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society paleoanthro.org; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization) iho.asu.edu/; The Leakey Foundation leakeyfoundation.org; The Stone Age Institute stoneageinstitute.org; The Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com ; Turkana Basin Institute turkanabasin.org; Koobi Fora Research Project kfrp.com; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa maropeng.co.za ; Blombus Cave Project web.archive.org/web; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution journals.elsevier.com/; American Journal of Physical Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Evolutionary Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Comptes Rendus Palevol journals.elsevier.com/ ; PaleoAnthropology paleoanthro.org.
Books: Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. New York: Basic Books, 2000; Morris. Dated.
Earliest Evidence of Modern Humans in America
Brazil — 41,000–56,000 years before present — Pedra Furada — Charcoal from the oldest layers yielded dates of 41,000-56,000 BP. Disputed. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Canada — 25,000–40,000 years before present — Bluefish Caves — Human-worked mammoth bone flakes found at Bluefish Caves, Yukon, are much older than the stone tools and animal remains at Haida Gwaii in British Columbia (10-12,000 BP) and indicate the earliest known human settlement in North America. +
United States — 16,000 years before present — Meadowcroft Rockshelter — Stone, bone, and wood artifacts and animal and plant remains found in Washington County, Pennsylvania. (Earlier claims have been made, but not corroborated, for sites such as Topper, South Carolina.) + Chile — 18,500-14,800 years before present — Monte Verde — Carbon dating of remains from this site represent the oldest known settlement in South America. +
Spreading homo sapiens
Bluefish Caves: 24,000-Year-Old Yukon Site, Oldest Human Site in the Americas?
Bluefish Caves contain the oldest undisturbed archaeological evidence in Canada and some regard it as evidence that the first humans arrived in the Americas as early as 40,000 years ago. . According to the Canadian Encyclopedia: “Bluefish Caves contain the oldest undisturbed archaeological evidence in Canada. Located on a limestone ridge overlooking the upper Bluefish River in the Keele Range of the northern YT, the caves consist of 3 small cavities in which loess accumulated during late Pleistocene time. Buried in these aeolian deposits are the bones of mammoths, horses, bison, caribou, sheep, saiga antelope, bear, lion and many other mammals, as well as birds and fish. Many of the bones of the larger animals exhibit butchering marks made by stone tools as well as, on a few mammoth bones, attributes indicative of a percussion/bone flaking technology. [Source: Canadian Encyclopedia ~~]
“Also present in the loess are the lithic remains of a Burin and Microblade technology akin to that found in the American Palaeoarctic tradition. On the basis of this evidence and a growing series of associated radiocarbon dates, it is now possible to suggest that Bluefish Caves were sporadically and discontinuously used by small hunting groups or parties between 25,000 and 12,000 years ago. Finally, the palaeoenvironmental reconstruction based on pollen, macrofossil, pedological, sedimentological and micro-mammal evidence is in keeping with that obtained from other eastern Beringian regions for the period of the late Wisconsinan maximum and subsequent millennia. “ ~~
The site was excavated by archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars between 1977–87, and the initial radiocarbon dating suggested an age of 25,000 before present. This was considered controversial as it was in contrast to the Clovis-First theory, widely accepted by academics at the time, which considered the earliest settlement date of North America to be around 13,000 before. Cinq-Mars’s was even laughed at by other academics and is still quite bitter about the way he and his views were treated. A review of the site in 2017 found it to be 24,000 years old, lending support to the "Beringian standstill" hypothesis - that the ancestors of Native Americans spent considerable time isolated in a Beringian refuge during the Last Glacial Maximum before populating the Americas. [Source: Wikipedia, hakaimagazine.com]
In the abstract of their paper “Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada,” Lauriane Bourgeon and Ariane Burke of Université de Montréal wrote: “The timing of the first entry of humans into North America is still hotly debated within the scientific community. Excavations conducted at Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory) from 1977 to 1987 yielded a series of radiocarbon dates that led archaeologists to propose that the initial dispersal of human groups into Eastern Beringia (Alaska and the Yukon Territory) occurred during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). This hypothesis proved highly controversial in the absence of other sites of similar age and concerns about the stratigraphy and anthropogenic signature of the bone assemblages that yielded the dates. The weight of the available archaeological evidence suggests that the first peopling of North America occurred ca. 14,000 cal BP (calibrated years Before Present), i.e., well after the LGM. Here, we report new AMS radiocarbon dates obtained on cut-marked bone samples identified during a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the Bluefish Caves fauna. Our results demonstrate that humans occupied the site as early as 24,000 cal BP (19,650 ± 130 14C BP). In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America, the results offer archaeological support for the “Beringian standstill hypothesis”, which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the LGM and dispersed from there to North and South America during the post-LGM period. [Source: Lauriane Bourgeon and Ariane Burke of Université de Montréal and Thomas Higham of Oxford University,“Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada, PLOS One, January 6, 2017]
Were the First Asians to the Americas Following the Kelp Highway
Jon Erlandson, an archeologist at the University of Oregon, wrote an article New Scientist magazine in 2007, promoting this theory. On the first people to arrive in America he said, “I think they were just moving along the coast and exploring. It was like a kelp highway." He said these people could have arrived sometime after 16,000 years ago when the massive glaciers started retreating from the outer northwest coast of North America.
Backing up this assertion is evidence that the coastlines of northeastern Asia and northwestern America were not as inhospitable as previously thought and could have easily supported migrating, seafaring communities. In the 1990s evidence emerged of a community living on shellfish at a site called Monte Verde on an island off the Chilean coast around 14,850 years ago. It is likely these people arrived by boat. The ice-free corridor mentioned above was blocked until 13,000 years ago.
In 2017 a hearth excavated on Triquet Island off British Columbia was determined to be 14,000 years old, making it one of the oldest human settlements ever discovered in North America and bolstering the Pacific Coastal Migration route hypothosis. [Source: Wikipedia]
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Jon Erlandson, a University of Oregon archaeologist, and Torben Rick, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, propose a pre-Clovis “kelp highway” for coast-hugging seamen skirting the southern edge of the Bering land bridge on their way from northeast Asia to the New World. “People came between 15,000 and 16,000 years ago” by sea, and “could eat the same seaweed and seafood as they moved along the coastline in boats,” Erlandson said. “It seems logical.” The notion that ancient people could travel great distances by boat isn’t far-fetched; many anthropologists believe that humans voyaged from the Asian mainland to Australia” 65,000 years ago. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
“Though Erlandson said he’s convinced that the Clovis people were not the first in the Americas, he acknowledged that definitive proof of a pre-Clovis coastal route may never be found: Whatever beach settlements existed in those days of especially low sea level were long ago submerged or swept away by Pacific tides. /||\
Clovis People and Clovis Theory
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “For decades the most compelling evidence of this standard view consisted of distinctive, exquisitely crafted, grooved bifacial projectile points, called “Clovis points” after the New Mexico town near where they were first discovered in 1929. With the aid of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s, archaeologists determined that the Clovis sites were 13,500 years old. This came as little surprise, for the first Clovis points were found in ancient campsites along with the remains of mammoth and ice age bison, creatures that researchers knew had died out thousands of years ago. But the discovery dramatically undermined the prevailing wisdom that human beings and these ice age “megafauna” did not exist in America at the same time. Scholars flocked to New Mexico to see for themselves. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
“The idea that the Clovis people, as they came to be known, were the first Americans quickly won over the research community. “The evidence was unequivocal,” said Ted Goebel, a colleague of Waters at the Center for the Study of the First Americans. Clovis sites, it turned out, were spread all over the continent, and “there was a clear association of the fauna with hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts,” Goebel said. “Again and again it was the full picture.” /||\
“Furthermore, the earliest Clovis dates corresponded roughly to the right geological moment—after the ice age warming, before the great cold snap. The northern ice had receded far enough so incoming settlers could curl around to the eastern slope of North America’s coastal mountains and hike south along an ice-free corridor between the cordilleran mountain glaciers to the west and the huge Laurentide ice sheet that swaddled much of Canada to the east. “It was a very nice package, and that’s what sealed the deal,” Goebel said. “Clovis as the first Americans became the standard, and it’s really a high bar.” /||\
“When they reached the temperate prairies, the migrants found an environment far different from what we know today—both fantastic and terrifying. There were mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, camels, bison, lions, saber-toothed cats, cheetahs, dire wolves weighing 150 pounds, eight-foot beavers and short-faced bears that stood more than six feet tall on all fours and weighed 1,800 pounds. Clovis points, finely made and strong, were well suited for hunting large animals. /||\
“The hunters spread through the United States and Mexico, the story went, pursuing prey until too few animals remained to support them in the last cold snap. Radiocarbon dates show that most of the megafauna became extinct around 12,700 years ago. The Clovis points disappeared then as well, perhaps because there were no longer any large animals to hunt. The Clovis theory, over time, acquired the force of dogma. “We all learned it as undergraduates,” Waters recalled. Any artifacts that scholars said came before Clovis, or competing theories that cast doubt on the Clovis-first idea, were ridiculed by the archaeological establishment, discredited as bad science or ignored.” /||\
Ice-Free Corridor Route to the Americas
It had long been thought that the first Americans were hunters who crossed a land bridge across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska about 13,500 years ago and followed an “ice-free corridor” southward though glacier-covered North America, presumably chasing mammoths and mastodons as they went.
According to this theory about 14,500 years ago, a 1,500-kilometer (900-mile) north-south corridor opened up between the Cordilleran ice sheet — which covered most of what is now British Colombia in Canada — and the much larger Laurentide ice sheet, which covered most of the rest of Canada. This corridor, the theory does, brought down the blockade that prevented inhabitants of Asia from migrating southward into the Americas. [Source: AFP-JIJI, August 11, 2016 ^^^]
Around 13,500 years ago, according to the theory, the first Ice Age humans moved southward through this “ice-free corridor” to the south. Among the evidence backing up this claim was the fact that the Clovis people — long thought to be the first inhabitants of what is now the United States — didn't show up on the archaeological record until 13,000 years ago. “That coincidence seemed too powerful to ignore," archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas told Nature. “People who have been cooling their heels in Alaska for thousands of years see this new land open up and they come blasting down this corridor into the new world." [Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature magazine on August 11, 2016 ||+||]
The theory began to fall apart in the 1990s when string evidence was revealed that people were living in Monte Verde, Chile about 14,000 years ago. The discovery of other possible pre-Clovis sites in North America further undermined the theory that Clovis people were the first Americans. ||+||
Debunking the Ice-Free Corridor Route to the Americas
According to a study published in Nature in August 2016, the first people to reach the Americas could not have passed through the Ice-Free Corridor because the corridor didn't open until 12,600 years, long after the first Americans had migrated southward and already reached Chile. Mikkel Pedersen, a researcher at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of a study on matter, said: “The earliest point at which the corridor opens for human migration is 12,600 years ago” and while the passage may have been free of ice, “there was absolutely nothing before this date in the surrounding environment — not plants, not animals." In other words, there would have been nothing for these people to eat as they trudged southward through what is now Canada between cliffs of ice."It's 1,500 kilometres. You can't pack a lunch and do it in a day," Meltzer told Nature. [Source: AFP-JIJI, August 11, 2016 ^^^]
AFP reported: Pedersen and colleagues now appear to have closed the door on the inland route for good. The innovative methods they used for reconstructing the late Ice Age ecosystem was crucial. Rather than hunt for DNA traces of specific plants or animals buried in sediment — the standard approach — Pedersen's team used what is called a “shotgun” method, cataloguing every life form in a given sample."Traditionally, we have been looking for specific genes from a single or several species," he explained. “But the shotgun approach really gave us a fantastic insight into all the different trophic” — food-chain — “layers, from bacteria and fungi to higher plants and mammals." ^^^
“The researchers chose to extract sediment cores from what would have been a bottleneck in the inland corridor, an area partly covered today by Charlie Lake in British Columbia. The team did radiocarbon dating, and gathered samples while standing on the frozen lake's surface in winter. Up to 12,600 years ago, the environment was almost entirely bereft of life, they found. But the ecosystem evolved quickly, giving way within a couple of hundred years to a landscape of grass and sagebrush, soon populated by bison, woolly mammoths, jackrabbits and voles. Fast-forward a thousand years, and it had transitioned again, this time into a “parkland ecosystem” dense with trees, moose, elk and bald-headed eagles. ^^^
The findings open “a window onto ancient worlds” and are a cornerstone in a “major re-evaluation” of how humans arrived in America, said Suzanne McGowan of the University of Nottingham, commenting in Nature. They also make the coastal passage scenario much more likely, she added. Other scholars agree. “If there ever was an ice-free corridor during the Last Glacial Maximum," James Dixon of the University of New Mexico wrote in a recent study, “it was not in the interior regions of northern North America, but along the northwest coast." A “biologically viable” passage stretched along that coast from the Bering land bridge to regions south of the glaciers starting about 16,000 years ago, he reported in the journal Quaternary International." ^^^
According to Nature: "Other recent research has hinted that Clovis people and other early humans could not have moved through the ice-free corridor. In June 2016, a team led by Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary palaeobiologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, sequenced ancient DNA from bison that lived to the north and south of the passageway and found that these populations were cut off from each other during the last Ice Age until at least 13,000–13,400 years ago, when they started mixing again. Shapiro, too, now favours the theory of a coastal migration route for humans. [Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature magazine on August 11, 2016]
Plant and Animal DNA Suggests First Americans Took the Coastal Route
In the August 2016 Nature article, archaeologists said that plant and animal DNA buried under two Canadian lakes corroborated the theory that the first Americans travelled along the coasts of northeasternern Asia, southern Alaska and northwestern America rather than through an ice-free corridor that extended from Alaska to Montana. The analysis, led by palaeo-geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, provides strong evidence that the passageway became habitable 12,600 years ago, nearly 1,000 years after appearance of the Clovis people —once thought to be the first Americans—and even longer after other, pre-Clovis cultures settled the Americas. [Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature magazine on August 11, 2016 ||+||]
Ewen Callaway wrote in Nature: “To build a picture of the habitat as it crept out of the Ice Age, Willerslev's team analysed DNA in cores taken from beneath two lakes in what was the last stretch of the corridor to melt. The first plant life—thin grasses and sedges—dates back just 12,600 years. The region later became lusher, with sagebrush, buttercups and even roses, followed by willow and poplar trees. This habitat attracted bison first, and later mammoths, elk, voles and the occasional bald eagle. Around 11,500 years ago, the corridor began to resemble the pine and spruce boreal forests of today's landscape. The region's bounty must eventually have tempted hunter-gatherers. But the dates rule out its use as a corridor by Clovis people and earlier Americans to colonize the Americas, says Willerslev. Instead, both probably skirted the Pacific coast, perhaps by boat. ||+||
“Loren Davis, an archaeologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, agrees: “Now that the ice-free corridor has been shown to be dead in the water—no pun intended—we can start to look at something like a coastal migration route." “Discovering sites along these routes won't be easy, because most are now likely to be underwater. But this summer, Davis and his colleagues began surveying areas of the Pacific Ocean, such as former bays and estuaries that might have served as pit stops for the first Americans. In 2017, the team will start to collect marine sediments to look for signs of habitation, such as stone artefacts or ancient human DNA. Willerslev hopes to be part of the searches, and thinks that recreating these once-coastal habitats through DNA sequencing could prove to be a valuable tool. The fact that early humans advanced to the Americas despite continent-sized glaciers standing in the way has also prompted him to rethink the conventional wisdom that early humans, like other animals, migrated solely in search of food. “Just like people today are trying to reach the top of Mount Everest or the South Pole, I'm sure these hunter-gatherers were also explorers and curious about what would be on the other side of these glacier caps," he says. “When you first reach California, why would you go further? Why not just stay in the Bay Area?”“ ||+||
Channel Islands, California and Evidence of Coastal Migration
Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: “The Channel Islands off the southern California coast are rugged and” harbor “thousands of archaeological sites, most of them still undisturbed.
In 1959, while exploring Santa Rosa Island, museum curator Phil Orr discovered a few bones of a human he named Arlington Springs man. At the time, the bones were judged to be 10,000 years old, but 40 years later researchers using improved dating techniques fixed the age at 13,000 years—among the oldest human remains ever discovered in the Americas. [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, January 2015 /~]
“Thirteen thousand years ago the northern Channel Islands—then fused into a single island—were separated from the mainland by five miles of open water. Clearly Arlington Springs man and his fellow islanders had boats capable of offshore travel. Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon has been excavating sites on these islands for three decades. He hasn’t found anything as old as Arlington Springs man, but he has found strong evidence that people who lived here slightly later, some 12,000 years ago, had a well-developed maritime culture, with points and blades that resemble older tools found on the Japanese islands and elsewhere on the Asian Pacific coast. /~\
“Erlandson says that the Channel Island inhabitants might have descended from people who traveled what he calls a kelp highway—a relatively continuous kelp-bed ecosystem flush with fish and marine mammals—from Asia to the Americas, perhaps with a long stopover in Beringia. “We know there were maritime peoples using boats in Japan 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. So I think you can make a logical argument that they may have continued northward, following the Pacific Rim to the Americas.”
Beaches along the Pacific coast still teem with elephant seals and sea lions, and it’s easy to imagine hunters in small boats moving swiftly down the coastline, feasting on the abundant meat. But imagination is no substitute for hard evidence, and as yet there is none. Sea levels are 300 to 400 feet higher than at the end of the last glacial maximum, which means that ancient coastal sites could lie under hundreds of feet of water and miles from the current shoreline.” /~\
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Moreover, the Channel Islands projectiles have nothing in common with Clovis points, as Erlandson pointed out. They appear to be related to a different toolmaking approach called the western stemmed tradition; featuring stems of different shapes that attach the projectile points to spears or darts, they were prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Basin. And they do not have the fluting characteristic of Clovis. Those observa―tions strengthen the view that other tool-making human cultures were present in the Americas at the same time as the Clovis people, and in all likelihood beforehand as well. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
Feces Offer Clues of Coastal Migration
Until recently, the record holder for oldest human coprolites (petrified shit) unearthed by archaeologists came from Oregon's Paisley Caves. Far older fecal samples from dinosaurs and ancient sharks have also been uncovered by researchers. Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: “Perhaps ironically, the best evidence for a coastal migration might be found inland, as people traveling along the coast would likely have explored rivers and inlets along the way. There is already suggestive evidence of this in central Oregon, where projectiles resembling points found in Japan and on the Korean Peninsula and Russia’s Sakhalin Island have been discovered in a series of caves, along with what is surely the most indelicate evidence of pre-Clovis occupation in North America: fossilized human feces. [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, January 2015 /~]
“In 2008 Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon reported that he’d found human coprolites, the precise term for ancient excrement, dating to 14,000 to 15,000 years old in a series of shallow caves overlooking an ancient lake bed near the town of Paisley. DNA tests have identified the Paisley Caves coprolites as human, and Jenkins speculates that the people who left them might have made their way inland from the Pacific by way of the Columbia or Klamath Rivers. /~\
“What’s more, Jenkins points to a clue in the coprolites: seeds of desert parsley, a tiny plant with an edible root hidden a foot underground. “You have to know that root is down there, and you have to have a digging stick to get it,” Jenkins says. “That implies to me that these people didn’t just arrive here.” In other words, whoever lived here wasn’t just passing through; they knew this land and its resources intimately.” /~\
Japanese-First American Connection?
Studies of skull and facial structures indicates these people were closely related to the Jomon people of Japan (See Below). The skull and facial structures of the Jomon people are in fact more similar to the skull and facial structures of Americans and Europeans than to mainland Asians.
In 1996, scientists found a complete skeleton of a 9,300-year-old man in Kennewick, Washington, USA, with "apparently Caucasoid" features similar to those found on Jomon people skulls. This so called "Kennewick Man" is thought to have descended from Jomon people or a common ancestors of the Jomon people.
The oldest form of human DNA recovered in North America — dated to be around 10,300 years old — is common in type to that found in Japan and Tibet. Similar DNA has been found in native Americans all the way down the west coast of North and South America. These people had established themselves in America when a second migration came across the Bering Strait around 5,000 years ago. This second migration is most closely related to native Americans found in the United States today.
Japanese Fishermen and Early Americans
Some scientists have theorized the first migrants to the Americas originated from Japan and followed a near continuous belt of kelp forests, rich in fish and other sea creatures, that have existed in coastal waters from Japan to Alaska to southern California and flourished even during the Ice Age.
Douglas Preston wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jomon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway." [Source: Douglas Preston, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014]
There is evidence that people living on Honshu set out across the North Pacific more than 20,000 years ago to Kozushima, an island 50 kilometers away, to collect a type of volcanic glass to make tools. Erland believes these people made the journey in animal skin boats and could have used the same boats to travel northward to Hokkaido, the Kuril islands and Kamchatka Peninsula, all of which, even today, are rich in game and fish. They then continued onto to Alaska and North America. Recently the remains of a seafarer, dated to between 13,000 and 13,200 years old, were found in the Channel Islands off southern California.
In the April 2008 issue of Science, University of Oregon professor Dennis Jenkins said that he found some fossilized pieces of excrement in Oregon dated to be 14,300 years old. Using a new technique called polymerase chain reaction — which allows researchers to “unzip” minute fragments of DNA and make millions of duplicates so they can be tested — he was able to determine the excrement was human and was linked genetically to native Americans and Asians.
13,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Found in British Columbia
In 2018 scientists announced that they had found 29 footprints on an island in British Columbia, 11,000 and 14,000 years ago. Nicola Davis wrote in The Guardian: “Researchers have unearthed 29 footprints in a layer of sediment on the shoreline of Calvert Island in British Columbia. Between 11,000 and 14,000 years ago, as the world was coming towards the end of the last ice age, the sea level there was 2 million to 3 million lower than today. [Source: Nicola Davis, The Guardian, March 28, 2018 |=|]
“While it is not clear quite how many humans were responsible for the tracks, the team said there are at least three different sizes of footprints, including one set that appeared to belong to a child. “We were actively searching for archaeological sites along this lower shoreline when we came across the footprints. It is likely the tracks were left in an area that was just above the high tide line 13,000 years ago,” said Dr Duncan McLaren, first author of the research from the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island. |=|
“Writing in the journal Plos One, the team describe how they began excavations on the island in 2014, noting that nearby there were shell-containing man-made rubbish dumps, or middens, which dated to up to 6,100 years ago, as well as chipped stone tools and manmade arrangements of stone boulders on the seashore. “This site has a large, protected beach, which we felt was likely to have attracted people to it for many millennia. As sea level has been relatively stable in the region over the last 14,000 years, we reasoned that this area had potential for very old archaeological remains,” said McLaren.
“The first human footprint was unearthed 60 centimeters below the surface of the current beach, pressed into a layer of brown clay and filled with black sand and gravel. Fortunately, small pieces of wood were discovered in the heel of the print, and were radiocarbon-dated to just over 13,000 years ago. |The team returned during 2015 and 2016 to carry out further excavations, uncovering another 28 footprints. In some cases it was possible to see the impressions of individual toes and arches of the feet. Measurements of 18 of the tracks revealed they were made by at least three different individuals. “We had to excavate very carefully and slowly, which was difficult as we had to race the tide,” said McLaren. |=|
“McLaren said the finds helped to unpick a longstanding conundrum. In the last ice age, Siberia and Alaska were connected by a large land bridge in an area known as Beringia, while Canada was covered in ice sheets.“The basic question that many archaeologists ask is: ‘How did people get from Beringia to the area south of Canada during the last ice age?’” said McLaren. “The new research adds weight to the idea that humans moved along glacier-free areas of land along the coast, between the ice and the sea – areas known to have provided a refuge for various plants and animals. “It suggests that people were using watercraft, and thriving and exploring coastal areas very early on,” McLaren said.” |=|
Bison Fossils Suggest Asian Hunters Migrated to Alaska and Then Followed the Coast
Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post: “About 20,000 years ago, Asian hunter-gatherers tracked their prey across a land bridge that linked Siberia with Alaska. A few millennia after that, those transcontinental travelers are thought to have sailed down the North American coast in pursuit of seals and other seafood. Then, some 13,000 years ago, when America's bison began migrating north through a lush land corridor exposed by Canada's melting ice sheets, humans followed them there too. [Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, June 7, 2016 ++]
“That's the story told by bits of DNA extracted from centuries-old bones uncovered across the continent. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, paleontologists, geneticists and archaeologists describe how humans may have followed bison herds north through a Canadian "ice-free corridor" after their initial colonization of what is now the United States.” ++
“The find addresses the Clovis People and Ice-Free Corridor “theory, suggesting that people arrived here before the route was navigable. The bison bones may well be another nail in the coffin. “This is the first strong empirical data indicating when that corridor was viable,” Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study, told Science. “It’s indirect evidence, but it’s still strong evidence.” ++
“At the very end of the Pleistocene, just as the most recent ice age was coming to a close, what is now the United States was separated from Alaska and the "Berengia" land bridge by two massive glaciers that encased all of Canada: the Laurentide ice sheet, which extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, and the Cordilleran, which covered everything west of that. This meant that bison populations that had migrated south during a previous warm period were entirely isolated from their northern counterparts. Distance tends to make creatures drift apart. The southern bison may not have looked much different on the outside, but their distinctiveness was inscribed deep within their cells, in scraps of genetic material known as mitochondrial DNA. ++
“In that difference, evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro saw an opportunity to settle a debate. Scientists haven't been able to definitively date when the corridor opened, instead focusing on tracking evidence of human settlements. But human remains are incredibly hard to find. Before the spread of characteristic fluted Clovis points around 11,000 B.C., we have just a handful of settlement sites, a few stone tools, and a single human coprolite (a fancy term for fossilized poop). Bison fossils, on the other hand, are everywhere. "We thought, why not take advantage of their genetic distinctiveness and ask when the bison individuals of [the southern] genetic type appeared in the north?" said Shapiro, an associate professor at the University of California and an author of the PNAS study. "And then we could use that as a proxy to show that this corridor was habitable at a certain point in time." ++
“So Shapiro and her colleagues began scouring museums and research collections for late Pleistocene bison whose DNA they could test. Genetic analysis showed which specimens were southerners who migrated north, and radiocarbon dating showed when that migration occurred. Ultimately, they concluded that northern and southern bison were mingling in Canada by 13,000 years ago. That's likely too late to make it the initial route into the Americas — stone tools all the way south in Chile indicate that humans were here as many as 5,000 years before then, and just last month researchers found evidence that humans were living in Florida 14,550 years ago. But it could have been "highway two," co-author Jack Ives, an archaeologist at the University of Alberta, told the CBC. Having already settled the lower 48, presumably after traveling down the coast by boat, humans may have migrated back north in the bisons' wake. "It's intriguing from the perspective that as much as bison and game animals were separated, so too would have been early human populations," Ives said. "Once that corridor region opened … this would open the door for human populations to reengage." He and Shapiro cautioned that the bison bone dates are just a proxy for human migration. We can't be sure how humans came to the Americas — and when — until we find their bones. But as far as proxies go, bison are pretty good. "They were definitely on the menu," Ives told the CBC. "... Any place that one would find bison, one would have to strongly suspect, that human beings could be present too."” ++
Early Americans in Monte Verde, Chile
Artifacts reliably dated to between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago were found in bogs near Monte Verde, Chile in the 1990s. Since these artifacts were found so far from the Bering Strait, the route believed to have been taken by the first Americans, scientists believe that first people to migrate out of Asia arrived in Alaska perhaps 20,000 years ago. If they arrived later than that made their way down the west coast of the Americas to Chile relatively fast. [Source: Rick Gore, National Geographic, October, 1997]
The Monte Verde dating has held up against arguments that perhaps floods moved the artifacts into older sediments or the sediments were contaminated by eroded ash from volcanic eruptions. The oldest previously known sights where identified with the Clovis people, a group of early Americans named after a site in New Mexico. Numerous 12,000-year-old Clovis sites have been found on both the eastern and western sides of North America. Beautifully- crafted leaf-shape projectile points, blades and burins, dating from 13,000 to 9,000 B.C. , have been found in Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, Idaho and Nevada.
David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University told National Geographic, "How could people possibly have raced down from Alaska in a few hundred years? They were pioneering a landscape that was becoming increasingly unfamiliar as they moved south. They had to find water and figure out which plants and animals were edible, useful, harmful or even fatal. They had to cross formidable barriers and cope with new diseases. And they had to do all this while raising families on a vast continent devoid of other people. All of that takes time." Geneticists confirm this belief by pointing out that the languages and genetic material of native Americans is too diverse to be only 12,000 years old.
Scientist theorize the early Americans arrived in Chile one of three ways: 1) overland through a break in the glaciers that covered most of Canada; 2) skirting the glaciers using boats to follow the coast; or 3) taking a boat across the sea from Asia. Most scientist dismiss the third theory on the grounds that boat technology was not advanced enough to cross the ocean 12,000 years ago Early Australians, however, used boats to arrive in northen Australia about 60,000 years ago but they only needed to cross areas of of open sea that were about 50 miles in distance,
Shock of Mont Verde
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Take South America. In the late 1970s, the U.S. archaeologist Tom D. Dillehay and his Chilean colleagues began excavating what appeared to be an ancient settlement on a creek bank at Monte Verde, in southern Chile. Radiocarbon readings on organic material collected from the ruins of a large tent-like structure showed that the site was 14,800 years old, predating Clovis finds by more than 1,000 years. The 50-foot-long main structure, made of wood with a hide roof, was divided into what appeared to be individual spaces, each with a separate hearth. Outside was a second, wishbone-shaped structure that apparently contained medicinal plants. Mastodons were butchered nearby. The excavators found cordage, stone choppers and augers and wooden planks preserved in the bog, along with plant remains, edible seeds and traces of wild potatoes. Significantly, though, the researchers found no Clovis points. That posed a challenge: either Clovis hunters went to South America without their trademark weapons (highly unlikely)?or people settled in South America even before the Clovis people arrived. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
“There must have been “people somewhere in the Americas 15,000 or 16,000 years ago, or perhaps as long as 18,000 years ago,” said Dillehay, now at Vanderbilt University. “Of the researchers working sites that seemed to precede Clovis people, Dillehay was singled out for special criticism. He was all but ostracized by Clovis advocates for years. When he was invited to meetings, speakers stood up to denounce Monte Verde. “It’s not fun when people write to your dean and try to get you fired,” he recalled. “And then your grad students try to get jobs and they can’t get jobs.” /||\
“The Monte Verde site gained wider acceptance after a panel of well-known archaeologists visited it in 1997 and reached a consensus. Dillehay was pleased that the panel had verified the integrity of his team’s work, “but it was a small group of people,” he said, meaning others in the profession continued to harbor doubts. /||\
“Two years later, an independent archaeologist, Stuart Fiedel, denounced Monte Verde’s authenticity in Scientific American Discovering Archaeology. Dillehay “fails to provide even the most basic” information about the locations of “key artifacts” at Monte Verde, Fiedel wrote. “Unless and until numerous discrepancies in the final report are convincingly clarified, this site should not be construed as conclusive proof of a pre-Clovis occupation in South America.” /||\
“The skepticism lingers. Gary Haynes, a University of Nevada-Reno anthropologist and a Clovis advocate, is not convinced. “There are only a few artifacts, and no flakes,” he said of Monte Verde, citing some of Fiedel’s arguments. “There are a lot of things that have been interpreted as artifacts but don’t look like them. Many of the things may not be the same age, because it is difficult to know exactly where they were found in the site.” /||\
“Dillehay rebuffs the criticisms: “More than 1,500 pages were published on Monte Verde, which is five times more than were ever written on any other site in the Americas, including Clovis. All of the artifacts came from the same surface covered by the peat bog and they all made sense in terms of the site’s activities. The vast majority are flaked pebble tools, typical of South American unifacial technologies. North Americans impose their evaluations on South America without even knowing the data down south.” He went on, “Now the field has moved on, and there are numerous pre-Clovis sites that have come to the forefront.”“/||\
Solutrean Hypothesis: the First Americans were Europeans?
The Solutrean hypothesis claims that the earliest human migration to the Americas took place from Europe, during the Last Glacial Maximum. This hypothesis contrasts with the mainstream view that the North American continent was first reached after the Last Glacial Maximum, by people from North Asia, either by the Bering land bridge (i.e. Beringia), or by maritime travel along the Pacific coast, or by both. [Source: Wikipedia +]
According to the Solutrean hypothesis, people of the European Solutrean culture, 21,000 to 17,000 years ago migrated to North America by boat along the pack ice of the North Atlantic Ocean. They brought their methods of making stone tools with them and provided the basis for the later (c. 13,000 years ago) Clovis technology that spread throughout North America. The hypothesis is based on similarities between European Solutrean and Clovis lithic technologies. Supporters of the Solutrean hypothesis refer to recent archaeological finds such as those at Cactus Hill in Virginia, Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, and Miles Point in Maryland as evidence of a transitional phase between Solutrean lithic technology and what later became Clovis technology. +
Originally proposed in the 1970s, the theory has received some support in the 2010s, notably by Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution and Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter. Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: In their 2012 book Across Atlantic Ice, they suggest that these Europeans reached the New World more than 20,000 years ago, settled in the eastern United States, developed the Clovis technology over several thousand years, then spread across the continent. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
“This theory is based partly on similarities between Clovis points and finely crafted “laurel leaf” points from Europe’s Solutrean culture, which flourished in southwestern France and northern Spain between 24,000 and 17,000 years ago. Stanford and Bradley argue that artifacts found at Page-Ladson, as well as other pre-Clovis sites, including the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in western Pennsylvania and the sand dunes of Cactus Hill in southeastern Virginia, have similarities to Solutrean technologies. /||\
“The Solutreans, whose territory on the European continent was apparently rather compact, may have been forced by encroaching glaciers and extreme cold to cluster on the Atlantic coast. At some point, Stanford and Bradley say, the stresses of overpopulation may have forced some Solutreans to escape by sea. They headed north and west beneath the Atlantic ice sheet to nudge into North America at the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. /||\
Brian Vastag wrote in the Washington Post: “Little is known about the Solutrean people. They lived in Spain, Portugal and southern France beginning about 25,000 years ago. No skeletons have been found, so no DNA is available to study. But the Solutreans did leave behind rock art, which showed a diamond-shaped flat fish in delicate black etchings. It looks like a halibut. A seal also appears, an arrow-headed line stabbing through it. [Source:Brian Vastag, Washington Post, February 29, 2012]
Evidence of the Solutrean Hypothesis
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Stanford and Bradley say evidence for the Solutreans’ presence in America includes stone artifacts gathered by archaeologists at several sites on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, all producing dates more than 20,000 years old. Most of the dates were derived from organic material found with the artifacts. The exception was a mastodon tusk with attached bone and teeth netted by a fisherman in 1974, along with a laurel leaf-shaped stone knife. Stanford found the tusk to be 22,760 years old. Among other things, the Solutrean hypothesis provides context not only for the Clovis people, but also for North America’s pre-Clovis sites. And it does not rule out Bering Sea migrations—those could have happened, too. Solutrean evolved into Clovis over close to 13,000 years,” Stanford said, and the Clovis hunters began migrating westward when the cold snap brought dry, windy, inhospitable weather to the East Coast. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
Brian Vastag wrote in the Washington Post: “At the core of Stanford’s case are stone tools recovered from five mid-Atlantic sites. Two sites lie on Chesapeake Bay islands, suggesting that the Solutreans settled Delmarva early on. Smithsonian research associate Darrin Lowery found blades, anvils and other tools found stuck in soil at least 20,000 years old. Displaying the tools in his office at the National Museum of Natural History, Stanford handles a milky chert blade and says, “This stuff is beginning to give us a real nice picture of occupation of the Eastern Shore around 20,000 years ago.” Further, the Eastern Shore blades strongly resemble those found at dozens of Solutrean sites from the Stone Age in Spain and France, Stanford says. “We can match each one of 18 styles up to the sites in Europe.” [Source: Brian Vastag, Washington Post, February 29, 2012]
“Stone tools recovered from two other mid-Atlantic sites — Cactus Hills, Va., 45 miles south of Richmond, and Meadowcroft Rockshelter, in southern Pennsylvania — date to at least 16,000 years ago. Those tools, too, strongly resemble blades found in Europe.” Stanford contends that the cave art produced by the Solutreans “proves that the Solutreans built boats — halibut are deep-sea fish — and knew how to survive at the edge of an ice cap that drooped deep into Europe. “The reason people don’t like the Solutrean idea is the ocean,” he said. No Solutrean boats have been found. But given that people arrived in Australia some 60,000 years ago — and they didn’t walk there — wood-frame and seal-skin boats were clearly possible, Stanford argues.”
Evidence of the Solutrean Hypothesis in the Chesapeake Bay
Brian Vastag wrote in the Washington Post: “When the crew of the Virginia scallop trawler Cinmar hauled a mastodon tusk onto the deck in 1970, another oddity dropped out of the net: a dark, tapered stone blade, nearly eight inches long and still sharp. Forty years later, this rediscovered prehistoric slasher has reopened debate on a radical theory about who the first Americans were and when they got here. [Source: Brian Vastag, Washington Post, February 29, 2012 ]
“In 2007, Lowery, who also teaches at the University of Delaware, was hired by a landowner to survey property on Tilghman Island, Md., at a place called Miles Point. Almost immediately, Lowery saw a chunk of quarzite jutting out of a shore bank. It was an anvil, heavily marked from repeated beatings, a clear sign that it was used to make stone tools. Lowery dated the soil layer holding the anvil and other stone tools with two methods, radiocarbon dating and a newer technique, optical stimulated luminescence. Both returned an age of at least 21,000 years. “We were like, geez .?.?. what the hell is going on here?” Lowery said. Another site, 10 miles south, Oyster Cove, yielded more Stone Age artifacts. Those too, came out of soil more than 21,000 years old.
“Lowery published the finds in 2010 in Quaternary Science Reviews, but the report made nary a ripple in the conservative world of archaeology, where new ideas tend to progress at a glacial pace. “People are going to think we’ve clearly gone off our rocker here,” Lowery remembers musing. One problem: The ancient dates came from the soil, not the artifacts themselves. It’s an indirect date,” Dillehay said. “You need a feature like a hearth or something that’s clearly human. But it’s still suggestive.”
“In 2008, Lowery toured a tiny museum on Gwynn’s Island, Va., at the southern end of the Chesapeake. He asked the curator if the museum had any stone tools. They did: The eight-inch blade, displayed next to a bit of mastodon tusk and a molar, recovered by the Cinmar. Lowery immediately called Stanford. “He got real excited,” Lowery said. Lowery also contacted the Cinmar’s captain, Thurston Shawn. The tusk and blade were so unusual that Shawn had made a point of marking the spot on his charts. It was 60 miles east of the Virginia cape, in 240 feet of water. At the end of the last ice age, when the oceans were low, that spot was land, on the coast.
“Stanford carbon-dated the mastodon to 22,760 years old. He and Bradley — two of the world’s foremost stone tool experts — also scrutinized the blade. It had not been smoothed by wave action or tumbling. They concluded the blade had not been pushed out to sea but had been buried where the Cinmar found it. “My guess is the blade was used to butcher the mastodon,” Stanford said. “I’m almost positive.”
Skepticism About the Solutrean Hypothesis
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “But the archaeological evidence found so far in support of a European migration more than 20,000 years ago has raised skepticism. And as is the case with the kelp highway, many sites that could prove or disprove the hypothesis are now underwater. Dillehay said he had found the idea of an Atlantic crossing worthy of further investigation, even though “the hard evidence is not yet there.” [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013 /||]
“I’m not going to hang a completely novel interpretation of the peopling of the Americas from something dredged off the sea bottom 40 years ago and not properly documented,” David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University, told the Washington Post. According to Meltzler (2009), "Few if any archaeologists—or, for that matter, geneticists, linguists, or physical anthropologists—take seriously the idea of a Solutrean colonization of America." The evidence for the hypothesis is considered more consistent with other scenarios. In addition to an interval of thousands of years between the Clovis and Solutrean eras, the two technologies show only incidental similarities. There is no evidence for any Solutrean seafaring, far less for any technology that could take humans across the Atlantic in an ice age. Recent genetic evidence supports the idea of Asian, not European, origins for the peopling of the Americas. [Source: Washington Post, Wikipedia]
Waters of Texas A&M, is also skeptical. “I’m looking for clean evidence,” he told Smithsonian magazine. “We’re past ‘Clovis first,’ and we’re developing a new model. You read the literature and you use your imagination, but then you have to go out and find the empirical evidence to support your hypothesis.” None of the doubts expressed by critics have stopped Stanford and Bradley, veterans of the Clovis wars, from pushing forward. “Solutrean people became more and more efficient in exploiting the rich sea margin resources,” they write in Across Atlantic Ice. “Eventually their range expansion led them to a whole new world in the west.” /||\
Brian Vastag wrote in the Washington Post: “His idea faces another challenge: At the end of the last ice age, the polar ice cap may not have extended all the way across the Atlantic, leaving iceberg-strewn gaps of open water for the Solutreans to navigate as they headed West for unknown reasons. [Source: Brian Vastag, Washington Post, February 29, 2012]
Pedra Furada: 60,000 Year Old Site in Brazil?
Pedra Furada (meaning pierced rock in Portuguese) is an important collection of over 800 archaeological sites in the state of Piauí, Brazil. These include hundreds of rock paintings dating from circa 11,000 years ago. Charcoal from very ancient fires and stone shards that may be interpreted as tools suggest the possibility of a human presence prior to the arrival of Clovis people in North America. Brazilian archaeologist Niède Guidon, the main source of the claims told the New York Times that occupation of the Americas could go back 100,000 years and the first settlers “might have come not overland from Asia but by boat from Africa.” She told The Guardian: "I don't have any doubt that the oldest traces of humans yet discovered are here in Brazil.....I think it's wrong that everyone came running across Bering chasing mammoths - that's infantile. I think they also came along the seas. I don't see why they couldn't have come across the Atlantic." [Source: The Guardian, Wikipedia +]
Alex Bellos wrote in The Guardian: “In the most underdeveloped state of Brazil, Piaui, lies one of the richest prehistoric archaeological sites in the world. Pedra Furada is also one of the most controversial sites in the Americas - splitting archaeologists into two emotionally charged camps and threatening to rewrite the history of the continent's colonisation. A thinly inhabited, semi-arid area of sandstone rock shelters, 500 miles west of the coastal city Recife, Pedra Furada contains more than 400 prehistoric sites, including 340 stone walls full of ancient paintings. Researchers are still finding new remains at the rate of 40 a year. But it is not the vast number of archaeological discoveries that has the academic world excited. It is their age. Brazilian excavators, led by Niede Guidon, claim to have proved the existence of the oldest Americans. Ms Guidon claims that charcoal that she says is the remnant of camp fires has been carbon dated to 50,000 years ago. [Source: Alex Bellos, The Guardian, February 11, 2000]
In 1973, a Brazilian and French team excavating a site located in the southeastern portion of what is now the Serra da Capivara National Park discovered the first finds. The discovery was reported by the Brazilian archaeologist Niède Guidon, who published her findings in 1986. She has since conducted extensive excavations and published other findings. Pedra Furada includes a collection of rock shelters used for thousands of years by human populations. The first excavations yielded charcoal deposits with Carbon-14 dates of 48,000 to 32,000 years ago. Repeated analysis has confirmed this dating, carrying the range of dates up to 60,000 ago. A review of the site by archaeologist Tom Dillehay in 1994 suggested that the charcoal remains may have been from natural fires and were not necessarily indicative of human occupation. +
Guidon has established 15 distinct levels, classified in three cultural phases, called Pedra Furada, that includes the oldest remains; and Serra Talhada, from 12,000 to 7,000 BP, with tools such as knives, scrapers, flakes used "as is" or with some retouch and lithic cores, all made of quartz or quartzite. Third is Agreste late phase. The site also has hundreds of rock paintings dated from 5,000 to 11,000 years ago. More recently, the site of Toca da Tira Peia, also in Serra da Capivara National Park, was shown to have signs of human presence dating to 22,000 years ago. +
Controversy Over Pedra Furada
Pedra Furada provides potential evidence for the proponents of the long chronology theory, which states that the first group of people entered the Americas at a much earlier date than the dates associated with the crossing of the Bering Strait, possibly 21,000–40,000 years ago, with a much later mass secondary wave of immigrants. This evidence is considered controversial and not widely accepted by experts in the field. [Source: Wikipedia +]
On accusations that carbon layers could have been created naturally, Guidon said that, "The carbon is not from a natural fire. It is only found inside the sites. You don't get natural fires inside the shelters." French palaeolithic archaeologist Jacques Pelegrin, believes there is a possibility for natural processes creating flaked stones that could mimic the Pedra Furada specimens because of their simplicity, but he finds this very unlikely in this case because of continuous human presence in the site. Michael R. Waters, a geoarchaeologist at Texas A&M University noted the absence of genetic evidence in modern populations to support Guidon's claim. +
Debate continues as to whether or not the artifacts and hearths are instead geofacts that were made naturally, or alternatively, made by monkeys. Wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Serra da Capivara National Park have been observed smashing stones against rocks embedded in the ground. The resulting 'shaped' rocks and flakes are similar to early hominid tools and flakes. It has been suggested that similar behavior, by earlier simians, might account for what have been regarded as human tools at Pedra Furada. James Adovasio of Florida Atlantic University believes that the tools identified by Guidon as human made are rocks that fell from a cliff and broke when they hit the ground. “The Pedra Furada stuff is not even up to capuchin standards,” he said. +
In 2000, Alex Bellos wrote in The Guardian: “Ms Guidon's research has divided the academic community into two sides - roughly between US archaeologists, who refuse to accept it, and the south Americans and Europeans, who do. Stephen Shennan, professor of archaeology at University College London, says that there has been a degree of nationalism because the north Americans cannot believe that they do not have the oldest site. "There is a feeling that it's a blow against US imperialism. The evidence is open to different interpretations, so people tend to choose their favourite interpretation in terms of their biases. There is a certain tendency to cast
David Meltzer, of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas asks "...if we have [pre-Clovis] humans in South America, then by golly, why don't we have them in North America too?" Responding to this Guidon suggested a sea voyage across the Atlantic as a potential route for the first migration.
Humans in the Arctic 45,000 Years Ago?
Ann Gibbons wrote in Science: “In August of 2012, an 11-year-old boy made a gruesome discovery in a frozen bluff overlooking the Arctic Ocean. While exploring the foggy coast of Yenisei Bay, about 2000 kilometers south of the North Pole, he came upon the leg bones of a woolly mammoth eroding out of frozen sediments. Scientists excavating the well-preserved creature determined that it had been killed by humans: Its eye sockets, ribs, and jaw had been battered, apparently by spears, and one spear-point had left a dent in its cheekbone—perhaps a missed blow aimed at the base of its trunk. [Source: Ann Gibbons, Science, January 14, 2016 ^]
“When they dated the remains, the researchers got another surprise: The mammoth died 45,000 years ago. That means that humans lived in the Arctic more than 10,000 years earlier than scientists believed, according to a new study. The find suggests that even at this early stage, humans were traversing the most frigid parts of the globe and had the adaptive ability to migrate almost everywhere. ^
“Most researchers had long thought that big-game hunters, who left a trail of stone tools around the Arctic 12,500 years ago, were the first to reach the Arctic Circle. These cold-adapted hunters apparently traversed Siberia and the Bering Straits at least 15,000 years ago (and new dates suggest humans may have been in the Americas as early as 18,500 years ago). But in 2004, researchers pushed that date further back in time when they discovered beads and stone and bone tools dated to as much as 35,000 years old at several sites in the Ural Mountains of far northeastern Europe and in northern Siberia; they also found the butchered carcasses of woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, and other animals. The Russian boy’s discovery—of the best-preserved mammoth found in a century—pushes back those dates by another 10,000 years. A team led by archaeologist Alexei Tikhonov excavated the mammoth and dubbed it “Zhenya,” for the child, Evgeniy Solinder, whose nickname was Zhenya. ^
“The big surprise, though, is the age. Radiocarbon dates on the collagen from the mammoth’s tibia bone, as well as from hair and muscle tissue, produce a direct date of 45,000 years, the team reports online today in Science. This fits with dating of the layer of sediments above the carcass, which suggest it was older than 40,000 years. If correct, this means the mammoth was alive during the heyday of woolly mammoths 42,000 to 44,000 years ago when they roamed the vast open grasslands of the northern steppe of the Siberian Arctic, Pitulko says. Researchers also have dated a thighbone of a modern human to 45,000 years at Ust-Ishim in Siberia, although that was found south of the Arctic at a latitude of 57° north, a bit north (and east) of Moscow. “The dating is compelling. It’s likely older than 40,000,” says Douglas Kennett, an environmental archaeologist who is co-director of the Pennsylvania State University, University Park’s accelerator mass spectrometry facility. However, he would like the Russian team to report the method used to rule out contamination of the bone collagen for dating—and confirmation of the dates on the bone by another lab, because the date is so critical for the significance of this discovery. ^
“Mammoths and other large animals, such as woolly rhinoceros and reindeer, may have been the magnet that drew humans to the Far North. “Mammoth hunting was an important part of survival strategy, not only in terms of food, but in terms of important raw materials—tusks, ivory that they desperately needed to manufacture hunting equipment,” Pitulko says. The presence of humans in the Arctic this early also suggests they had the adaptive ability to make tools, warm clothes, and temporary shelters that allowed them to live in the frigid north earlier than thought. They had to adapt to the cold to traverse Siberia and Beringia on their way to the Bering Strait’s land bridge, which they crossed to enter the Americas. “Surviving at those latitudes requires highly specialized technology and extreme cooperation,” Marean agrees. That implies that these were modern humans, rather than Neandertals or other early members of the human family. “If these hunters could survive in the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, they could have lived virtually anywhere on Earth,” says Ted Goebel, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University, College Station.” ^
The find also indicates that early Siberians were 4,660 kilometers (2,895 miles) from what was then a land bridge between modern Russia and Alaska. According to the Siberian Times: “A long distance, for sure, but far from insurmountable, opening the possibility that Stone Age Siberians colonised the Americas at this early point.” [Source: Anna Liesowska siberiantimes.com May 30, 2016]
Neanderthals in California, 130,000 Years Ago?
In 2017, scientists made the startling claim that the first known Americans arrived more than 115,000 years than they earlier thought — and maybe they were Neanderthals. Associated Press reported: “Researchers say a site in Southern California shows evidence of humanlike behavior from about 130,000 years ago, when bones and teeth of an elephantlike mastodon were evidently smashed with rocks. [Source: Associated Press, April 26, 2017~||~] “The earlier date means the bone-smashers were not necessarily members of our own species, Homo sapiens. The researchers speculate that these early Californians could have instead been species known only from fossils in Europe, Africa and Asia: Neanderthals, a little-known group called Denisovans, or another human forerunner named Homo erectus. “The very honest answer is, we don’t know,” said Steven Holen, lead author of the paper and director of the nonprofit Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota. No remains of any individuals were found. ~||~
“Whoever they were, they could have arrived by land or sea. They might have come from Asia via the Beringea land bridge that used to connect Siberia to Alaska, or maybe come across by watercraft along the Beringea coast or across open water to North America, before turning southward to California, Holen said in a telephone interview. Holen and others presented their evidence in a paper released by the journal Nature . Not surprisingly, the report was met by skepticism from other experts who don’t think there is enough proof. ~||~
“The research dates back to the winter of 1992-3. The site was unearthed during a routine dig by researchers during a freeway expansion project in San Diego. Analysis of the find was delayed to assemble the right expertise, said Tom Demere, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum, another author of the paper. ~||~
“The Nature analysis focuses on remains from a single mastodon, and five stones found nearby. The mastodon’s bones and teeth were evidently placed on two stones used as anvils and smashed with three stone hammers, to get at nutritious marrow and create raw material for tools. Patterns of damage on the limb bones looked like what happened in experiments when elephant bones were smashed with rocks. And the bones and stones were found in two areas, each roughly centered on what’s thought to be an anvil. The stones measured about 8 inches (20 centimeters) to 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and weighed up to 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms). They weren’t hand-crafted tools, Demere said. The users evidently found them and brought them to the site. The excavation also found a mastodon tusk in a vertical position, extending down into older layers, which may indicate it had been jammed into the ground as a marker or to create a platform, Demere said. The fate of the visitors is not clear. Maybe they died out without leaving any descendants, he said. ~||~
“Experts not connected with the study provided a range of reactions. “If the results stand up to further scrutiny, this does indeed change everything we thought we knew,” said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. Neanderthals and Denisovans are the most likely identities of the visitors, he said. But “many of us will want to see supporting evidence of this ancient occupation from other sites, before we abandon the conventional model of a first arrival by modern humans within the last 15,000 years,” he wrote in an email. Erella Hovers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe, who wrote a commentary accompanying the work, said in an email that the archaeological interpretation seemed convincing. Some other experts said the age estimate appears sound. ~||~
“But some were skeptical that the rocks were really used as tools. Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona in Tucson said the paper shows the bones could have been broken the way the authors assert, but they haven’t demonstrated that’s the only way. Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, said he doesn’t reject the paper’s claims outright, but he finds the evidence “not yet solid.” For one thing, the dig turned up no basic stone cutting tools or evidence of butchery or the use of fire, as one might expect from Homo sapiens or our close evolutionary relatives.” ~||~
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except British Columbia footprints, Scientific American
Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.
Last updated March 2020