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Setting the Clock Back on First Americans: Stone Tools Could Put Settlement at 22,000 Years Ago

The paintings of Serra Da Capivara National Park have always offered an amazing view of life in pre-Colombian Brazil. Dated to 9,000 years old (and possibly older), the red ocher paintings depict battles, orgies, and like any good ancient painting, massive communal beast hunts. But it is what archeologists plucked out of the ground surrounding the paintings that could set this site’s importance to humans back even farther. Last year, researchers unearthed stone tools at Serra Da Capivara, which they are saying could signal a human presence in South America as early as 22,000 years ago. This new arrival date stands in thrilling contrast to the less and less widely accepted notion called “the Clovis model,” which says our kind didn’t make the jump from Asia to North America until much later.

During the 1920s, spear points found near Clovis, NM were radiocarbon dated to place a human arrival from Siberia to 13,000 years ago. This conclusion was widely accepted throughout most of the 20th century, but numerous findings have worked to build a sturdy case against it. A 2012 study on coprolites (big word for fossilized poop) in Oregon dated them at 14,000 years old and spear points in Texas in 2011 point to an arrival as early as 15,500 years ago. The geography of this latest evidence makes it all the more exciting – we may have made it farther south 22,000 years ago than anybody thought we’d come by 15,000 years ago.

Serrpa Park IP

The location of Serra Da Capivara NP. (The New York Times)

The remaining Clovis-first believers are naturally skeptical of these claims. University of Nevada’s Gary Haynes feels that what some are calling tools could have just been rock chips from natural rockfall and Stuart Fiedel, a Louis Berger Group archeologist, says they may have been crafted by monkeys. “Monkeys, including large extinct forms, have been in South America for 35 million years,” asserts Fiedel.

Clovis Points IP

Clovis spear points (Wikimedia)

Clovis people might not have been the first beast-chasers to step foot in the Americas, but that makes them no less fascinating. For more on the Clovis, check out the DNA analysis of Anzick-1, the only physical remains we have of an actual Clovis person. Genetic analysis of these remains worked to clarify human origins in America, pointing definitively to a Siberian starting point.

Get in the fight, Nerdist science readers. Any of you still sticking to a Clovis-first mindset or do findings like those at Serra Da Capivara convince you otherwise? Tell us below.

HT: The New York Times

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4 comments

  • The reason the Clovis thought has taken such a strong hold is that it was/is the first widely recognized culture. The fact that it shows up across multiple locations was the big draw to it, and that in Clovis, NM nothing was found in the layers below it.
    That isn’t to say that there can’t be or isn’t a culture before them.

    The fun part of being an archaeologist is the fact that you get to constantly change history and, it shouldn’t be something frowned upon, the archaeologists need to have an open mind and look at these things.

  • The harder fight than the starting date is going to be on point(s) of origin for the first humans in the New World; I’d have to go look up the details, but I’ve read/seen fairly convincing evidence found by archaeologists in the eastern US that not only pushes the dates back, but strongly suggests that inherited physical differences are not just due to isolation after the end of the last ice age, but also because the first inhabitants(at least in North America) were an admixture of Siberian and European immigrants. When you think about it, there’s no serious reason why this couldn’t be so; we know humans around the globe were making watercraft capable of near-shore travel, and hunting along the edge of the northern ice shelf as they moved west would simply be a matter of learning from other predators–something that we know happened anyway. Who’s to say both Siberian _and_ Eurasian hunters didn’t watch polar bears hunt from the sea ice? We just don’t have as much physical evidence for an East-to-West migration(yet).