Setting the Clock Back on First Americans: Stone Tools Could Put Settlement at 22,000 Years Ago
By Lenny Pierce on April 12, 2014
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.
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 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.