The quest to uncover the chronology of mankind’s arrival in the Americas has taken yet another twist, after a team of archeologists discovered a number of stone artifacts, animal remains and burned plants which suggest a much earlier arrival date than previously thought.
For a number of years, it had been assumed that a group of settlers known as the Clovis people were the earliest on the continent, with artifacts discovered in New Mexico in the 1930s suggesting that they may have arrived around 13,000 years ago. However, a number of archeological digs since the turn of the millennium have challenged this theory, with discoveries in locations such as Vale da Pedra Furada in Brazil pointing to prior colonization of the continent.
A new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE has now detailed the discovery of the earliest items yet uncovered in the Americas, with some of the artifacts found at Monte Verde in Chile being radiocarbon-dated to around 18,000 years ago. Among the objects unearthed are a number of human-knapped flints, as well the remains of plants and animals which were burned in small fires at 12 separate spots.
Image credit: Basalt wedge bearing marks which indicate that it was struck by humans in order to fashion it into a tool, recovered from Monte Verde in Chile. Tom Dillehay
A total of 39 items were uncovered across an area measuring 20,000 square meters (215,300 square feet) in 2013.
While the findings will help to discern exactly how long humans have lived in the Americas, they also raise a number of new questions regarding how these settlements spread across the continent. The study authors suggest that the residents of Monte Verde may have traveled along the strips of deglaciated coastline between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, as climatic change at the end of the last ice age began to transform the area into temperate rainforest.
Image credit: Projectile point of rhyolite, recovered from Monte Verde in Chile. Tom Dillehay
Additionally, it is not clear if all of the artifacts found were actually manufactured at Monte Verde, since a number of “dubious” items were found to be made of foreign materials such as white quartz, and therefore appear to have been transported from elsewhere. As a result, the team concludes that the settlers at Monte Verde benefitted from “a high degree of mobility and/or long-distance exchange,” suggesting that they were not alone in the region.