American scientists have long understood that humans arrived in North American no more than 24,000 years ago – and even that was considered a stretch by many.
A startling new discovery in California, however, suggests that humans may have inhabited the Americas as early as 130,000 years ago – completely rewriting our understanding of early American life.
The new understanding comes via a recent dig in coastal San Diego County, which revealed the remains of a mastodon – and with it, evidence of tools, as well as the tools themselves. While no actual human remains were found, the team says the evidence is clear that these were human-made tools, used on the mastodon.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” co-author of the new study (published in Nature) Richard Fullagar, Honorary Principal Fellow at the University of Wollongong, told IFLScience on a conference call. “The dates are truly remarkable, but it’s hard to argue with the clear evidence we see. It’s incontrovertible.”
“What’s truly remarkable here is that you can match the hammers to the anvils to the stones – it really does demonstrate human interference,” Fullagar noted.
A mastodon skull. Brooke Crigger/Shutterstock
Uranium dating proves the tusks are 131,000 years old – as are the marks on them. Scientists say similar use of tools and tusks date back as far as 1.5 million years in Africa, so the finding is remarkable only for the location – as it completely changes what we thought we knew about human migration in the early world.
“I expect there will be some extraordinary claims about how they got there,” co-author Steven Holen, Co-Director of the Center for American Paleolithic Research, added. “We expect criticism, and we are ready for it. I was skeptical when I first looked at it myself, but it’s definitely an archaeological site.
|Some of the possible migration routes. Note, starting points do not necessarily indicate speciation points. Chris Jones/IFLScience|
“There are Neanderthal sites in Siberia, and unquestionably, they could have made the journey across during the last interglacial when sea levels were lower,” Fullagar commented, mentioning Beringia, the now-submerged land bridge between Siberia and what is now Alaska, but the team admits that they don’t really know what sort of hominids they’re dealing with.
If these travelers were Neanderthals, this would be the first evidence of them found outside of Europe. Interestingly, Native Americans do have relatively high numbers of Neanderthal genes in their genomes.
Excavation of the site. NPG Press via YouTube
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