Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When Did Humans Really Reach the New World?

There are a number of archaeologists who say they have found evidence that people had ventured into the New World much earlier than the iconic Clovis culture.  In almost every case, their evidence has been dismissed by their colleagues.  So it is no real surprise that one of the most recent studies is being hotly contested.

A research team led by Christelle Lahaye of Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3 University in France led a team which excavated a rock shelter in Brazil.  They found 113 stone tools inside the site buried in ancient sediments.  Careful analysis of those sediments revealed that some of the tools had been buried 22,000 years ago, at least 6,000 years earlier than the oldest reliably dated Clovis artifacts.

One of the first criticisms of the team’s findings came from John McNabb of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.  He pointed out that evidence in rock shelters is open to different interpretations.  Rocks falling from cave ceilings and walls often resemble crude tools. But in the case of the Brazilian rock shelter, the “tools” are made of rock that is not naturally present at the site, suggesting that they were brought in from elsewhere. The team has found that some of those stones originated at least 10 miles away.

There is one more piece of elusive evidence that has not been discovered yet.  No human remains have been found.  Nor has any ancient cave art, a sure sign of human occupation, turned up at the cave or other nearby sites. 

LaHaye and her team are studying the original rock shelter and others nearby, looking for more evidence of human occupation.  It will be interesting to see how their investigation develops.  If this team can uncover more proof that people were in the Americans 22,000 years ago, there may yet be hope that some of the other claims for early occupation might be taken more seriously.

For more information about this intriguing find, go here

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