Econintersect: For 83 years it has been believed that the prehistoric artifacts found in 1929 near Clovis New Mexico represented the earliest human inhabitants of North America who lived here about 13,000 years ago. New research creates some doubt that the Clovis people were the only early “settlers” on the continent. The research discusses the stone age artifacts that have been studied from caves in Oregon that date to the same 13,000 year ago period but have characteristics completely different, from those from Clovis. In addition, radiocarbon dating of desiccated excrement puts the date of human habitation in the caves as much as 14,300 years ago. DNA testing relates the samples to American Indians and Asians.
The characteristics of the stone chip-shaping in Oregon are completely different than what is characteristic of Clovis tools, which have been discovered at other widely scattered archaeological sites beyond Clovis. This has caused the research team to propose that the Oregon inhabitants were not at all closely related to the Clovis people and may have been an unrelated population involved in a separate migration at a significantly different time.
The research team was headed by Dennis L. Jenkins, University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The excavations were made in Oregon’s Paisley Caves. Previous discoveries of the tools of the type found in Paisley Caves (known as Western Stemmed projectile points), when found at sites that also produced Clovis points, had been in higher strata, indicating they were newer. This is the first evidence that the Western Stemmed tool technology was as old or older than the Clovis.
This is not the first discovery that has caused the long held Clovis-first theory to be questioned. Some researchers have estimated that human inhabitants may have been in North America 20,000 to 50,000 years ago. One such investigation is centered on a dig in Topper, South Carolina. Stone tools at that site were characterized as “pre-Clovis” in form and were independently by geologists to be 16,000 years old.
Digging at the Topper site continued a meter below the 16,000 year level and more primitive tools were found, along with charcoal remaining from burnt plant material. The charcoal was radiocarbon dated to 50,300 and 51,700 years ago. The proximity of the charcoal and stone tools is taken as circumstantial evidence that the two are related. A number of other archaeological finds have raised questions similar to those from the Topper study. What makes the Oregon study unique is the DNA evidence which has not been found in the older digs.
Not everyone accepts the hypothesis that the major differences in the stone tools found in Oregon necessarily means that there were two independent migrations from Asia to North America. From Scientific Computing:
David Meltzer, professor of prehistory at Southern Methodist University, said the study clearly showed western stemmed projectiles existed at the same time as Clovis. However, he was not ready to say the stone points showed separate ancient migrations.
“Points are not people,” he said. “Just because two ways of fashioning projectile points are different doesn’t mean different populations any more than different groups of people drive Hummers rather than Priuses.”
There are also those who are not convinced of the meaning of the data reported from Topper, SC (and other sites in North and South America that have hinted at very early western hemisphere habitation by man). However, genetics research has found that there were three groups of migrants from Asia which intermingled in the new world once they got here. Of course, this study does not establish a time line for the three groups.
Pictured below are the stone tools found in Oregon (top) and a typical Clovis spear/arrow tip (bottom) with the characteristic fluted base.
- Cave Tools, DNA Offer New Evidence of Ancient American Migrations (Jeff Barnard, Associated Press, Scientific Computing, 29 July 2012)
- New Evidence Puts Man in North America 50,000 Years Ago (Science Daily, 18 November 2004)
- Oregon Cave Yields New Clue to Earliest Americans (Jenny Marder, PBS News Hour, 12 July 2012)
- Genes Suggest Three Groups Peopled the New World (Ann Gibbons, Science, 12 July 2012)