21 October 2011

The "Clovis First" theory appears to be disproven

The settlement of the Americas has always been a controversial topic in archaeology.  Conventional  wisdom has been that the first humans in North America (the Clovis people) arrived via the Beringia Land Bridge near the end of the glacial period, then moved down an ice-free corridor to reach the bulk of North America, and from there to South America.  I've  doubted this theory for years, ever since reading about Tom Dillehay's excavations at Monte Verde in Chile.

This week a BBC report details recent evidence that a [spear] "point" found in a mastodon bone has been reliably dated to 13,800 years before the present.
This places it before the so-called Clovis hunters, who many academics had argued were the North American continent's original inhabitants...

A succession of archaeological finds right across the United States and northern Mexico have indicated there was human activity much earlier than this - perhaps as early as 15-16,000 years ago. The mastodon rib, however, really leaves the once cherished model with nowhere to go...

These investigations included new radio carbon tests using atomic accelerators. "The beauty of atomic accelerators is that you can date very small samples and also very chemically pure samples," Prof Waters told BBC News. "We extracted specific amino acids from the collagen in the bone and dated those, and yielded dates 13,800 years ago, plus or minus 20 years. That's very precise."

DNA investigation also threw up a remarkable irony - the point itself was made from mastodon bone, proving that the people who fashioned it were systematically hunting or scavenging animal bones to make their tools...

When Clovis-First was first proposed, it was a very elegant model but it's time to move on, and most of the archaeological community is doing just that."
I am also gobsmacked to read that it is now possible to date specific amino acids (!).  You learn something every day.


  1. Was this before the flood, or after?

  2. So then where the heck DID they come from? Curiouser and curiouser, as they say....

  3. They still could have come from Asia, but would have traveled by sea along the coast rather than overland (where the glaciers were still massive).

    Or they could have come across the Atlantic (look up "Solutreans"), or even across the Pacific. You can find a lot of interesting stuff to read in this regard if you're interested.

  4. I had not heard of dating amino acids, so I had to do some quick research.

    It seems that all amino acids exist in two 'mirror' configurations, and after death, these acids will 'balance out' over time to the same ratio. The balance can be measured for dating.

    Apparently the rate of change is *extremely* dependent upon external temperature, so can only be reliable under conditions where the environmental history is well known. So whats more amazing to me than the amino acid dating is they feel they have such accurate data over 15,000-16,000 years that they can be accurate to within 20 years.

  5. You make a good point re the thermal history of the specimen. And I totally agree that the claimed degree of precision seems unlikely - whatever the method.

  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Verde

  7. My own personal belief is that the Clovis people WERE first into North America; they were descended from Solutreans who had crossed the Atlantic. Unfortunately for them, they were killed off by a comet strike (aka the Tunguska Event [sp?]) along with most of the large animals in North America. Not long afterward came the Asian proto-Indians, who survived until the current day.

    And this new data doesn't really contradict the above theory, because it just shows that either Solutrean/Clovis people reached America earlier then we had suspected, or that their dating method was flawed (see Mike above about temperature)

  8. There is an informative cover article in Scientific American this month: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=first-americans-researchers-reconsider-peopling-new-world

  9. The Clovis people were the second group. The first group came from Africa on reed boats. Some of their temples in South America show pictures of those reed boats. This inspired Thor Heyerdahl to try that route with Ra2, a reed boat. He had to abandon the try before he made it all the way, but he judged it "feasible."


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