New discoveries show humans lived in the Americas thousands of years earlier than previously thought
By Stacy Libertore
Bones of an adult mammoth and her calf have been uncovered at a 37,000-year-old butchering site in New Mexico, which suggest humans settled in the Americas 17,000 years earlier than previously believed.
A team of scientists, led by The University of Texas at Austin, extracted collagen from the bones, allowing them to carbon date the settled age of 36,250 to 38,900 years old.
The bones were discovered in a three-foot-tall pile, with 95 percent belonging to the adult, and featured slaughter marks and fractures from blunt force impact
The discovery adds to the growing evidence that there were societies before people crossed the Bering Strait land bridge some 20,000 years ago. The bridge, also called Beringia, connected Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age, and allowed people to come from Asia into North America.
Timothy Rowe, lead author of the study, told DailyMail.com that the ancient humans likely came from Asia, but whether they took a coastal or overland route to the America’s remains an open question. A separate study in 2021 found some of the first Americans crossed the Bering Sea in paddle boats, stopping along chain of islands that were above the surface during the last Ice Age.
Rowe said the discovery in New Mexico also means that Central and South America were also inhabited by humans long before previously thought. “Based on our knowledge of human migration patterns, I believe it’s safe to say that people were living in all of the Americas by 35,000 to 36,000 years ago. I think the evidence to prove this will turn up in the coming years.”
Previous studies have produced remains of ancient humans dating back 20,000 years ago and other artifact that suggest there were people in the area before Clovis – those who crossed the land bridge. However, the mammoth bones are the earliest evidence found to date.
Rowe said in a statement: “It’s not a charismatic site with a beautiful skeleton laid out on its side. It’s all busted up. But that’s what the story is.”
The discovery was also made in Rowe’s backyard. His neighbor spotted a tusk protruding out from the ground and he quickly called a team in to help with the excavations. Once most of the dirt was removed, the open-air butchering site was revealed that includes different areas separated by walls made of stone and clay. The mammoth bones, both the adult and calf, were found in a pile with the adults head and tusks laid on top.
Most of the remains in the heap belonged to the adult, including 44 broken cranial fragments, and intact upper right second molar and 12 isolated tooth plates, 25 ribs broken into 52 fragments, 3 vertebrae and 15 vertebral fragments, 32 percussion-impact bone flakes, 9 “butterfly fragments”, 20 unidentifiable bone fragments, and 267 bags of small ‘bone scraps.”
“The adult’s face (tusks, premaxillae, and partial maxillae) is the single largest, heaviest element present and was positioned on top of the bone pile,” reads the study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
“It was sheared from the cranium at the nares, and its maxillary alveoli are broken and empty. The calf is represented by a partial left maxilla and dentary with intact dentitions, three isolated tooth plates, left tibia diaphysis, and 10 rib fragments.”
The study also notes that the separation of the adult’s face bones from the cranium was caused by “the most profound skull fracture.”
Before the mammoth bones were found it was a 20,000-year-old burial in Montana that was the oldest evidence of humans settling in North America.
In 1968, construction workers uncovered ancient tools and the remains of a young child at the site. It is the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World, and artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture that came across the Bering Strait land bridge.
The so-called Anzick skeleton was found with about 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from antlers, and covered in red ochre, a type of mineral.
Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who led the study, said in a statement: “The Clovis boy’s family is the direct ancestor to roughly estimated 80% of all present day Native Americans. Although the Clovis culture disappeared its people are living today.”
Credit: Daily Mail