In a recent excavation operation conducted in Florida, scientists dug out materials which significantly alter our understanding of American history, pushing it back 1000 years before what had been assumed till now. A team of anthropologists, led by Jessi J. Halligan and Michael R. Waters, embarked upon the project in 2012. It involved excavating a part of the bedrock underlying the Aucilla river in Florida and digging out bone and stone artefacts which they report got deposited 14,500 years before present. They published the results in the journal, Science Advances, on May 13, 2016.
The Clovis culture
For very long, archaeologists and anthropologists have been of the opinion that the Clovis people were the very first inhabitants of North America. Clovis is the name of a town in New Mexico and the Clovis culture is associated with the findings made at an archaeological site next to the town. Following the discovery of the first Clovis site, several areas containing similar artefacts were discovered in North America.
Evidence of the Clovis culture date back to approximately 13,000 years ago and had been discovered in the 1920s and 30s. Over the years, however, numerous challenges have been posed to the theory of the Clovis being the first inhabitants of America, with newer sites being discovered in Oregon, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Chile. The recent finding made at Florida aligns itself with the excavations made at these other sites, thereby making a strong case for a pre-Clovis human habitation in America.
Pre-Clovis evidence in Florida
Archaeologists James Dunbar and palaeontologist David Webb had, in the 1980s, discovered human artefacts on the site that goes by the name Page-Ladson in Florida. They came across a tusk of a mastodon (extinct species distantly related to elephants), which had been scarred by sharp stone knives. The archaeologists estimated the tusk to belong to a period approximately 14,400 years ago. However, in the face of insufficient evidence, the finding was challenged and the site ‘relegated to an ambiguous status’.
Halligan and Waters returned to the Page-Ladson site in 2012, with the aim of unearthing evidence strong enough to prove that human life in America definitely existed 14,000 years back. They dug out layers of sediments, each layer being older than the previous one. By the time they reached the layer dated 14,500 years back, they uncovered materials which could only have been associated with humans. These included five sharpened rocks which were transported from outside the region and a double sided stone knife. On corroborating this evidence with the tusk discovered by Dunbar and Webb, they reached the conclusion that human life existed in Florida much before the Clovis culture. Further evidence includes previously discovered butchered megafaunal (giant animals) bones. Previously, evidence of domesticated dog remains had also been found. However, this has still not been confirmed.
Conclusion made by the anthropologists
The excavations made at Page-Ladson pushes back considerably the date of the first migration made to America. As reported by Halligan, Waters and their team of anthropologists, “At Page-Ladson, hunter-gatherers, possibly accompanied by dogs, butchered or scavenged a mastodon carcass at the sinkhole’s edge next to a small pond at ~14,550 cal yr B.P. These people had successfully adapted to their environment; they knew where to find freshwater, game, plants, raw materials for making tools, and other critical resources for survival.”
The anthropologists believe that with this new finding, they can confidently say that human habitation existed in America about 15,000 years back. Evidence for this theory, though sparse, surely does exist.
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