WASHINGTON // Researchers dived hundreds of times into a sinkhole in Florida’s Aucilla River and retrieved some of the oldest evidence of human presence in the Americas, including stone tools apparently used to butcher a mastodon.
Scientists said the tools, animal bones and mastodon tusk found at the site showed that people had occupied the American south-east 14,550 years ago – about 1,500 years earlier than previously known.
The site provided some of the most compelling evidence yet that human beings had spread across the New World earlier than the Clovis people, whom archaeologists considered for six decades to be the first people of the Americas.
The Clovis people, recognised for their distinctive spearheads, are known from archeological evidence that are calculated to be about 13,000 years old.
The sinkhole artefacts painted a picture of hunter-gatherers butchering or scavenging a mastodon, an extinct elephant cousin, next to a small inland pond.
The tusk had cut marks from a tool used to remove it from the skull, perhaps to reach edible tissue at its base.
Intrigued by previous archaeological finds at the site, the researchers conducted 890 dives into the 11-metre sinkhole in limestone bedrock at the Page-Ladson site near Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, from 2012 to 2014.
They excavated stone tools including a stone knife useful for butchering animals and bones of extinct big mammals including camels, bison, horses and mastodons.
Florida State University anthropologist Jessi Halligan, who dived 126 times, said nomadic hunter-gatherers might have followed big prey such as mastodons from water hole to water hole.
Bones that appear to be from dogs suggest the hunter-gatherers had canine companions.
There were no humans in the Americas until people crossed the land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska during the Ice Age, but when that happened remains a mystery.
“The evidence from the Page-Ladson site is a major leap forward in shaping a new view of the peopling of the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age,” said Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University.
“In the archaeological community, there’s still a terrific amount of resistance to the idea that people were here before Clovis.”
Only a handful of pre-Clovis sites are known in the Americas and there is controversy about the legitimacy of some of them.
The Florida site is about the same age as one in Chile that is considered the most scientifically accepted pre-Clovis locale.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances.
(via The National)