Study casts doubt on theories about earlier human appearance in the Americas

(ORDO NEWS) — A new analysis of archaeological finds in the Americas casts doubt on relatively new theories that the earliest human inhabitants of North America appeared before the migration of people from Asia through the Bering Strait.

An analysis by University of Wyoming professor Todd Surowell and colleagues at the University of Wyoming and five other institutions suggests that misinterpretation of archaeological evidence at some sites in the Americas may be responsible for theories that humans appeared long before 13,000-14,200 years ago.

The results of the study are published today in the journal PLOS One, published by the Public Library of Science.

This article is the latest development in the debate on the peopling of the Americas, in which some question the long-held view that the first Americans were hunter-gatherers who entered North America from Asia across the Bering Bridge before 14,200 years ago, and then settled south between two large glaciers that covered most of the continent.

Surovell and colleagues’ conclusions are based on an analysis of buried archaeological deposits using a new statistic they developed called the Apparent Stratigraphic Integrity Index.

While the stratigraphic integrity of early archaeological sites in Alaska is high strong evidence for unequivocal human occupation sites in more southerly areas, indicating possible earlier human occupation, show evidence of artefact mixing between several time periods.

“If humans were able to break through the continental ice sheet significantly earlier than 13,000 years ago, then there should be clear evidence of this in the form of at least a few stratigraphically discrete archaeological components with a relatively high number of artifacts.

So far, there is no such evidence,” Surowell and his colleagues write. . “(Our) results support the hypothesis that the first human arrival in the New World occurred at least 14,200 years ago in Beringia and approximately 13,000 years ago in the temperate latitudes of North America. Conclusive evidence of human presence before these dates in the archaeological record is still not found”.

In particular, the new analysis compared the stratigraphic integrity of three sites said to contain evidence of earlier human habitation – two in Texas and one in Idaho – with the integrity of sites in Alaska, Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Three sites claimed to be over 13,000 years old showed significant mixing, while the rest did not.

The researchers were unable to obtain detailed information about some other places in the Americas that supposedly contain evidence of human habitation before 13,000 years ago.

“Objects claimed to be over 13,000 years old are few and far between, and evidence supporting their status is poorly distributed,” Surowell and colleagues write.

“Given the state of the available data on these sites, we have to wonder if there are any sites in the Americas south of the ice sheet that show an unambiguous and stratigraphically discrete cultural occupation with a sufficient number of clearly man-made artifacts.”

The article does not rule out the possibility that humans colonized the Americas at an earlier time. But if this is the case, then they must have created stratigraphically discrete surfaces, some of which must have contained a large number of artifacts.”

“The fact that they did this in Beringia but not south of the continental ice sheets suggests that either there was something fundamentally different in pre-Clovisian human behavior and/or geomorphology south of the ice sheets, or evidence pointing to the presence of humans south of the ice sheets have been misinterpreted,” the researchers wrote.

“At a minimum, this shows that when stratigraphically discrete professions are not present, more research is needed to demonstrate the stratigraphic integrity of the relationship between artifacts and dated strata.”

Together with Surowell, colleagues from the University of West Wales Sarah Allaun, Robert Kelly, Marcel Kornfeld and Mary Lou Larson participated in the study; Wyoming archaeologist Spencer Pelton; Barbara Krass and Charles Holmes of the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Joseph Gingerich of Ohio University and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History; Kelly Graf of Texas A&M University; Kathryn Krasinski and Brian Waigal of Adelphi University.


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