America just got a bit older.
Tools and bones add to evidence of pre-Clovis humans in America
By Emma Marris, Nature magazine on May 16, 2016
Scuba-diving archaeologists have unearthed artefacts from an ancient butchering site that seem to settle a debate about when humans spread across the Americas.
Working in the murk of a river in Florida, the team found stone tools dating back 14,550 years that could have been used to carve up ancient elephant-like beasts called mastodons, whose remains have been recovered from the same site.
The findings, published today in Science Advances, add to ever-growing evidence that humans were living in much of the Americas well before the cultural group known as Clovis were present about 13,000 years ago. The alternative theory — that the Clovis group were the first Americans — has been increasingly disputed.
“I think this paper is a triumph for underwater archaeology and yet another nail in the coffin of the Clovis-first theory,” says Jon Erlandson, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
In addition, a mastodon tusk of the same age found at the site years ago by another team shows clear marks that the researchers attributed to efforts by people to remove the tusk from the head. Daniel Fisher, a palaeontologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and an author of the latest study, reanalysed the tusk and agrees that the marks were probably caused by butchering, most likely to extract the roughly 7 kilograms of nutritious tissue that would have been found inside.
Fisher and his team also looked for evidence of large animals by examining the sediment in the old pond for spores of Sporormiella, a fungus that lives on the dung of herbivores. Researchers have suggested that human hunting might have quickly driven animals such as the mastodon to extinction, but the spores were most abundant 13,700 years ago and did not disappear until around 12,600 years ago. This suggests that people were living with these large animals for a few thousand years before the animals went extinct.