October 21, 2011
Hunters Arrived in North America Earlier Than Previously Thought
A team of researchers, led by a Texas A&M archaeologist, has used a bone point fragment from an ancient mastodon rib to confirm that hunters roamed North America at least 800 years earlier than previously thought, the university said in a Thursday press release.
By studying the tip of that fragment, which was found in a mastodon rib from a Washington-based archeological dig, Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, and his colleagues believe that it proves that humans were present there about 13,800 years ago.
According to the university, an adult male mastodon was excavated from a pond at a site near Manis, Washington, back in the late 1970s. Broken bones on the creature suggested that it had been killed or butchered by human hunters, Waters said in the media release, but they were unable to recover any stone tools or weapons at the location.
"Waters contacted team member and original excavator, Carl Gustafson, about performing new tests on the rib with the bone point," the Texas A&M press release said. "New radiocarbon dates confirmed that the site was 13,800 years old. High resolution CT scanning and three-dimensional modeling confirmed that the embedded bone was a spear point, and DNA and bone protein analysis showed that the bone point was made of mastodon bone."
Sindya N. Bhanoo of the New York Times adds that the CT scanning confirmed that the bone point, embedded within the rib, was a hunting tool that was over 10 inches long and sharpened.
Waters and his associates published their findings in the journal Science.
Gustafson, an archeologist from Washington State University, reportedly was convinced that humans had hunted and killed the animal, at least partially for food, Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle reported on Thursday. Few people in his profession believed that humans could have been present in North America long enough ago to have been able to have done the deed.
"My colleagues at the university would not accept the theory," the now retired Gustafson told Berger. "When you're working side-by-side with them in the same building, and they don't even believe you, well, you get very discouraged."
Now, with the publication of Water's work, Gustafson's theory has been proven.
"Clearly these people were hunting mastodons, and probably harvesting their bones to make tools," Waters told the Houston Chronicle. "It adds one more piece to the puzzle of trying to understand the first Americans. It's filling out our picture."
"These pre-Clovis people were obviously hunting large mammals, and they may have played a role in their extinction," he added.
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