|20 February 2005
Did humans settle on the Great Plains earlier than thought?
Bones of now-extinct animals and a rock fragment discovered last summer in northwestern Kansas could rewrite the history of humans on the Great Plains (USA). The bones, which appear to have been fractured by humans, were collected from a site in Sherman County and studied by scientists at the Kansas Geological Survey, the University of Kansas and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Dated by carbon-14 methods at 12,200 years old, the bones could be the oldest evidence of human occupation in Kansas, and they may be the oldest evidence of humans on the Great Plains.
The research was conducted by archaeologist Steven Holen at the Denver Museum, archaeological geologist Rolfe Mandel at the Kansas Geological Survey and archaeologist Jack Hofman at the KU anthropology department. Scientists previously dated the earliest confirmed evidence of humans on the Great Plains at 11,000 to 11,500 years ago. That was based on mammoth kill sites in western North America, including the first find near Greeley, Colo., excavated by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The new discoveries could challenge that benchmark.
“If we have evidence of people here more than 12,000 years ago, we have to rethink our ideas about human colonization of North America,” said Hofman. The finds include bones from a now-extinct Ice Age camel and two mammoths. In addition, a rock fragment found with the bones might be a piece of a stone hammer. “Fracture patterns on the bones suggest they were broken by humans who may have been processing them for marrow or to make bone tools,” said Holen. “The radiocarbon dating shows that these finds are a thousand years older than the best documented evidence of humans on the Great Plains.”
The location was probably a camp site that was occupied for a few days or weeks by a small group of nomadic peoples “This location has the potential for shedding new light on the timing of human entry into the Western Hemisphere,” said Mandel. “This could be the oldest site of human activity on the Great Plains.” In addition to the older material, the site has produced artifacts that are about 10,900 to 11,000 years ago, which scientists refer to as Clovis Age. Those artifacts include stone flakes, tools and pieces of mammoth bone. The material probably represents a hunting camp. Some of the tools were made of stone from the Texas panhandle, suggesting the group was highly mobile.
Source: University of Kansas press release, NewsWise (12 February 2005)
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