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21 October 2011
New evidence for earliest North Americans

A spear tip embedded in a mastodon bone found in Washington state (USA) indicates that humans were hunting in North America 13,800 years ago - 800 years earlier than previously thought.
     The projectile, made of bone or antler, was first analyzed by archaeologist Carl Gustafson in the 1970s. He proposed that it was man-made and about 14,000 years old. However, at the time, it was believed that humans hadn't arrived in North America at that point, and his ideas were widely dismissed. Other explanations for the bone was that it was a part of the mastodon's skeleton or a bone chip from a fight with another animal.
     A few years ago, Professor Michael Waters from Texas A&M University arranged to reexamine Gustafson's mastodon specimen using a CT scanner. "The 3D rendering clearly showed that the object was sharpened to a tip," Waterssaid. "It was clearly the end of a bone projectile point." Modern dating technology put the age of the specimen at 13,800 years old. "The Manis site is an early kill site," Waters said in a university release. "The evidence from the Manis site shows that people were hunting mastodons with bone weapons before the Clovis stone spear point."
     The researchers determined that the point was likely at least 27 centimeters long, similar in length to those of later, Clovis-age projectile points that were used in throwing or thrusting weapons made by Paleolithic hunters of North America. Clovis is the name given to the distinctive stone hunting tools made by the Clovis people starting around 13,000 years ago and found in Texas and the rest of the United States and northern Mexico.
     "Our research now shows that other hunters were present at least 1,000 years prior to the Clovis culture. Therefore, it was not a sudden war or a quick slaughtering of the mastodons by the Clovis culture, which made the species disappear," said Eske Willerslev, a key lead researcher with Waters on the Manis mastodon study. "We can now conclude that the hunt for the animals stretched out over a much longer period of time. At this time, however, we do not know if it was the man-made hunt for the mastodons, mammoths and other large animals from the so-called mega-fauna, which caused them to become extinct and disappear," Willerslev added.
     "The evidence from the Manis site is helping to reshape our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the last continent to be occupied by modern humans," Waters concluded.

Edited from UPI, Global Post, Popular Archaeology (20 October 2011), Forbes (21 October 2011)

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