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2 December 2015
Chile claims oldest stone tools in the Americas

Stone tools, cooked animal and plant remains, and fire pits found at the Monte Verde site in southern Chile provide evidence that the earliest known Americans were established more than 15,000 years ago.
     It is familiar ground for anthropologist Tom Dillehay, who has worked there since 1977. His excavations have yielded a wide variety of evidence of a small human settlement, using stone tool technology that predates the Clovis people by about 1,500 years. Finds include hearths, the remains of local animals, wooden posts from approximately twelve huts, scraps of clothing made of hide, a portion of mastodon meat with preserved DNA, and even a human child's footprint preserved in clay. Dillehay also uncovered possible evidence of a much earlier human presence at a nearby site called MVI, dating to 30,000 years ago.
     Dillehay's findings were initially greeted with skepticism by the archaeological community, but subsequent excavations by other archaeologists at sites in both North and South America have also yielded evidence supporting an earlier human migration through the Americas.
     The team recovered a total of 39 stone objects and revealed 12 small fire pits associated with bones and some edible plant remains, including nuts and grasses. The bones tended to be small fragments, broken and scorched, indicating that the animals had been cooked. They often came from very large animals, like prehistoric llamas or mastodons. The objects were radiocarbon dated and most were found to range in age from more than 14,000 to almost 19,000 years old.
     The wide scattering suggests the people were nomadic hunter-gatherers who might have camped for only a night or two before moving on. "Where they're going, we don't know, and where they're coming from, we don't know, but this would have been a passageway from the coast to the foothills of the Andes," Dillehay said. "It appears that these people were there in the summer months," Dillehay adds. Only later, around 15,000 years ago, did the climate warm enough to support the kind of longer-term settlement found at MVII.
     Together the findings support an earlier peopling of the Americas, although questions inevitably remain about how the hemisphere was settled.

Edited from Science (18 November 2015), Popular Archaeology (19 November 2015)

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