|26 April 2004
Study shows ancient coastal life in California
Rubbish dug a generation ago from an oceanside archaeological site first occupied around 8,000 BCE in California (USA) is being re-examined for clues that could bolster the theory some of the first Americans to stream into the New World hugged the Pacific coast, reaping the bounty of the land and the sea.
Anthropologist Terry Jones and his colleagues began poring over 15,000 broken bones and shells, salvaged in excavations hastily carried out 36 years ago to make way for construction of a nuclear power plant on the Central California coast. Now, more exhaustive analysis could support the controversial idea that some pioneering Paleo-Indians moved into North America along the West Coast, skipping inland routes that traditionally have been considered the most likely avenues into the continent from Asia.
At the time the site was originally excavated, archaeologists focused on the rich assortment of skeletons, stone tools, fish hooks, whistles and other artifacts pulled from the layers upon layers - stacked more than 12 feet deep - of detritus. They carried out only a basic analysis of the accompanying bits and pieces of long-dead otters, seals, deer, fish and other creatures and then placed them in storage. "The bones have been lying in bags since 1968, waiting for someone to look at them," Jones said. That garbage now may prove to be gold.
Scientists believe the collection of bone and shell is unparalleled in both its size and its sweep, since it traces - apparently without interruption - a staggering 10,000 years or more of persistent occupation of the site, which sits perched on a bluff 60 feet above a half-moon cove. "It was certainly one of the major villages along the entire Central Coast," said Roberta Greenwood, the Los Angeles archaeologist who led the original dig.
The dig site lies about 12 miles southwest of modern-day San Luis Obispo. It is partly occupied by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s hulking Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Only a small percentage of the site was excavated; the bulk likely remains intact, Greenwood said. Although little heralded, Diablo Canyon may be the oldest mainland coastal site anywhere in North America - something further carbon dating planned by Jones could confirm.
The remains dug from six locations strung along a short stretch of coast represent the dozens and dozens of species that nourished the native Americans who occupied Diablo Canyon from as early as 8420 BCE. Even older remains, dating as far back as perhaps 11,000 BCE, have been found on the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast. That suggests the people who called the region home were navigating the open ocean nearly contemporaneously with the Clovis people, who hunted large mammals farther inland.
Archaeologists have yet to find any coastal evidence that predates what's been discovered at Clovis sites farther inland - nor might they with any ease. The rise in sea level that inundated the Bering land bridge that connected Asia with the Americas presumably flooded any coastal sites that might have been occupied before about 12,000 BCE.
Source: Marin Independent Journal (25 April 2004)
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