For decades palaeoanthropologists studying the Americas were dominated by a single idea; that nobody entered the continents before those people who used the elegant fluted spear blades first found near Clovis, New Mexico in the 1930s. These were eventually dated at a maximum age of around 13 ka before the present. One reason for accepting the Clovis people as the first Americans, apart from the lack of conclusive evidence for any earlier occupation, was the fact that glaciers blocked the route from the Bering land bridge of the last Ice age until about 13 ka. But migration may have been possible as far back as 30 ka along the Pacific coast after people crossed the Beringia flatlands exposed by fallen sea-level . There have been suggestions of pre-Clovis sites, but none have carried the weight of evidence to shift the majority from their position. This now has to change because of very high-quality evidence from a site in Texas (Waters, M.R.and 12 others 2011. The Buttermilk Creek complex and the origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas. Science, v. 331, p. 1599-1603). The site in question is in sediments that lie beneath those containing Clovis style tools. In fact it has yielded more than 15 thousand items that are well made, but bear little comparison with the iconic Clovis tools. Almost 50 optically stimulated luminescence (OSL, based on time of burial after exposure to sunlight) dates show a clear increase in age with depth in the excavations, some reaching back as far as 33 ka. The authors favour a conservative approach and restrict their estimated ages to those artefacts found in a well defined stratigraphic horizon, which span the range 13.2 to 15.5 ka. The Clovis-first case seems to be closed, but a new phase in North America aimed at pushing back the time of first human colonising will undoubtedly begin now.
- First Americans arrived 2500 years before we thought (newscientist.com)
- Humans arrived in North America 2,500 years earlier than thought (guardian.co.uk)