Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Human occupation of North America pushed back over 100,000 years

Fascinating archaeological results announced in the US.

In 1992, archaeologists were called in during renovation of the San Diego freeway to do some test excavations.  They found what appeared to be an abandoned campsite, where humans had left stone tools and hammered mastodon bones behind.

Of itself, this wasn't too unusual. It's apparently fairly well-established that humans were hunting mastodons in the Americas as early as 15,000 years ago.But the numbers derived from various dating techniques suggested that the bones had been buried more than 100,000 years ago. That was startling.

After 24 years and multiple tests, researchers now say that an unknown type of early human lived in California roughly 130,000 years ago! That dramatically changes our understanding of the human settlement of North America, pushing back the date of human settlement by more than 100,000 years. This does not mean, however, that those early settlers were modern humans. Based on what we know at present, they were probably Denisovans. .

This story from arstechnica provides further information, while this recently released YouTube video provides a very good summary of the story. Further comments follow the video.

Both the story and video show the painstaking work that has to go into this type of discovery, especially when the results are so startling. As a consequence of that type of work, our understanding of  the long human past is evolving rapidly and is likely to continue to evolve in ways that we can't quite foresee.


Johnb said...

Knowledge is indeed increasing apace Jim. Beringia was a refugia from Ice Age glaciations many times in the later Pleistocene and on each occasion there was a land bridge roughly a thousand kilometers in width. Each occasion would have presented opportunity to transit between continents. To my mind with ongoing discoveries in Asia and Indonesia in particular, the current orthodoxy of the human story is being put into flux. When you research the evidence on the emergence of Homo sapient you find it isn't as established as you assume from reading the universal adoption of the Out of Africa hypothesis. I increasingly suspect that is more to do with where the volume of work to date has been undertaken on the back of the established work on earlier sp. classified as Homo. I understand there is no African attribution to either H. Neaderthalis or H. Denisova, if that is correct then you have two H.sp who evolved outside Africa. H floriensis being another, why not another., they could all have evolved outside Africa from an African stem. As always much yet to understand.

Jim Belshaw said...

It's very interesting indeed, John. So far, I think!, out of Africa is still the best assumption for modern humans based on DNA. But the growing evidence for other human species is fascinating. When I first had to study this stuff all those years ago at UNE, the focus was very sapiens. It was also a bit boring. Who would have thought that we would be reaching for a pre-sapiens human history?!