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Friday, February 11, 2005

Pushing Back the Dates: Human Presence in North America

Excavations being conducted at a site near the Savannah River in South Carolina may debunk the conventional theories long held by scholars that humans (modern homo sapiens) began inhabiting the North American continent approximately 12,000 years ago. The most popular theory suggests that humans began arriving via the Bering Land Bridge around 12,000 years ago after the closing of the Ice Age exposed negotiable land for their trek from points east in Asia. The findings, if confirmed and accepted by the scholarly community, suggest that America was inhabited by humans about 34,000 years earlier than the 12,000 year benchmark date. Albert Goodyear of the University of South Carolina has been directing excavations there since 1998, but recent laboratory results from radiocarbon dating of organic materials found in association with flint blade and tool chip artifacts unearthed at the site indicate that the artifacts are close to 50,000 years old. Moreover, he maintains that the tools resemble those found in Asia at about the same time period. "Man is a traveler, an explorer," he says. "In retrospect, it's almost absurd to insist that people could never get into North America before the last Ice Age."

Goodyear's discoveries are not alone. Excavations in Chile and Oklahoma suggest that humans were present as early as 30,000 years ago, and excavations at Cactus Hill in Virginia and Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania have also pushed back the dates. These excavations will change the scope and focus of many archaeological investigative efforts as american archeology moves through the 21st Century. New possibilities for human entry are being considered, such as a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska that may have existed before the last Ice Age, or maritime activity involving coastal fishermen who gradually island-hopped their way into the Americas.


An excellent book on the topic at Amazon.com: The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology's Greatest Mystery . Once I started reading, I couldn't stop!


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