30 April, 2017
The study is considered controversial among scientists, according to the Nature journal, largely because it "would force a dramatic rethink of when and how the Americas were first settled - and by who".
But more than 20 years later, the site, called Cerutti (after one of its discoverers Richard Cerutti of San Diego Natural History Museum), may be rewriting the understanding of human presence in the New World.
"When we first discovered the site, there was strong physical evidence that placed humans alongside extinct Ice Age megafauna", said Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology and director of PaleoServices at the San Diego Natural History Museum, as well as an author on the paper. "Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here much earlier than commonly accepted".
Since its initial discovery in 1992, this site has been the subject of research by top scientists to date the fossils accurately and evaluate microscopic damage on bones and rocks that researchers now consider indicative of human activity. Researchers attempted to date the fossils that eventually showed humanlike behavior from about 130,000 years ago, when bones and teeth of an elephant-like mastodon were evidently smashed with rocks. They couldn't use traditional carbon dating because the mastodon's collagen had eroded.
The finding poses a lot more questions than answers.
Digital 3-D models of a selection of specimens pointing toward human association at this site can be viewed interactively at the University of Michigan Online Repository of Fossils (umorf.ummp.lsa.umich.edu).
It was a tidy theory, but one that's now in upheaval as more and more evidence has surfaced that humans must have come sooner, and over water.
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"How did these early hominins get here?" The result: 130,700 years old, give or take 9,400 years. "As a outcome, sea levels dropped dramatically, exposing land that lies underwater today".
Holen said humans may have walked from Siberia to Alaska on a now-gone Bering Sea land bridge or perhaps travelled by boat along the Asian coast, then over to Alaska and down North America's western coastline to California. Scale bars - 5cm (a), 2cm (b, g, h), 1mm (c, i), 2mm (d), 10cm (e, f). In experiments, they used that method to break elephant bones and produced identical fracture patterns. If they were of another species, it could reshape the way we think about the abilities and history of our long-gone close cousins, said study co-author Richard Fullagar, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia.
Team member Steven Holen from the Center for American Paleolithic Research in South Dakota explained that the clues paint a clear picture of what possibly happened. The stones "showed signs of impact", Smithsonian Magazine said, and the bones were found piled up right around these stones.
The remains were found at the Cerutti Mastodon site, which dates from the early late Pleistocene. Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona in Tucson said the paper shows the bones could have been broken the way the authors assert, but they haven't demonstrated that's the only way. "We were able to put together virtual refits that allow exploration of how the multiple fragments from one hammerstone fit back together".
"We have conducted two experiments breaking elephant bones with large rock hammers and anvils", Dr. Holen told the United Kingdom media outlet.