Evidence of Pre-Clovis Peopling of the Americas Has Been Discovered in a Sinkhole

May 17, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Jessi Halligan, assistant professor of archaeology at Florida State University
Photo credit: Bruce Palmer/Florida State. Florida State University Assistant Professor Jessi Halligan.

Mastodon bones and stone tools are revising US prehistory.

Archaeologists diving into a sinkhole in a Florida river have discovered a treasure trove of artifacts showing that humans settled the southeastern United States 1,500 years earlier than originally believed.

Among their finds was a biface, which is a stone knife with sharp edges on both sides that was used for cutting and butchering animals, and various other tools alongside mastodon bones. As described in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, one tusk showed clear signs of having been cut and removed from the skull, possibly to gain access to the edible tissue at its base.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that all of the tools dated to about 14,550 years ago, making this site on the Aucilla River — only around 45 minutes from Tallahassee — the oldest known site of human life in the southeastern United States.

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"The new discoveries at Page-Ladson show that people were living in the Gulf Coast area much earlier than believed," said Michael Waters of Texas A&M University, co-author of the paper, in a press release.

Prior to this discovery, a group of people known as the Clovis were widely believed to have been the first inhabitants of the Americas when they settled there 13,200 years ago.

Humans were thought to have originally crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age, over a land bridge linking Siberia to Alaska. But the age of the newly found artifacts in Florida indicates that other migration routes were probably used.

"The only logical way people could have come to Florida by 14,600 years ago is if their ancestors entered the Americas by boat along the Pacific Coast," Waters told Discovery News.

"It's pretty exciting,” added study first author Jessi Halligan from Florida State University. “We thought we knew the answers to how and when we got here, but now the story is changing."

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