Science

Mastodon bones push arrival of early humans in America back by 115,000 years

Mastodon bones push arrival of...
Artist depiction of an American mastodon
Artist depiction of an American mastodon
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Jawbone of a 130,000-year-old mastodon found in Southern Calfornia
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Jawbone of a 130,000-year-old mastodon found in Southern Calfornia
Mastodon bones and tusks found next to what are believed to be stone hammers used by early humans
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Mastodon bones and tusks found next to what are believed to be stone hammers used by early humans
Artist depiction of an American mastodon
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Artist depiction of an American mastodon

When did humans arrive in America? It's been a hot topic in scientific circles for the last 20 years or so, pegged anywhere from 13,500 to 16,500 years ago. Now new research from the Cerutti Mastodon Discovery, an archeological site in Southern California, blows those estimates away by suggesting early hominids arrived on the continent as early as 130,000 years ago. To give some perspective, it's believed humans migrated out of Africa 125,000 years ago at the earliest.

The crux of the argument by the scientists, led by the San Diego Natural History Museum, stems from the sharply broken bones, tusks and molars of a mastodon found at a paleontological site first discovered in 1992 as a result of a freeway expansion. Also found buried at the site were large stones which appeared to be used as hammers and anvils. Further research showed that the bones were broken while still fresh by blows from the hammer stones that appeared strategically aimed to get at any marrow inside. With such evidence of human activity, the site suddenly became an archeological dig.

At the time of the find, dating techniques weren't sophisticated enough to reliably assign an age to the bones, and by association, the tool-users who acted upon them. State-of-the-art radiometric dating equipment was used in 2014, however, to determine a more reliable and definitive age of the mastodon bones of around 130,000 years old, give or take 9,400 years. At the same time, experts studying microscopic damage to the bones and rock determined it was indeed consistent with human activity.

The researchers even went so far as to conduct experiments on the bones of large mammals, including elephants, to study breakage patterns and determine how such fractures could be made by early humans. They discovered that a blow from a hammer stone on a fresh elephant limb produced the same patterns of breakage as on the mastodon bones found at the site.

The results of all of this research has now been published in the journal Nature.

"This discovery is rewriting our understanding of when humans reached the New World," said Judy Gradwohl, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Natural History Museum. "The evidence we found at this site indicates that some hominin species was living in North America 115,000 years earlier than previously thought. This raises intriguing questions about how these early humans arrived here and who they were."

For decades, the prevailing theory for human migration to America was via the Beringia land bridge over the Bering Strait from Siberia, dating to around 13,500 years ago. Later discoveries challenged that idea, pushing the arrival of humans back by several millennia. The discovery of the scientists at the Cerutti Mastodon site opens up more questions than it answers, starting with who these early hominins were, how they got here, and what happened to them.

"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. "This was significant in and of itself and a 'first' in San Diego County. 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."

Source: San Diego Natural History Museum

11 comments
ProfessorWhat
So... . . . what's the new PC preferred name for the Not-So-First Nation people gonna be now??
Mark Hays
There is an error and poor wording at the end of the first paragraph. Modern "humans" (homo sapiens) did not migrate out of Africa 125,000 years ago -- but our ancestors (homo erectus) left Africa at least 1.7 million years ago, and we have found evidence of their migration as far as the Republic of Georgia, China, Java and Indonesia. Homo erectus also used simple coarse paleolithic stone tools and shell tools. So hominids were roaming far and wide well before this discovery in Southern California.
HoppyHopkins
I have always said, "EVERYONE AND HIS DOG, DISCOVERED AMERICA" This just pushes the date of the earliest discoverer back a bit, that is all. Probably the ancestors of Sasquatch and would explain the huge points used by the Clovis people, they were just arrow heads. Even using the most recent estimate of 120,600 years ago, it is conceivable that modern humans made it that early, but they surely would have had to use some sort of boat or canoe to do it. Which is why I like Sasquatch
Brian M
The conclusive evidence was a small scratching on one of the mastodon bones - it was a little Apple symbol.....
Bob
So, what about the dates that are being taught as fact at our schools? I see no problem when theories are presented as theories but when theories are presented as facts, then I have a problem with it.
KarJam
Theories are factual and there is nothing wrong with what is being taught. Scientific theory, until this evidence was found, has been that the earliest proof of human activity dates from approximately 13,000 years ago. It is not stated, nor is it part of the theory of North American settlement by humans, that no humans lived here before then. Too often the journalists who write about science in the majority of daily papers do not understand, well enough, what they are writing about. Thus, the relatively new misconception of the definition of "theory" - hint: it is not a hypothesis. People need to become educated about the proper definitions of these words and start using them correctly so that, someday, we may stop hearing "Well, it's only a theory."
Robert in Vancouver
So this just re-confirms that native Canadians and Americans are immigrants same as everyone else who lives in North America. We need to stop pretending they were 'always' here and therefore deserve special treatment. They were here first. So what, that means nothing.
Douglas Jack
Hopefully we learn from this 'small' 115,000 year mistake of colonial anthropology & archaeology. 1st Let's finally acknowledge that colonial anthropology has an 'agenda' to support the worldview of oligarch financiers, who control funding as well as a genocidal populace who have colluded in the attempted theft & destruction of 130,000 years of known history. 2nd Let's allow for a much greater margin of error when we propose 'theories' such as Bering Straight & really our whole colonial concept of human history. Louis, Richard, Mary Leakey warned anthropology 50 years ago, not to draw so many conclusions from bones as to so-called: progression, evolution or intelligence. Jane Goodall their protege took this truth much further to frame life as the primary intelligence & any human as holding but an infinitesimal part worthless detached from the whole. If humanity is able to look back beyond the violent thermal nuclear or hydrogen bomb extinction which oligarch owned NATO is driving the world towards, we might appreciate the diverse kinds of brilliance & abundance which love & life provides for us in alignment with nature. Indigene Community focuses upon humanity's long universal worldwide 'indigenous' (Latin 'self-generating') heritage of peace & abundance. Did you know that Sylvalization's (L 'sylva' = 'tree') 3-dimensional indigenous Polyculture Orchards are 100 times or 10,000% more productive of food, materials, energy & water-cycle than 2-D 'agriculture' (L 'ager' = 'field'). Polyculture Orchards photosynthesize 92-98% of solar energy converted into food, materials, energy & water-cycle. Polyculture Orchards (agro-forestry, forest-gardens etc.) is 100 times (10.000%) more productive than 2-D agriculture '(Latin' ager '=' field '). Polyculture creates continental cold drawing warm-moist ocean winds inland where 60% of water transfer is through condensation upon trillions of square kilometres of fractal leaf surface. Rain/snow only accounts for 40% of water transfer. Agriculture photosynthesizes only 2-8% of solar energy with the remaining 90% of solar energy reflected back into the troposphere where It pushes winds from the continent to the sea creating permanent desert. Tree roots descend 10s of meters deep as the canopy into the earth's substrate where they mine minerals, pump water & cultivate deep nutrient colonies. Polyculture orchards retain massive amounts of water in plant bodies & root systems so as to percolate water slowly through the whole living biosphere & provide the backbone for abundance of all species. This climate & biosphere knowledge is just a small part of what indigenous humanity understood & acted in harmony with perhaps for longer than modern colonially indoctrinated humans might imagine. Discover your ancestry apart from the alienation which colonialism has indoctrinated you into. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/1-indigenous-welcome-orchard-food-production-efficiencies
Bob
Sorry KarJam about your misconception of the definition of "theory" - hint: it is not a law.
Albert L
Interesting, I have often believed humans made not only the mastodon extinct in America but also the horse. This easily supports that possibility. I hope now the environmentalists will stop trying to remove the horse from public lands as non native species that went extinct on their own.