But it seems they failed to permanently colonize the continent.

It is generally believed that the early pioneers crossed to America between 16,000 and 13,000 years ago. But a new study is now brushing this off the table. “Our findings show that humans were found on the continent as early as 15,000 years earlier,” argues researcher Lorena Becerra-Valdivia.

Chiquihuite Cave
The researchers are based on archaeological research in the Mexican Chiquihuite Cave. More than 2,000 stone tools and other artifacts have been excavated here over the past decade. The found objects are very different from other artifacts and have never been seen in America before. Using carbon dating, the researchers then made a frantic attempt to find out the age of the artifacts. And this shows that the oldest objects from the Last Glacial Maximum – the peak of the Ice Age – stem from 26,000 to 18,000 years ago.

Excavated stone tool made from a greenish crystallized limestone found in the Chiquihuite Cave. 
Image: Ciprian Ardelean

The Chiquihuite Cave is located at a high altitude in the Astillero Mountains of northern central Mexico. The cave is located at about 2750 meters above sea level. And that is quite remarkable compared to other archaeological sites. Most American archaeological sites include open areas, places where many megafauna have been found killed, or shallow rock shelters.

It means that people were probably in the area much earlier. Because it also takes time to fully inhabit the cave and to manufacture the objects. Using various statistics and methods, the researchers estimate that people arrived in the Mexican cave between 33,000 and 31,000 years ago. These people probably made the crossing by sea, since the northern parts of North America were impenetrable and closed off from East Asia by an enormous ice cap until 13,000 years ago. “These findings help us understand the initial human occupation of America better than ever before,” said Becerra-Valdivia.

The findings are very interesting. “The finds in the Chiquihuite Cave are extremely exciting,” said researcher Ciprian Ardelean. “Archeology is older than anything we’ve seen before, and the stone tools are of a type unique in America.” At the same time, the researcher also emphasizes the mystery behind the results. “It is curious that the site was occupied by humans so much earlier than others,” he continues. “We think this is a ‘failed colonization’. One that may not have left a genetically detectable heritage. ”

Research in the Chiquihuite Cave. Image: Devlin A. Gandy

Distribution So
it seems that these early pioneers failed to permanently colonize the continent. The researchers used these findings to subsequently create a detailed, chronological timeline for the arrival and distribution of people in North America. Different ages of found objects from Chiquihuite Cave have been linked to dated artifacts found at other archaeological sites in North America and Beringia; an old land bridge that connected the continent to Asia long ago. Although humans were probably present in the region before, during and after the Last Glacial Maximum, the analysis shows that widespread human occupation did not start until much later. And this during a period of abrupt global warming.

“About 14,700 years ago, people only became visible in the archaeological archive,” says Becerra-Valdivia. “This is probably due to the increase in the population.” And as humans multiplied, large mammals such as mammoths, different horses, and camels disappeared from the face of the earth. The authors therefore suggest that the increase in the human population appears to be related to a catastrophic loss of this megafauna.

All in all, the new findings cast doubt on long-established views of the discovery of America. So people may have reached America as early as 30,000 years ago. And that is much earlier than scientists had thought possible so far. Archaeological research in Central and South America continues. “A combination of new excavations and advanced archaeological science allows us to rewrite the story of the colonization of America,” said researcher Tom Higham. “The discovery that people were present in the area more than 30,000 years ago raises a series of important new questions about who exactly these people were, how they lived, how widespread they were and what their ultimate fate was.”

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