BY LAND OR BY SEA: HOW EARLY WERE THE AMERICAS INHABITED?
Dale E. Lycan
| Central States Archaeological Societies 2002
How early were the Americas inhabited by humans? As early as the 19th century, professional
archaeologists were excavating American sites that yielded supposed discoveries from the early
Pliocene era of eoliths. Eoliths are naturally broken stones with one or more edges
"Intentionally" modified, worn by use or crudely worked flints, carved bone dating back from 1
to 2.5 million years ago. Most early scientists of that time were committed to the concept of
evolution, and if evolution occurred elsewhere, it occurred here, too. Inevitably, these
amazing discoveries were written off as the remnants of a being more or less resembling man,
but no one was certain. They were more likely natural geo- facts, stones that resemble
artifacts. Scientists of that day had open minds because anthropology and archaeology were in
their infancy. This, however, leads us to the theory that a large number of modern
archaeologists are starting to acknowledge today.
According to popular theory, Siberian hunters crossed over the Bering Strait into Alaska on a
and bridge that existed when the glaciers lowered worldwide sea levels. During this glacial
period, the Canadian ice sheet blocked all southward bound migration until roughly 12,000 years
ago, when the first humans followed a suggested ice-free passage into what is now the United
States. These people were the Clovis hunters, famous for their fluted spear points. Remains of
their stone and bone tool technology were first recognized during the 1920s and 30s in the High
Plains of the Southwest at sites near Folsom and Clovis in east central New Mexico. Their
distinctive fluted spear points have since been found in Alaska, southern Canada, the
contiguous 48 states, Mexico, and South America.
In due course, the Clovis people quickly multiplied and populated the habitable regions of both
North and South America. One site located in the southernmost part of South America is dated to
10,500 years ago. These hunters must have gone from the Arctic, through the tropics, and on to
the near Antarctic in little more than a thousand years! These same Clovis people have been
blamed for the extermination of over seventy percent of all the large mammals that inhabited
the Americas. Clovis sites have been excavated and have produced artifacts made by other
cultures found above the Clovis stratum, but not below it. There have been no irrefutable human
skeletal remains with irrefutable pre-Clovis dates found anywhere in the Americas south of the
former Canadian ice sheet.
However, there are many claims of sites with pre-Clovis human evidence. All of these are marred
by serious questions. Was the dating material used to carbon date contaminated by older carbon?
Was the material really associated with human artifacts, or were they geofacts? The Clovis
hunters, nevertheless, did leave us with undeniable evidence of their widely distributed
culture. The Meadowcroft rock shelter in Pennsylvania, Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, the Butte
Bluff Cave in Idaho, and others are wholeheartedly accepted by modern archaeologists.
Dating Clovis points and sites, however, does not tell us who the first humans to inhabit the
We should note that before World War II, anthropological authorities insisted that all human
beings first entered the Americas about 4000 years ago. Their initial reaction to the Clovis
hunter theory was that the mere mention of the possibility of a greater antiquity was likened
to professional suicide.
It is not surprising that when further evidence of the antiquity of man in the Americas was
finally documented at the Clovis and Folsom sites and other High Plains sites, it was rejected
out of hand by the established authorities--despite the clear nature of the evidence at
multiple locations uncovered by different researchers, seen and attested to by a large variety
of professionals. The ideals of the conservatives of that day left no room for the acceptance of
the evidence uncovered in the field.
The history of rejection of the Clovis and Folsom and other High Plains discoveries is now
seemingly being repeated. Conservative archaeologists of the present day staunchly reject any
form of evidence for a pre-Clovis culture in the Americas. There are now many cases of
archaeological excavations using modern methods, which have yielded dates as great as 30,000
years or older for human inhabitation of the Americas. One example of a site older than 30,000
years involves a fire pit found on California's Santa Rosa Island, off Santa Barbara. It was
investigated by archaeologist Rainer Berger of UCLA. Laboratory testing showed that charcoal
samples taken from the pit contained no measurable carbon 14. This means they are older than
the 40,000-year limit imposed by the conventional radiocarbon dating methods. This find is
significant since the pit contained crude chopping tools, along with the bones of a bull-size
species of mammoths.
Another example was found in northeastern Brazil at Pedra Furada rock shelter. A combined
archaeological team from France and Brazil dug through a stratified 10-foot deposit of sediment
that was found to contain debris from human occupation at all levels. The lowest level included
big circular hearths with large quantities of charcoal and ash. There they also found pebble
tools, denticulate (small tooth or tooth like parts), burins (a pointed chisel-like flint tool),
retouched flakes and double edged flakes, all made from quartz and quartzite. Charcoal from the
lowest hearth yielded carbon-14 dates of 31,700 +- 830 years, and 32,160 +- 1000 years old.
This excavation is of particular interest because it involved a controlled study of stratified
cave deposits yielding hearths, artifacts, and a series of radio carbon dates. This is just a
portion of some of the criteria, often insisted upon by "defenders" of the mainstream
conservative archaeological theories held by the established authorities. It should be noted,
however, that no human skeletal remains were found at either of these ancient sites.
The present method of rendering final judgment on controversial ancient archaeological evidence
by how well it fits with the currently established theories does not seem to be scientifically
healthy. It could be argued that it may do irreparable damage, not only to the progress of
scientific knowledge, but also to the professional reputations of persons who happen to find
controversial evidence. These considerations appear to have played a major role in the negative
treatment of evidence suggesting that man actively occupied the Americas long before the
accepted 12,000 year limit, still favored by the majority of established paleontologists, and
the 30,000 year limit, currently being accepted by a growing minority by today's field
Another theory gaining wide acceptance is the early habitation of the Americas by seafaring
routes. People traveled along landmasses of the Pacific coast. The suggested open glacial
passage at this time is questionable and hard to accept until late Clovis times. Still, there
are sites in South America such as Monte Verde and, farther south, Tierra del Fuego. Sites on
the eastern South American coast suggest early occupation by seafaring peoples. Further evidence
suggests that some seafaring people crossed the Panama land mass and went back north along the
Gulf Shore into eastern North America and Florida.
On the Pacific coast, the Columbia River would have given access to an inland movement into California, Oregon, Washington, and various
points east. This theory simply states that the most rapid and feasible inhabitation process
was by sea along the western coast of both North and South America, simultaneously spreading
east until humans settled the interior and both shores of the Americas. We may never find much
evidence of their inhabitation and may never know without some form of hard based scientific
evidence. The small number of Paleo-American human skeletal remains found in North America
belongs to a modern human species. Anatomically, the skeletal finds are widely diverse, but
most resemble Mongoloid population groups of northeastern Asia. Without human skeletal remains
to study, all we can do is watch site dates that are steadily being corrected in order to
understand how early humans inhabited the Americas.
Of course, being an avocational archaeologist, these views and ideas are my own opinions as to
how and when early man inhabited the Americas. My reading on the subject has convinced me that
humans have occupied the Americas far longer and by different methods than the established
professionals in archaeology and paleontology want us to believe or will professionally admit.
One day, someone, possibly one of our growing number, will find the undeniable evidence that
early humans inhabited and survived in the Americas far longer ago than anyone ever thought
possible. On the other hand, given the political environment where important remains are
regularly being repatriated without study, we may never have the opportunity to find out!
||Kirk corner-notched point made from translucent Knife River chert. The Kirk corner-notched point dates from 9,000 to 6,000 BP. It was reported to have been found in a cave in Kentucky. From the collection of Ben Brady. Photo by Tony Clinton.
Alsoszatal, Petro, J.
1986, New Evidence for the Peopling of the Americas. Orono, Maine, Center for the Study of Early Man, pp. 15-26
Cremo, Michael A.
1998, Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. By Michael Cremo and Richard L. Thompson.
1987, Discover. The American Blitzkreig: Mammoth. June, pp. 82-88
Guidion, N. and Delibrias, G.
1986, Nature. Carbon-14 Dates Point to Man in the Americas 32,000 Years Ago. pp. 769-771.
1977, Early Man Confirmed in America 40,000 Years Ago.
Wright, Carl M.
2001, July, Vol. 48, No. 3. Central States Archaeological Journal, Avocational Archaeology:
Paleo-Geography and Migrations of the First Americans. p. 116-117.
Copyright © C.S.A.S.I.