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New findings suggest humans arrived in North America 1,000 years earlier than previously thought

Stone tools and other artifacts found in archaeological excavations at the Cooper’s Ferry site in western Idaho, United States, suggest that humans lived in the area at least 16,000 years ago, more than a thousand years earlier than scientists they thought. These tools would therefore be the first evidence of human presence in North America.

The findings, published in Scienceadd weight to the hypothesis that early human migration to the Americas followed a coastal route across the Pacific.

According to Loren Davis, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon and lead author of the study, the Cooper’s Ferry site is situated along the Salmon River, which is a tributary of the larger Columbia River watershed. The first peoples moving south along the Pacific coast would have encountered the Columbia River as the first place under the glaciers where they could easily walk and paddle to North America.. Essentially, the Columbia River corridor was the first off-ramp of a Pacific Coast migration route.

Location of Cooper’s Ferry and possible migration route / photo Loren Davis

The dating and location of the Cooper’s Ferry site is consistent and most easily explained as the result of an early migration on the Pacific coast.

The site includes two excavation areas; the published finds refer to artifacts found in Area A. At the bottom of that area, researchers discovered several hundred artifacts, including stone tools, charcoal, fire-cracked rock, and bone fragments likely from game animals. medium to large body. They also found evidence of a fire pit, a food processing station, and other wells created as part of domestic activities at the site.

Aerial view of Cooper’s Ferry / photo Loren Davis

Over the past two summers, the team of students and researchers reached into the lower layers of the site, which, as expected, contained some of the oldest artifacts discovered.

The results showed that many artifacts from the lower layers are associated with dates in the range of 15,000 to 16,000 years old.

The dates of the oldest artifacts challenge the theory about early migration to the Americas, which suggested that people crossed from Siberia into North America and crossed through an opening in the ice sheet near present-day Dakotas. The hypothesis is that the ice-free corridor opened 14,800 years ago, well after the date of the oldest artifacts found at Cooper’s Ferry.

PhotoLoren Davis

According to Davis now we have proof that people were in Idaho before that corridor was opened. This evidence leads us to the conclusion that the earliest peoples moved south from the continental ice sheets along the Pacific coast..

The team also found tooth fragments from an extinct horse known to have lived in North America at the end of the last ice age. These tooth fragments, along with radiocarbon dating, show that Cooper’s Ferry is the oldest radiocarbon dated site in North America that includes artifacts associated with the bones of extinct animals.

The oldest artifacts discovered at Cooper’s Ferry are also very similar in form to the oldest artifacts found in Northeast Asia, and particularly Japan, from where early settlers may have arrived on the Pacific coast of North America.


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