Tracing the first North American hunters

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In a new article released today in the internationally renowned scientific journal “Science,” researchers say “A new and astonishing chapter has been added to North American prehistory in regards to the first hunters and their hunt for the now-extinct giant mammoth-like creatures — the mastodons.”


The new chapter opens in Sequim.


Professor Eske Willerslev’s team from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in collaboration with Michael Waters’ team at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, has shown that the hunt for large mammals occurred at least 800-1,000 years before previously assumed. This new study concludes that the first-known hunters in North America now can be dated back at least 13,800 years.


“I am sure that especially the Native Americans are pleased with the results of the study. It is further proof that humans have been present in North America for longer than previously believed. The ‘Clovis First’ theory, which many scientists swore to just a few years back, has finally been buried with the conclusions of this study,” said Willerslev.


Tools and artifacts found in Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s were carbon dated at 13,000 years old. Many, perhaps most, scientists in the field long believed they were evidence left by the first human inhabitants of North America.

A little pre-history

In the late 1970s, an adult male mastodon was excavated from a pond at the Manis site near Sequim. Waters said the distribution of the bones and the discovery that some of the bones were broken suggested that the elephant had been killed and butchered by human hunters.


However, he explained, no stone tools or weapons were found at the site. The key artifact from the site was what appeared to be a bone point sticking out of one of the ribs, but the artifact and the age of the site were disputed.


Waters contacted the original excavator, Carl Gustafson, about performing new tests on the rib with the bone point. New radiocarbon dating confirms the site was 13,800 years old. High resolution CT scanning and three-dimensional modeling also confirm that the embedded bone is a spear point, and DNA bone protein analysis shows the point was made of mastodon bone.


“The Manis site is an early kill site,” Waters concluded.


The mastodon remains in Sequim, reconstructed as part of a large exhibit at Museum and Arts Center at 175 W. Cedar Street.

Clovis culture challenged

Clovis culture has long been viewed as a type of common culture ancestral to all Native American tribes in North America.


Willerslev said, “Our research now shows that other hunters were present at least 1,000 years prior to the Clovis culture. Therefore, it was not a sudden war or a quick slaughtering of the mastodons by the Clovis culture which made the species disappear. We can now conclude that the hunt for the animals stretched out over a much longer period of time.


“At this time, however, we do not know if it was the man-made hunt for the mastodons, mammoths and other large animals from the so-called mega-fauna, which caused them to become extinct and disappear. Maybe the reason was something complete different, for instance the climate.”



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