Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Small, Human Valentine

1663 Vincenzo Ferdinando Ranuzzi as Amor by Elisabetta Sirani

Who was Saint Valentine?

Pair of Lovers, c 1480 Attributed to the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet or theMaster of the Housebook (German artist, fl c 1470-1500)

It is said that on February 14, somewhere around the year 270 A.D., Valentine, a priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. Well, Chaucer said it was February 14th, and that's good enough for me.

Rome's emperor was called Claudius the Cruel for good reason. During his reign, he involved his empire in many unpopular & bloody campaigns. Claudius needed to maintain a strong, loyal army, but he was having a difficult time enticing soldiers to join his traveling troops. Claudius believed that strong, young Roman men were unwilling to join the army, because they wanted to stay close to their loves.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages & engagements in Rome. If he could have banned sex between lovers, I suppose he would have. Priest Valentine, incensed by his emperor's cold decree, defied Claudius continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When the disobedient priest's actions were discovered, Valentine was arrested & dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs, so that he might suffer a little for his disloyalty to his supreme emperor, & then to have his head cut off. The sentence was said to be carried out on February 14.

Legend has it that, while in jail Valentine became enamoured with his jailer’s daughter, who was blind. The jailer asked Valentine if his God could restore daughter’s sight. They prayed together & the young woman regained full sight. Reportedly, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter signing it "From Your Valentine." No, I do not know the extent of the priest's relationship with the jailer's daughter, & I do not wish to know.

For his great service to loyalty & truth & love, the church named Valentine a saint after his death.

Well, now, there is some debate about how the date February 14th came about; and there also seems to be some question about the exact identity of St. Valentine. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February." One was a priest in Rome, the 2nd was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy), & the 3rd St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Perhaps it is just coincidence, but probably not,that the date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. During these popular celebrations, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to all the silliness of the Feast of Lupercalia, & he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.And to this day, February 14 became a date for exchanging love messages, poems, & beautiful gifts such as flowers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Candlemas - The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

11C Menologion of Basil Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is an early biblical episode in the life of the infant Jesus, describing his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to officially induct him into Judaism, that is celebrated by many Western Christian Churches on the holiday of Candlemas. (Luke 2:23–40).

In some liturgical churches, the Compline on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Anglican Communion, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is celebrated on February 2 or as close as possible  

According to the gospel, Mary & Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Christmas to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth & to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to the Torah (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12–15, etc.). Luke explicitly says that Joseph & Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb; Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." 

Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they encountered Simeon. The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). Simeon then uttered the prayer which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus: "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, & for glory to your people Israel". (Luke 2:29–32).

In art, early images concentrated on the moment of meeting with Simeon, typically at the entrance to the Temple. In the West, beginning in the 8C or 9C, a different depiction at an altar emerged, where Simeon eventually by the Late Middle Ages came to be shown wearing the elaborate vestments attributed to the Jewish High Priest, & conducting a liturgical ceremony surrounded by the family & the elderly prophetess Anna. In the West, Simeon is often already holding the infant, or the moment of handover is shown; in Eastern images Mary is more likely still to hold Jesus.

This parchment 1310-1320 image of The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple in a Missal originates from East Anglia, one of the earliest examples of a Missal of an English source. Sarum Missals were books produced by the Church during the Middle Ages for celebrating Mass throughout the year. National Library of Wales.
15C South German Depiction of The Presentation of Jesus at The Temple

Monday, January 25, 2021

Farmers Discover Rare Statue of Pre-Hispanic Woman in Mexican Citrus Grove


 Farmers Discover Rare Statue of Pre-Hispanic Woman in Mexican Citrus Grove

On New Year's Day, farmers in Mexico uncovered a sculpture dated to between roughly 1450 and 1521 A.D. (INAH)  By Isis Davis-Marks in Smihsonianmag.com 1/14/2021

On New Year’s Day, farmers in the Huasteca region of Mexico’s Gulf Coast were ploughing soil in a citrus grove when they discovered something strange. After hitting an object they initially assumed was a rock, the group shoveled deeper, ultimately unearthing a six-foot-tall limestone statue of a Mesoamerican woman, according to a statement from the country’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

As the Associated Press reports, the statue likely dates to between roughly 1450 and 1521 A.D. After examining the artifact, INAH experts determined that it was the first of its kind to be found in the region.  The area where it was found was not previously known to be an archeological site, and the stone statue may have been moved from some unknown original site.

Locals excavated the figurine between the pre-Hispanic Haustec ruins of El Tajín and the Aztec city of Tuxpan, in an area not previously identified as an archaeological site. Given the absence of similar historical objects in the grove, the team suggests the sculpture, which appears to shows Aztec influences, truly may have been moved there from its original location.

In the statement, as translated by the AP, archaeologist María Eugenia Maldonado Vite says the work could depict “a ruler, based on her posture and attire, [rather] than a goddess.”  Maldonado adds that she could also be “a late fusion of the Teem goddesses with the representations of women of high social status or politician in the Huasteca.”

The supine subject wears an ornate headdress, a necklace with a circular adornment known as an oyohualli, a long shirt and a skirt that grazes her ankles. (As Live Science’s Laura Geggel points out, the headdress is reminiscent of one worn by Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano.) The statue may depict an elite ruler or a fusion of a goddess and ruler. (INAH)

“The style of the young woman from Amajac is similar to representations of Huastec goddesses of the Earth and fertility, but with an external influence, possibly [the indigenous group] Nahua,” says Maldonado in the statement, as translated by Live Science.

Though she’s shown resting in a peaceful position, the woman’s open-mouthed, wide-eyed expression is closer to a scream than a smile. Originally, Maldonado notes, the statue probably had obsidian inlays in place of its now-hollow eye sockets.

As Nathan Falde writes for Ancient Origins, the Huastec people who likely created the sculpture originally descended from the Maya. The group settled in the northeast region of the Gulf Coast around 1500 B.C. and created their own distinct culture—albeit with some Maya influences, according to a 2006 Arqueología Mexicana article by Felipe Solís Olguín.

Around the 15th century A.D., the neighboring Aztec civilization began encroaching on Huastec land in a series of military campaigns that ultimately resulted in the latter’s defeat, per Ancient Origins. (The Spanish conquest later decimated both Indigenous groups.) As a result of this contact, Aztec culture may have had some influence on Huastec artisans. Aztec sculptors also created stone figurines, many of which depicted deities connected to fertility or agricultural rites, as Mark Cartwright pointed out in a 2014 Ancient History Encyclopedia article.

If the newly unearthed statue does, in fact, portray an elite woman, not a goddess, she will join the ranks of quite a few female rulers depicted in pre-Hispanic artifacts.

In 1994 in the Mayan ruin site of Palenque, archaeologists found the tomb of a woman dubbed The Red Queen because of the red pigment covering her tomb. But it has never been firmly established that the woman, whose tomb dates from between 600 and 700 A.D., was a ruler of Palenque.

Susan Gillespie, an anthropology professor at the University of Florida, said there “there are quite a few pre-Hispanic depictions of elite women and female rulers elsewhere, best known among the Classic Maya but also in Classic Zapotec bas-reliefs and Postclassic Mixtec codices. Colonial era Aztec documents mentioned women ‘rulers’ or at least holders of the crown to pass on to their successors … so that is not a surprise,” Gillespie added. Women were highly valued in the pre-Hispanic era, drastically losing their status only after the conquest.

However, she noted that “if there is only one such find, it’s hard to say whether it is significant, or even correctly identified. Archaeology works best with repeated occurrences, to show a pattern."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Archaeologists identify Ancient North American Mounds using new Image Analysis Technique

 

Four shell ring features identified using the object-based image analysis (OBIA) algorithm. The ring on the top right has been confirmed as a shell ring site.

Archaeologists identify ancient North American mounds using new image analysis technique

Binghamton University - July 1018

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - Researchers at Binghamton University, State University at New York have used a new image-based analysis technique to identify once-hidden North American mounds, which could reveal valuable information about pre-contact Native Americans.

"Across the East Coast of the United States, some of the most visible forms for pre-contact Native American material culture can be found in the form of large earthen and shell mounds," said Binghamton University anthropologist Carl Lipo. Mounds and shell rings contain valuable information about the way in which past people lived in North America. As habitation sites, they can show us the kinds of foods that were eaten, the way in which the community lived, and how the community interacted with neighbors and their local environments.

In areas that are deeply wooded or consist of bayous and swamps, there exist mounds that have eluded more than 150 years of archaeological survey and research. Due to vegetation, these kinds of environments make seeing more than a couple of dozen feet difficult, and even large mounds can be hidden from view, even when one systematically walks on the terrain.

The use of satellites and new kinds of aerial sensors such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) have transformed the way archaeologists can gather data about the archaeological record, said Lipo. Now scientists can study landscapes from images and peer through the forest canopy to look at the ground. LiDAR has been particularly effective at showing the characteristic rises in topography that mark the presence of mounds. The challenge to archaeologists, however, is to manage such a vast array of new data that are available for study. Object based image analysis (OBIA) allows archaeologists to configure a program to automatically detect features of interest. OBIA is a computer-based approach to use data from satellite images and aerial sensors to look for shapes and combinations of features that match objects of interest. Unlike traditional satellite image analyses that looks at combinations of light wavelengths, OBIA adds characteristics of shape to the search algorithm, allowing archaeologists to more easily distinguish cultural from natural phenomena.

Lipo's team systematically identified over 160 previously undetected mound features using LiDAR data from Beaufort County, S.C., and an OBIA approach. The result improves the overall knowledge of settlement patterns by providing systematic knowledge about past landscapes, said Lipo.

"Through the use of OBIA, archaeologists can now repeatedly generate data about the archaeological record and find historic and pre-contact sites over massive areas that would be cost-prohibitive using pedestrian survey. We can now also peer beneath the dense canopy of trees to see things that are otherwise obscured. In areas like coast South Carolina, with large swaths of shallow bays, inlets and bayous that are covered in forest, OBIA offers us our first look at this hidden landscape."

Having demonstrated the effectiveness for using OBIA in conditions of dense vegetation and after optimizing our processing, Lipo and his team are expanding their efforts to include much-larger areas.

"Fortunately, satellite and LiDAR data are now available for much of the eastern seaboard, so undertaking a large-scale project is now a task that is achievable," said Lipo. "Due to climate change and sea-level rise, many major mounds and middens on the East Coast are threatened by erosion and inundation. It is urgent we document this pre-contact landscape as soon as possible, in order to learn as much as we can about the past before it is gone forever."

The paper, "Automated mound detection using LiDAR and Object-Based Image Analysis in Beaufort County, SC," was published in Southeastern Archaeology.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

How Ancient DNA Unearths The Americas Corn’s A-maize-ing History


How Ancient DNA Unearths Corn’s A-maize-ing History 
Smithsonian Magazine, December 14th, 2020 by Erin Malsbury 

 Sequencing entire genomes from ancient tissues helps researchers reveal the evolutionary & domestication histories of species. (Thomas Harper, The Pennsylvania State University) In the early 2000s, archeologists began excavating a rock shelter in the highlands of southwestern Honduras that stored thousands of maize cobs & other plant remains from up to 11,000 years ago. Scientists use these dried plants to learn about the diets, land-use & trading patterns of ancient communities.

After years of excavations, radiocarbon dating & more traditional archaeological studies, researchers are now turning to ancient DNA to provide more detail to their insights than has ever before been possible. In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists used DNA from 2,000-year-old corn cobs to reveal that people reintroduced improved varieties of domesticated maize into Central America from South America thousands of years ago. 

Archeologists knew that domesticated maize traveled south, but these genomes provide the first evidence of the trade moving both directions. Researchers at the Smithsonian & around the world are just beginning to tap into the potential of ancient DNA. This study shows how the relatively recent ability to extract whole genomes from ancient material opens the door for new types of research questions & breathes new life into old samples, whether from fieldwork or forgotten corners of museum collections.

DNA, packed tightly into each of our cells, holds the code for life. The complex molecule is shaped like a twisting ladder. Each rung is made up of two complementary molecules, called a base pair. As humans, we have around three billion base pairs that make up our DNA. The order of these base pairs determines our genes, & the DNA sequence in its entirety, with all the molecules in the correct position, is called a genome. Whole genomes provide scientists with detailed data about organisms, but the process of acquiring that information is time sensitive.

“In every cell, DNA is always being bombarded with chemical & physical damage,” said lead author Logan Kistler, curator of archeobotany & acheogenomics at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “In live cells, it’s easily repaired. But after an organism dies, those processes that patch things up stop functioning.” As a result, DNA begins breaking down into smaller & smaller fragments until it disappears entirely. This decomposition poses the greatest challenge for scientists trying to sequence entire genomes from old or poorly-preserved tissue.

Researchers wear protective suits & work in sterile conditions in the ancient DNA lab to prevent contamination. (James DiLoreto, Smithsonian) You have to take these really, really small pieces of DNA — the length of the alphabet in some cases – & try to stitch them back together to make even a 1000 piece long fragment,” said Melissa Hawkins, a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian who works with ancient DNA. “It’s like trying to put a book back together by having five words at a time & trying to find where those words overlap.”

This laborious process prevented researchers from sequencing whole genomes from ancient DNA until around 2008, when a new way to sequence DNA became available. Since then, the technology & the ability to reconstruct ancient DNA sequences has grown rapidly.

Friday, January 22, 2021

10,000-year-old Jewelry among Artifacts Found while Clearing Land for NC Highway Project

Artifacts including pottery, tools and jewelry from more than 10,000 years ago were found during digging for the last leg of the Triangle Expressway.

10,000-year-old Jewelry among Artifacts Found 

while Clearing Land for NC I-540 project

By Ed Crump Thursday, January 14, 2021 Raleigh, NC (WTVD)  

Before the North Carolina Department of Transportation began clearing land for the last leg of the Triangle Expressway, its archeology unit fanned out looking for sites used by North Carolina's original inhabitants.

The scientists found something significant.

"As a result of the survey for this entire corridor, we identified, I believe, it's over 155 sites," said Matt Wilkerson who heads up the NCDOT's archeology unit.

Anytime NCDOT plans to build a road, federal law requires that it documents historic or even prehistoric sites in the construction corridor.

"NCDOT takes its stewardship responsibility very seriously," Wilkerson told ABC11.

He said that is why NCDOT formed the archeology unit more than 30 years ago, deciding it would be the most efficient way to handle that responsibility.

In the case of the Triangle Expressway, which will complete the 540 outer loop around Raleigh, most of the sites that archeologists found were not in the direct path of the asphalt.

There was one exception -- an area in southeastern Wake County below Garner near Williams Crossroads.

So, the team got to work.

For three months, they dug up a large area in 540's path and sifted every inch through large screens.

There was so much work that they contracted with other archeologists such as Susan Bamann with Commonwealth Heritage Group.

She showed us pieces of a pot that was apparently dropped and broken.

"It probably dates to somewhere around 500 A.D., something like that," she said. "We'll probably be able to reconstruct much of the pot."

The inside of that pot could provide a trove of information.

"We'll probably do some chemical analysis on it. It's possible to extract residues from the wall of the ceramic vessel and determine the kinds of foods that were being cooked in the vessel," Bamann said. "That's really exciting,"

Those artifacts and many others, including tools, all date from about 1,500 years ago and were found about 12 inches below the surface.

The archeologists surmise this was a popular campsite for the nomadic natives who were North Carolina's first inhabitants.

But the campsite's origins apparently came thousands of years earlier because as they went deeper, the archeologists found more artifacts including what they call "points."

Bamann showed us a collection of those "points" -- stone tools with sharp edges.

"These are from the archaic period," she said. "This one's from the early archaic period, so 6,000 to 8,000 B.C."

The excavation has just ended but when we visited, the scientists were sifting the last of the dirt removed from the site.

As they worked, heavy equipment rumbled nearby and blasting occasionally sent shock waves through the air and ground.

But the archeologists never flinched.

One of the most exciting finds unearthed on the dig was a broken and once polished piece of stone with holes drilled in it from about 10,000 years ago.

"Probably a piece of personal adornment, jewelry, if you will," Bamann said, and she added, "it's a two-holed item that someone would have suspended as a piece of personal decoration or ornamentation. At least that's what we believe these items are. So, finding something that's a personal item from someone who lived here, and camped here is, I think, is just one of those things that makes all of this extra interesting because it's a little bit of a glimpse into the past."

Bamann said this was obviously a popular camp for hunter-gatherers.

Some of the items found here revealed just how far those people may have roamed.

Bamann pointed at the projectiles, noting that some were made from materials that wouldn't have been found in the area near the campsite.

"These are all fashioned from stone, some of these from the stone source that we associated with the Uwharrie Mountains," she said.

Those mountains are in Montgomery County nearly 100 miles west of Wake County.

The artifacts collected at the site will eventually end up at the North Carolina Office of State Archeology.

Be sure to click on the link in the title above to learn much more...


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Earliest Evidence of Humans Living in South America


Monte Verde: Our Earliest Evidence of Humans Living in South America
By Bridget Alex November 1, 2019 

As the Ice Age began to wane, people from northeastern Asia spread to the Americas, some of the last uninhabited continents on Earth. The pioneers traveled south of mile-high ice sheets covering Canada and found vast lands, abounding with mammoth, giant sloth and other now-extinct megafauna.

This much has been known for decades. But when it comes to the details, debates have raged over precisely when and how humans populated the New World. Today, the story is beginning to take shape, thanks to well-dated archaeological sites, DNA analysis and geological work to understand when ice and sea levels permitted entry to the Americas. It’s clear that people occupied the continents by about 15,000 years ago, probably taking a route along the Pacific coast.

And one site, perhaps more than any other, helped scholars reach this conclusion: Chile’s Monte Verde. During excavations begun in the 1970s, archaeologists unearthed numerous artifacts, including remnants of 14,000-year-old huts, food scraps from megafauna and wads of masticated seaweed, likely chewed for medicinal purposes. The preservation was so exceptional, it cleared any doubt that humans had reached the New World by this time, and earned Monte Verde a place in every archaeology textbook to come.

Meanwhile, recent research on the site’s surroundings and deeper layers suggests humans inhabited this patch of South America as early as 19,000 years ago. While the claim remains controversial, it’s clear there’s still more to discover at Monte Verde.

Creekside Campsite
Buried under a peat bog, Monte Verde is near South America’s tip and about 30 miles from the Pacific in present-day Chile. Excavations began in 1976, led by archaeologist Tom Dillehay. Although no human skeletons were found, an excavated layer — radiocarbon dated to about 14,000 years ago — held clear evidence of human inhabitants, including a child-sized footprint.

At Monte Verde, the researchers discovered the ruins of a forager campsite, about as large as a football field, on the bank of a meandering creek. Still surviving were the wooden foundations of a long, rectangular building, which was subdivided into a dozen rooms, each containing food remains and clay-lined fire pits. It seems to have been a communal residence divided into personal dwellings. About 100 feet from these living quarters stood a wishbone-shaped structure accompanied by tools and butchered animal parts — likely a work area.

The archaeologists also recovered spun grass rope, wooden lances, animal hides and human feces from the site. Perishable items like these are rarely preserved at archaeological sites. But because Monte Verde is below peat deposits, organic materials were protected from decomposition. Food scraps also survived, revealing the people gathered at least 60 species of edible and medicinal plants, including a variety of seaweed species brought from the coast. And they hunted now-extinct creatures such as paleocamelids (an ancestor of llama and alpaca) and elephant-like gomphotheres.

Breaking the Clovis Barrier
Just as significant, though, is what the excavators did not find: Monte Verde lacked Clovis points — distinctive stone tools found at North American sites dating to roughly 13,000 years ago. Through much of the 20th century, many archaeologists supported “Clovis First” — the hypothesis that the people who made these artifacts were the first inhabitants of the Americas. Reports of older pre-Clovis sites were dismissed on the grounds that they were incorrectly excavated or dated.

But Monte Verde was remarkably well-preserved, meticulously excavated and analyzed with state-of-the-art methods. It convinced the archaeological community that non-Clovis peoples reached South America by at least 14,000 years ago. Clovis was not first.

Since then, numerous pre-Clovis sites have been reported between 13,300 and 15,000 years old. North America holds about 10 of them. But in South America, besides Monte Verde and its surrounding area, there are only two others: Huaca Prieta in Peru and Arroyo Seco in Argentina. With so few comparative sites, it’s difficult to say who and how widespread the Monte Verde people were.

Older Occupations
Dillehay and colleagues also reported potentially older artifacts from Monte Verde in a 1988 Nature paper. From a deeper layer dated to 30,000 years ago, they found three clay-lined burned areas and at least six stones that appear to have been shaped into tools. However, the finds were considered too meager to constitute a strong case for human presence.

Decades later, in 2013, Dillehay returned to the site to lead a team that dug 80 probes and test pits in the land around Monte Verde. The work, published in a 2015 PLOS One paper, identified 12 discrete spots with signs of a campfire (charcoal, ash, burned clay), stone tools and animal bones. Radiocarbon analysis dated the finds between 14,500 and 19,000 years ago.

The results suggest even earlier peopling of the Americas. Future work at Monte Verde may prove it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

America's Early Peoples (mostly on the Pacific Coast)


For decades, archaeologists associated finely fluted spear points—such as the two points at right—with the first people to live in the Americas. Image: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

A November 14, 2019, "Why it’s so challenging to determine ‘how and when’ humans first set foot in the Americas" by Megan Gannon published by the Genetic Literacy Project tells us that some arrived in North America by boat. The following information is gleaned from her article...


In 2014, a group of Canadian researchers uncovered human footprints pressed into a prehistoric layer of soil. The footprints, 29 in total, are the oldest found in North America. They suggest that 13,000 years ago, at least 3 people may have splashed out of a boat onto the damp shore.

North & South America seem to be the last major landmasses in the world to be populated by Homo sapiens. But the explanation of how & when this peopling happened has been heavily revised in the last 2 decades. New data, especially from the Pacific coast areas, including genetic findings, continue to complicate the story of how these continents came to be peopled.


The search intrigued archaeologist Edgar B. Howard when he learned in 1932, of mammalian fossils coming from a site called Blackwater Draw in New Mexico. A construction crew had exposed an extensive deposit of bison & mammoth bones, & there Howard found spear points & other human artifacts scattered among the remains of extinct mammoths, camels, & bison. At the time, researchers were only beginning to appreciate that humans were in the Americas during the last ice age, which ended around 10,000 years ago. In the years to follow, archaeologists would unearth sleek, fluted spear points, just like the ones found at Clovis, across North America. These artifacts came to be known as Clovis points & linked to people whom archaeologists considered the “first Americans.”


In the 1930s it was a  belief among many anthropologists that ancestral Native Americans descended from people living in Asia who crossed into the Americas over a now-submerged open tundra bridging Russia & Alaska, the Bering Land Bridge, also known as Beringia. From there, these people were speculated to have traversed a narrow passage between glaciers covering Alaska & Canada that only opened up about 13,500 years ago. The prevalence of Clovis-style spear points, which generally date between 13,250 & 12,800 years old, suggested that the first people in the Americas spread quickly after their arrival. Scientists broadly referred to this narrative—encompassing not just the cultural artifacts but also the time frame & land bridge—as the Clovis-first model.


Eventually cracks appeared in the Clovis-first model. In 1976 Chile, researchers excavating at Monte Verde uncovered undeniable traces of a human presence, preserved under peat. Researchers have confidently dated the most substantial cultural layer to about 14,500 years before the present day—at least 1,000 years older than the Clovis-first model would predict. We learned that people slept there under a long, tent-like structure made of wood & animal hides & sat around communal hearths eating potatoes & seaweed brought from trips to the coast.  In 1997, Monte Verde was inspected by a delegation of archaeologists, many of whom had questioned its purported age. They left in agreement that the site was old, indeed. Since then, in North America, several sites have gained wide acceptance as authentically pre-Clovis, but most of these older sites have no distinct artifacts to connect them.


At Oregon’s Paisley Caves, archaeologists have dated fossilized human feces to 14,300 years ago. Beneath the Clovis layers along the shores of Buttermilk Creek in Texas, researchers have found thousands of stone tool fragments dating back 15,500 years. And on the Atlantic coast side of the nation, reportedly, The Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, has a human history that may stretch back at least 16,000 years. 

Most archaeologists, even the most conservative, would now agree that there were widely scattered, small but culturally diverse groups of people living in the Americas at least one or two millennia before the emergence of Clovis spear points.


Genetics also shed light on how & when entire lineages of people moved across continents. Genetic markers from the DNA of a child buried in what is now Alaska around 11,500 years ago, for instance, recently revealed that she shared equal DNA with all Indigenous populations in the Americas. The authors concluded she was likely descended from a population that remained in Beringia, instead of spreading through the lower continents. The Beringian population seems to have diverged from Siberian populations around 36,000 years ago. About 25,000 years ago, the Beringians became isolated, & a new genetic population emerged, one that scientists have confirmed relates to contemporary Native American people, splitting into 2 main lineages around 17,000 years ago. However, only a handful of ice age human remains have been studied at all—and archaeological data are needed to both confirm that story & help fill in the ancient pathways that humans first took across the continents.


The genetic data suggest one population may have spent thousands of years in Beringia, before spreading south into the Americas sometime during the Last Glacial Maximum between 27,000 & 19,000 years ago. Because of the ice, some claim that migrating people of the period did not walk but used boats. According to this coastal migration theory, some 16,000 years ago the ice had retreated from the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, such that oceangoing people could take advantage of coastal resources like kelp forests to navigate all the way down the shores of California, eventually reaching sites like Monte Verde in Chile But no wooden boats from that era have been found along these shorelines. Some speculate that evidence of human habitation from at least 13,000 years ago on the Channel Islands in California indicates that people probably had the skills to build boats & reach these land masses.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

An Extremely Fast Peopling of the Early Americas

Sebastian Munster Map of North & South America c 156

Two genetic studies show how the first Native Americans spread through their new continent with incredible speed.
The Atlantic  by ED YONG  November 8, 2018

Tens of thousands of years ago, two gigantic ice sheets smothered the northernmost parts of what has since been named North America. They towered more than two kilometers high and contained 1.5 times as much water as Antarctica does today. They were daunting, impassable barriers to the early humans who had started moving east from Asia, walking across a land bridge that once connected the regions now known as Russia and Alaska. But once the ice started to melt, these peoples—the ancestors of the Americas’ Indigenous groups—spread southward into new lands.


What happened next?


Genetic studies, based on ancient remains, had already suggested that once the first American Indians got south of the ice, 14,600 to 17,500 years ago, they split into two main branches. One stayed north, giving rise to the Algonquian-speaking peoples of Canada. The other headed south, giving rise to the widespread Clovis culture, and to Central and South Americans. That’s a very rough outline, but a new study from J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar and his colleagues fleshes it out. They showed that whatever happened south of the ice, it happened fast.


They sequenced the genomes of 15 ancient humans, who came from sites ranging all the way from Alaska to Patagonia. One person from Spirit Cave in Nevada and five from Lagoa Santa in Brazil were especially instructive. They were all just over 10,000 years old, and though they lived 6,300 miles apart, they were strikingly similar in their DNA. Genetically, they were also closely matched to Anzick-1—a famous Clovis infant from Montana, who was about 2,000 years older.


All this suggests that, about 14,000 years ago, the southern lineage of early American Indians spread through the continent with blinding speed. To picture their movements, don’t think of a slowly growing tree, incrementally sending out new branches and twigs. Instead, imagine a starburst, with many rays zooming out simultaneously and rapidly.


In a matter of centuries, these people had gone down both sides of the Rockies, across the Great Basin, and into Mexico’s highlands. Within a couple more millennia, they had zipped down the Andes, through the Amazon, and as far south as the continent allowed. “Once they were south of the ice, they found a territory that was open, vast, and full of resources,” says Moreno-Mayar, who is based at the University of Copenhagen. “They were adept hunter-gatherers, so they expanded very quickly.”


This pattern confirms the suspicions of archaeologists, whose finds had long suggested that humans suddenly appeared throughout the Americas, from about 13,000 years ago onward. “You can now see that in the genetics,” Moreno-Mayar says.


Coincidentally, a second group of researchers, fronted by Cosimo Posth of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, independently found the same pattern. They studied the DNA of 49 ancient humans from Central and South America and found similar evidence for a rapid starburst expansion, and a southward migration that connects the Clovis culture of the north to early peoples in Belize, Brazil, and Chile.


These studies show that the histories of the Americas are more complicated than earlier genetic studies suggested, says Deborah Bolnick, an anthropologist from the University of Connecticut. But that’s more because those studies were overly simplistic to begin with rather than because the new results are surprising. “Many lines of evidence, including archaeological research, linguistic data, and Indigenous histories, have suggested that multiple groups of people—related, descended from shared ancestors, but still distinct—have lived, moved, and interacted in the Americas over the millennia,” she says. “Broadly, that is what these [new] studies show.”


They’re not just reinventing the wheel, though. For example, the tools of the Clovis people were so different from those found at Spirit Cave (which lies on the other side of the Rockies) that some researchers took them as evidence that the Americas were peopled by two genetically distinct founding groups. Moreno-Mayar and his colleagues have disproved that idea: They showed that the two groups were genetically similar, if culturally distinct.


Both teams also found evidence of later waves of migration that took place long after the Americas had been initially peopled—although the details differ between the two studies. Posth’s data point to a second wave of people who entered South America about 9,000 years ago, whose genes displaced those of the earlier Clovis-related people, and who had a direct connection to Indigenous groups today. By contrast, Moreno-Mayar’s data speak to a gentler process, in which relatively small groups slowly spread both north and south from Mexico from 8,000 years ago, adding their genes to the local populations without swamping them. Either way, they “challenge the idea that present-day native peoples all descend from a single, homogenous ancestral population,” says Maria Nieves-Colón, a geneticist based in Mexico’s langebio institute.


The two studies also differ on a particularly puzzling and controversial result. Back in 2015, the leaders of both Posth’s and Moreno-Mayar’s teams found that today’s Indigenous Amazonians share small hints of ancestry with people from Australia and Papua New Guinea—places on the other side of the Pacific. In their new study, Moreno-Mayar’s team found that same tantalizing smidgen of Australasian ancestry in the 10,400-year-old remains from Lagoa Santa in Brazil, but in none of the other remains they tested. “Every explanation that we can come up with for that is less plausible than the last,” says Moreno-Mayar.


If people with Australasian ancestry somehow entered the Americas before the early American Indians, how did they get into Brazil without leaving any trace in North America, either genetically or archaeologically? If they entered after the first American Indians did, how did they get from Alaska to Brazil seemingly without interacting with anyone else? If they sailed across the entire Pacific, after hypothetically inventing seafaring technology millennia before the Polynesians, how did they cross the Andes and traverse the Amazon?


It doesn’t help that Posth’s team didn’t find any Australasian DNA among their ancient remains, including ones from the same region of Brazil. It could be that people from that area were very diverse—or that the Australasian signal is a mistake. “The only way to get a better answer is to do more studies on other ancient samples,” adds Moreno-Mayar.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Study reveals 10,000 years of Genetic Continuity in Northwest North America

Researchers are analyzing DNA from ancient individuals found in southeast Alaska, coastal British Columbia, Washington state and Montana. A new genetic analysis of individuals dating to at least 10,300 years ago. Graphic by Julie McMahon, University of Illinois


A study of the DNA in ancient skeletal remains adds to the evidence that indigenous groups living today in southern Alaska and the western coast of British Columbia are descendants of the first humans to make their home in northwest North America more than 10,000 years ago.some of these human remains finds that many of today’s indigenous peoples living in the same regions are descendants of ancient 
“Our analysis suggests that this is the same population living in this part of the world over time, so we have genetic continuity from 10,000 years ago to the present,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who led the study with University of Chicago postdoctoral researcher John Lindo; Penn State University biology professor Michael DeGiorgio; Rosita Worl, the director of the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, Alaska; and University of Oklahoma anthropology professor Brian M. Kemp.

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggest that these early American peoples had a complex population history, the researchers report.

The new work comes on the heels of earlier studies of ancient Americans that focused on mitochondrial DNA, which occurs outside the nucleus of cells and is passed only from mothers to their offspring.

“Mitochondrial DNA just traces the maternal line – your mother’s mother’s lineage – so, you’re missing information about all of these other ancestors,” said Lindo, the first author on the paper. “We wanted to analyze the nuclear genome so we could get a better assessment of the population history of this region.”

The team looked at genomic data from Shuká Káa (Tlingit for “Man Before Us”), an ancient individual whose remains – found in a cave in southeastern Alaska – date to about 10,300 years ago. They also analyzed the genomes of three more individuals from the nearby coast of British Columbia whose remains date to between 6,075 and 1,750 years ago.

“Interestingly, the mitochondrial type that Shuká Káa belonged to was also observed from another ancient skeleton dated to about 6,000 years ago,” Kemp said. “It seems to disappear after that. The nuclear DNA suggests that this is probably not about population replacement, but rather chance occurrence through time. If a female has no children or only sons, the mitochondrial DNA is not passed to the next generation. As a male, Shuká Káa could not have passed on his own mitochondrial DNA; he must have had some maternal relatives that did so.”
 
The researchers turned their attention to nuclear DNA, which offers a more comprehensive record of a person’s ancestry.

“DNA from the mitochondria and Y chromosome provide unique yet sometimes conflicting stories, but the nuclear genome provides a more comprehensive view of past events,” DeGiorgio said.

“The data suggest that there were multiple genetic lineages in the Americas from at least 10,300 years ago,” Malhi said.

The descendants of some of those lineages are still living in the same region today, and a few are co-authors on the new study. Their participation is the result of a long-term collaboration between the scientists and several native groups who are embracing genomic studies as a way to learn from their ancestors, said Worl, who is Tlingit, Ch’áak’ (Eagle) moiety of the Shangukeidí­ (Thunderbird) Clan from the Kawdliyaayi Hít (House Lowered From the Sun) in Klukwan, Alaska.

“We supported DNA testing of Shuká Káa because we believed science ultimately would agree with what our oral traditions have always said – that we have lived in southeast Alaska since time immemorial. The initial analysis showed the young man was native, and now further studies are showing that our ancestral lineage stems from the first initial peopling of the region,” said Worl, who also is an anthropologist. “Science is corroborating our oral histories.”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Ancient Peoples Migrate between Siberia & Western North America

Beringa  Map of what was once the Beringia connection between present-day Siberia and Alaska. (National Park Service)

Ancient DNA Reveals Complex Story of Human Migration Between Siberia & North America. Two studies greatly increase the amount of information about the peoples who first populated North America—from the Arctic to the Southwest U.S.  Arctic hunter-gatherers, Paleo-Eskimos, made a significant genetic contribution to populations living in North America today. 

By Brian Handwerk Smithsonian.com June 5, 2019

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that humans migrated to the North American continent via Beringia, a land mass that once bridged the sea between what is now Siberia and Alaska. But exactly who crossed, or recrossed, and who survived as ancestors of today’s Native Americans has been a matter of long debate.

Two new DNA studies sourced from rare fossils on both sides of the Bering Strait help write new chapters in the stories of these prehistoric peoples.


The first study delves into the genetics of North American peoples, the Paleo-Eskimos (some of the earliest people to populate the Arctic) and their descendants. “[The research] focuses on the populations living in the past and today in northern North America, and it shows interesting links between Na-Dene speakers with both the first peoples to migrate into the Americas and Paleo-Eskimo peoples,” Anne Stone, an anthropological geneticist at Arizona State University who assessed both studies for Nature, says via email.


Beringia had formed by about 34,000 years ago, and the first mammoth-hunting humans crossed it more than 15,000 years ago and perhaps far earlier. A later, major migration some 5,000 years ago by people known as Paleo-Eskimos spread out across many regions of the American Arctic and Greenland. But whether they are direct ancestors of today’s Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene speaking peoples, or if they were displaced by a later migration of the Neo-Eskimos, or Thule people, about 800 years ago, has remained something of a mystery.


An international team studied the remains of 48 ancient humans from the region, as well as 93 living Alaskan Iñupiat and West Siberian peoples. Their work not only added to the relatively small number of ancient genomes from the region, but it also attempted to fit all the data together into a single population model.


The findings reveal that both ancient and modern peoples in the American Arctic and Siberia inherited many of their genes from Paleo-Eskimos. Descendants of this ancient population include the Yup’ik, Inuit, Aleuts and Na-Dene language speakers from Alaska and Northern Canada all the way to the Southwest United States. The findings stand in contrast to other genetic studies that had suggested the Paleo-Eskimos were an isolated people who vanished after some 4,000 years.


"For the last seven years, there has been a debate about whether Paleo-Eskimos contributed genetically to people living in North America today; our study resolves this debate and furthermore supports the theory that Paleo-Eskimos spread Na-Dene languages," co-author David Reich of Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute says in a press release.


The second study focused on Asian lineages, Stone notes. “The study is exciting because it gives us insight into the population dynamics, over 30-plus thousand years, that have occurred in northeastern Siberia. And these insights, of course, also provide information about the people who migrated to the Americas.”


Researchers retrieved genetic samples for 34 individuals’ remains in Siberia, dating from 600 to 31,600 years old. The latter are the oldest human remains known in the region, and they revealed a previously unknown group of Siberians. The DNA of one Siberian individual, about 10,000 years old, shows more genetic resemblance to Native Americans than any other remains found outside of the Americas.


Fifteen years ago scientists unearthed a 31,000-year-old site along Russia’s Yana River, well north of the Arctic Circle, with ancient animal bones, ivory and stone tools. But two tiny, children’s milk teeth are the only human remains recovered from the Ice Age site—and they yielded the only human genome yet known from people who lived in northeastern Siberia during the period before the Last Glacial Maximum. They represent a previously unrecognized population that the study’s international team of authors have dubbed “Ancient North Siberians.”


The authors suggest that during the Last Glacial Maximum (26,500 to 19,000 years ago) some of these 500 or so Siberians sought more habitable climes in southern Beringia. Stone says the migration illustrates the ways that shifting climate impacted ancient population dynamics. “I do think that the refugia during the Last Glacial Maximum were important,” she says. “As populations moved to refugia, likely following the animals they hunted and to take advantage of the plants they gathered as those distributions shifted south, this resulted in population interactions and changes. These populations then expanded out of the refugia as the climate warmed and these climate dynamics likely affected population around the world.”


In this case, the Ancient North Siberians arrived in Beringia and likely mixed with migrating peoples from East Asia. Their population eventually gave rise to both the First Peoples of North America and other lineages that dispersed through Siberia.


David Meltzer, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University and coauthor of the new study, says when the Yana River site was discovered, the artifacts were said to look like the distinctive stone tools (specifically projectile “points”) of the Clovis culture—an early Native American population that lived in present-day New Mexico about 13,000 years ago. But the observation was greeted with skepticism because Yana was separated from America’s Clovis sites by 18,000 years, many hundreds of miles, and even the glaciers of the last Ice Age.


It seemed more likely that different populations simply made similar stone points in different places and times. “The odd thing is, now as it turns out, they were related,” Meltzer says. “It’s kind of cool. It doesn’t change the fact that there’s no direct historical descent in terms of the artifacts, but it does tell us that there was this population floating around in far northern Russia 31,000 years ago whose descendants contributed a bit of DNA to Native Americans.”


The finding isn’t particularly surprising given that at least some Native American ancestors have long been thought to hail from the Siberian region. But details that seemed unknowable are now coming to light after thousands of years. For example, the Ancient North Siberian peoples also appear to be ancestral to the Mal’ta individual (dated to 24,000 years ago) from the Lake Baikal region of southern Russia, a population that showed a slice of European roots—and from whom Native Americans, in turn, derived some 40 percent of their ancestry.


“It’s making its way to Native Americans,” Meltzer says of the ancient Yana genome, “but it’s doing so through various other populations that come and go on the Siberian landscape over the course of the Ice Age. Every genome that we get right now is telling us a lot of things that we didn’t know because ancient genomes in America and in Siberia from the Ice Age are rare.”


A more modern genome from 10,000-year-old remains found near Siberia’s Kolyma River evidences a DNA mix of East Asian and Ancient North Siberian lineages similar to that seen in Native American populations—a much closer match than any others found outside of North America. This finding, and others from both studies, serve as reminders that the tale of human admixture and migration in the Arctic wasn’t a one-way street.


“There’s absolutely nothing about the Bering land bridge that says you can’t go both ways,” Meltzer says. “It was open, relatively flat, no glaciers—it wasn’t like you wander through and the door closes behind you and you’re trapped in America. So there’s no reason to doubt that the Bering land bridge was trafficking humans in both directions during the Pleistocene. The idea of going back to Asia is a big deal for us, but they had no clue. They didn’t think they were going between continents. They were just moving around a large land mass.”


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Evidence seems to Reveal a 17,000-Year-Old Coastal Route Into North America

Illustration titled New Evidence Reveals a 17,000-Year-Old Coastal Route Into North America  Image: Bob Wilder/U. at Buffalo

A Possible 17,000-Year-Old Coastal Migration Route to North America
Gizmodo.com  George Dvorsky  5/30/18

The first people to cross into North America from Eurasia did so by traveling through the Bering Strait, or so the theory goes. A new theory has emerged proposing a coastal route into the continent, but evidence has been lacking. A recent analysis of boulders, bedrock, and fossils in Alaska is now providing a clearer picture, pointing to the emergence of a coastal route some 17,000 years ago.


New research published today in Science Advances is offering some of the first geological evidence of an Alaskan coastal migration route that would have made it possible for humans to cross over from Eurasia into North America when the Ice Age was still going strong. Importantly, the paper also includes evidence of aquatic and terrestrial life in the region during the same time period, which means venturing humans would have had access to food. The University at Buffalo researchers aren’t saying humans definitely traveled along this coastal route—they’re just saying the conditions were set for human migration into North America starting around 17,000 years ago.

At the height of the last Ice Age, North America was separated from Eurasia by the massive Cordilleran Ice Sheet, preventing the flow of humans into the continent. Eventually, humans were able to make the trek, but scientists aren’t entirely sure which route they took, or the timing of the transcontinental leap.


During the 20th century, it was conventionally assumed that North America’s first peoples travelled through a narrow, ice-free corridor, but recent evidence has thrown a rather large wrench into this long-standing hypothesis. The retreating ice sheets didn’t yield an interior pathway until about 14,000 years ago, and the strip of land that suddenly became accessible wasn’t suitable for animals and humans until about 13,000 to 12,600 years ago. This presents a huge chronological problem, because archaeological evidence places humans in Chile around 15,000 years ago, and in Florida some 14,500 years ago.


Hence the Coastal Migration Theory, also known as the Kelp Highway Hypothesis. Instead of traveling through an interior route, it’s counterargued, human migrants hugged the Siberian, Beringian, and Alaskan coastlines, eventually making their way into North and South America. There’s practically no archaeological evidence to support this theory, but the recent discovery of 29 footprints on the shoreline of Calvert Island in British Columbia, dated at 13,000 years old, teases at the possibility. Complicating matters, scientists aren’t even sure if the glaciers completely blocked the coastal route, or when the ice sheets retreated to make the route available for human migration.


To answer these questions, Lesnek’s team visited four islands within Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago, which is located about 200 miles (360 km) south of Juneau. Looking at the physical evidence, it was clear to the team that ice once dominated the area. “The landscape is glacial,” said Jason Briner, lead author of the study and a geologist at the University at Buffalo, in a statement. “The rock surfaces are smooth and scratched from when the ice moved over it, and there are erratic boulders everywhere. When you are a geologist, it hits you in the face. You know it immediately: The glacier was here.”


Using a technique known as surface exposure dating, the researchers were able to figure out when the ice began to retreat. Chemical signatures within the rocks and bedrock tell scientists when ice no longer provided a barrier to the elements. “This definitively tells us that the glaciers in southeastern Alaska retreated from the coast 17,000 years ago,” Lesnek told Gizmodo. “We also took advantage of a rich archive of fossils found in a cave on Prince of Wales Island. By radiocarbon dating the bones and identifying which animals they came from, we were able to determine that ringed seal and arctic fox were living in southeastern Alaska when the coastal route opened.”


Lesnek and her colleagues were surprised that glaciers blocked the coastal route. Her team went into this project thinking that these areas had been completely ice-free during the last Ice Age. “But our results tell a different story,” she said. “We now know that the glaciers may have blocked the coastal route for a few thousand years. However, these glaciers retreated around 17,000 years ago, which opened the door for human migration along the coast,” said Lesnek. “The timing of glacier retreat lines up very well with the genetic and archaeological evidence for the peopling of the Americas.” Importantly, the new study only covers a very small portion of the coastal route, and other parts still remain undated. Lesnek says her team will continue to hunt for areas that may have escaped glaciation, and map the areas in which life was able to emerge in the immediate aftermath.


Ben Potter, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who wasn’t involved in the new study, likes the new paper, saying the conclusion is plausible and that the researchers were wise to limit themselves to the notion that an early migration route along this part of the coast was possible, rather than saying it was likely or certain. “In archaeological science, we need deliberate, methodical analyses of all aspects of paleoecology, geology, etc., to understand human adaptation and expansion, including migration,” Potter told Gizmodo. “So this is a welcome study in understanding the complex deglaciation process in this part of the northwest coast.” Potter said scientists should continue these types analyses along the coast to learn more about the timing of glacial retreat, and to track changes in the environment and ecology during this critical time period. But he says the ultimate answer to the timing and nature of North American colonization will likely remain elusive for some time to come.


“The migration of one or more Native American populations into the Americas was likely a complex process, including between one and three major groups: the Ancient Beringians, North Native Americans, and South Native Americans,” said Potter. “The timing remains unknown, but likely post-dates 16,000 years ago, given the genetic evidence for expansion after this time.” He says the routes taken may have included the interior ice-free corridor, the coastal route—or, more likely, both. “Recent research has indicated ice free, proglacial lake free [a lake in front of a melting glacier], and vegetated conditions in the ice-free corridor by 15,000 years ago, and this new paper indicates livable conditions along the coast at 17,000 years ago,” he said. “Studies like this are absolutely necessary to properly situate hypotheses about the peopling of the Americas.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

Early peoples in Texas - 15,000 years ago

A 15,000-year-old stemmed point. (Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University) (unknown/Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

Continent’s oldest spear points provide new clues about the first Americans
Washington Post By Sarah Kaplan Oct. 24, 2018

For as long as Buttermilk Creek has wound its way through Texas Hill Country, its spring-fed waters have carved through the region’s dark, dense clays, cutting away layers of earth to expose the rock — & the history — below.

Here, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a human settlement stretching back as far as 15,500 years: hammer stones & broken knives, fragments of fractured tools. And now, scientists say, the Buttermilk Creek complex has offered up the oldest known spearheads in North America.


The new “projectile points,” reported this week in the journal Science Advances, come in two unusual shapes — a fact that geologist Mike Waters, who oversaw the excavation, found both “bizarre” & “really exciting.” The find adds to the evidence that the first people arrived in the Americas earlier than researchers thought, even as it raises new questions about who those people were & how they made their epic migration into the continent.


“This is a really fascinating paper,” said Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas who was not involved in the new study. “It’s filling in some of the gaps in the archaeological record regarding the Clovis complex & the histories of the very first peoples in the Americas.


If the projectile point was the cellphone of the Pleistocene — an omnipresent technology that shaped cultures & defined daily life — the Clovis tools were the iPhone X. These points, named for the city in New Mexico where they were first found, featured a fluted bottom & rounded sides tapering to a sharp point.


The distinctive spearheads are scattered throughout the rock record between 10,000 & 13,500 years ago, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains & as far south as Venezuela. The tools are so ubiquitous that for nearly a century, archaeologists thought that the Clovis tradition represented the first people to arrive in the Americas.


But research in recent decades has revealed archaeological sites much older than Clovis, & genetic analyses of modern Native Americans suggest their ancestors crossed a land bridge from Asia to Alaska about 20,000 years ago, then migrated down the Pacific coast between 20,000 & 15,000 years before present.


So who exactly were these early Americans?


The new points uncovered at Buttermilk Creek may offer a clue, said Waters, who directs the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. Because tools are so essential to the tasks of survival — hunting, cooking, building, killing — they can say a great deal about the people who wielded them.


In more than 10 years of excavations at his site, Waters & his colleagues have found Clovis points in a rock layer dating to about 13,000 years ago. Below that, in older rocks, they uncovered scores of stone point fragments, but no whole spearheads. It was difficult to know if they were looking at older Clovis artifacts, or something entirely different.


Then, in 2015, the archaeologists uncovered two perfectly preserved artifacts: One triangular point, which resembles a predator’s sharp tooth, & one lobe-shaped projectile with a tapered, or “stemmed,” bottom. With these whole points as models, Waters’s team was able to make sense of the 10 additional fragments they collected. They seemed subtly but significantly different from Clovis & other toolmaking traditions — neither a clear ancestor to the later technology, nor an obvious competitor.


“I just thought, ‘Holy cow,’” Waters recalled. “Whenever you see something for the first time that you didn’t expect, it’s always very exciting & exhilarating.”


Radiocarbon dating of the soils where the points were found suggested they were made between 13,500 & 15,500 years ago — offering a significant piece of archaeological evidence for a migration into the Americas that predates Clovis.


But the points also raise new questions, Waters said: Were the Clovis people descendants of these early inhabitants who came up with a new toolmaking technique? Or did they migrate separately into the continent before scattering their tools across the Americas? “We’re just beginning to answer that,” Waters said.


Skye Gilham, a forensic anthropologist who is a member of the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana, said that recent archaeological & genetic research has been helpful in establishing a scientific link between the first Americans & their descendants living today. Findings like Waters', which provide evidence for her people’s long history in the Americas, have helped ensure the return of native remains to their communities. “We have said that we have always been here, our homeland,” Gilham said. Archaeology & genetics, she said, “reaffirm" that.