Archeology breakthrough in Mexican cave

Scientists found stone tools and debris inside a Zacatecas cave that date back as far as 26,500 ago

Archeology breakthrough in Mexican cave suggests humans settled in North America earlier than thought
In this February 2019 photo provided by Mads Thomsen, researchers take samples from different cultural layers in a cave in Zacatecas, central Mexico - Photo: Mads Thomsen via AP
English 22/07/2020 18:44 Mexico City Malcolm Ritter/AP Actualizada 18:44
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Stone tools found in a Mexican cave suggest that people were living in North America as early as about 26,500 years ago, much earlier than most scientists accept, a new study says.

It is a new step in the difficult and contentious process of establishing when people arrived in North America from Asia. Presently, the most widely accepted dates for the earliest known North American archaeological sites date to before 15,000 years ago and extend maybe to 17,000 years ago, says anthropology professor Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was not involved in the cave study.

In Wednesday’s issue of the journal Nature, scientists reported on artifacts found in a mountain cave, the Chiquihuite Cave, in the state of Zacatecas in north-central Mexico. Ciprian Ardelean of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas and others say they found stone tools and debris from tool-making that they dated back as far as 26,500 years ago. There is some indication that some artifacts go back beyond 30,000 years, but so far the evidence is not strong enough to make a firm claim, Ardelean said.

Ardelean said he believed people probably used the cave as a winter shelter for short periods of time. His team was unable to recover any human DNA from the cave.

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Dillehay said the proposed date for the artifacts may be valid if it stands up to further scrutiny. But he suspects they are not more than 20,000 years old and most likely fall in the range of 15,000 to 18,000 years old. He does not question that some of the artifacts are probably man-made, but said he would like to see other evidence of human occupation of the cave, like hearths, butchered bones, and burned edible plant remains.

In a Nature commentary, Ruth Gruhn, a professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said the results should bring fresh consideration of six Brazilian sites proposed to be older than 20,000 years. Those age estimates are now “commonly disputed or simply ignored by most archaeologists as being much too old to be real,” she wrote.

In another study published on Nature, two co-authors of the work on the cave presented a statistical analysis of the information of other archeological sites previously discovered in North America. They said a site in Texas could be as old as the date proposed for the artifacts recently discovered in the Mexican cave and another two places in Pennsylvania and Virginia could be 20,000 years old or more.

Dillehay, who was not part of that study either, considers that the analysis excessively stresses the most ancient end of the range proposed for the sites.

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