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No. 120: Nov-Dec 1998

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Where Did They Come From?

It appears more and more likely that South America was colonized earlier and separately from North America. Reason #1 is that the oldest recognized sites in North America are only 11,200 years old, while the Monte Verde site in southern Chile is now generally admitted to be 12,500 years old. Reason #2 is the distance gap of about 5,000 miles between the two sites. So far, there is no evidence of cultural continuity.

The time gap is likely to enlarge in a huge quantum jump because of excavations at an intriguing green knoll at Monte Verde. Some 6 feet below its surface is a sedimentary layer containing charcoal in clay-lined pits and humanfractured pebbles. This sedimentary layer is carbon-dated at 33,000 years ago -- some 20,000 years before the ancestors of North America's Clovis people are said to have trekked across the Bering land bridge.

(Wilford, John Noble; "Chilean Field Yields New Clues to Peopling of Americas," New York Times, August 25, 1998. Cr. M. Colpitts)

New Clues. Just to the north of Monte Verde, on the coast of southern Peru, traces of a hitherto unknown, 11,000-year-old maritime culture have emerged. For short, the new site is called QJ-280 (for Quebrada Jaguay 280). QJ-280 is now about 2 kilometers inland from the Pacific Ocean. But 11,000 years ago, sea levels were lower, and it was 7-8 kilometers inland. This site is littered with the bones of fish and marine birds, such as cormorants. The people of QJ-280 were obviously familiar with the sea and exploited it almost exclusively. Whence this maritime culture? Did they come down the coast from North America or across the wide Pacific?

Further, the OJ-280 site has yielded obsidian, which could only have come from the highlands 130 kilometers to the east. Did the QJ-280 mariners penetrate that far inland, or did they trade with an unrecognized highland culture?

Finally, equally old Paleoindian sites have been researched by A. Roosevelt in the lowlands near the Atlantic coast -- a continent away. These jungle cultures had developed entirely different ways of living from the others just mentioned. In this context, Roosevelt commented:

"There's no apparent ancestral relationship between Clovis and these people in South America."

(Pringle, Heather; "Traces of Ancient Mariners Found in Peru," Science, 281: 1775, 1998. Sandweiss, Daniel H., et al; "Quebrada Jaguay: Early South American Maritime Adaptations," Science, 281:1830, 1998.)

From Science Frontiers #120, NOV-DEC 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss