Discovery suggests that humans reached the Americas 15,000 years earlier than thought

Hyperaxion Jul 23, 2020

Archaeologists believe that humans were temporarily staying at the Chiquihuite Cave 30,000 years ago.

Archaeological evidence found in the Chiquihuite Cave, located in a remote region in Mexico, indicates that it was visited by humans about 30,000 years ago – 15,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Discovery suggests that humans reached the Americas 15,000 years earlier than thought
The team entering the Chiquihuite Cave. (Credit: Devlin A. Gandy).

The study, result of a collaboration between researchers and the local population, was published this week in the journal Nature.

As the researchers explain, about 2,000 stone tools were found at the site, but no human genetic material was identified, indicating that our ancestors did not spend much time there.

“These early visitors didn’t occupy the cave continuously, we think people spent part of the year there using it as a winter or summer shelter, or as a base to hunt during migration,” said Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “This could be the Americas oldest ever hotel.”

Tool found by the scientists.
Tool found by the scientists. (Credit: Ciprian Ardelean).

Scientists have identified the DNA of a wide range of animals, including black bears, rodents, bats, and rats.

The presence of this genetic material suggests that the cave was a point known to the ancient Americans and was also used by some other species for protection.

“Probably when herds of large mammals would have been in the area and who had little experience with humans so they would have been easy prey,” said Mikkel Winther Pedersen, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and a leading author of the study. “The location of Chiquihuite Cave definitely rewrites what has conventionally been taught in history and archaeology and shows that we need to rethink where we look for sites of the earliest people in Americas.”

Researchers analyze layers of sedimentary rock in the Chiquihuite Cave.
Researchers analyze layers of sedimentary rock in the Chiquihuite Cave. (Credit: Devlin A. Gandy).

The research, which lasted a decade, was helped by the local police, as this region of Mexico is controlled by cartels.

Still, the research brought more questions than answers for historians: it is not known who they were, where they came from, and where the humans who were passing through that region were going.

“They are a complete enigma,” said co-author Ciprian Ardelean, from the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico. “We falsely assume that the indigenous populations in the Americas today are direct descendants from the earliest Americans, but now we do not think that is the case.”

The research also indicates that these humans arrived in the Americas before the Clovis people, who lived on the continent about 13,000 years ago.

This is not the first time that doubt has been cast on the Clovis occupation theory – the Clovis First hypothesis. As we reported earlier this week, human feces found in Paisley Caves in the northwestern United States revealed that Homo sapiens already occupied North America 12,000 years ago.

“The peopling of the Americas is the last holy grail in modern archaeology,” Ardelean said. “We are dealing with a handful of humans from thousands of years ago so we cannot expect the signals to be very clear. We have literally dug deeper than anyone has done in the past.”

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