Scientists have found definitive evidence of humans in the Americas. The earliest remains they found date back to more than 14,000 years ago, and were discovered in a cave on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. “This find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made,” said archaeologist James Dixon, who led the team that analyzed thousands of bone fragments from excavations at Calvert Island.
The find is significant because it dramatically pushes back the date for human settlement in Canada and suggests that humans either migrated or developed on this continent at least 500 years earlier than previously thought. The bone fragments belonged to an adult and two children and are reported in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. The researchers dated them using carbon-14 dating, DNA sequencing and other techniques. Some researchers suspect that early humans used boats to spread along the coasts of Northern Canada at least 14,000 years ago.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that people occupied the New World before the last ice age,” said John McNabb, director of the Centre for Archaeology and Palaeoecology at the University of Wales, Lampeter.The axes were made of a kind of rock not found in the area. A member of the team, anthropology student Daryl Fedje, spotted a bone protruding from a wall in a small cave on Calvert Island. He said it didn’t look like any animal bones found in the region and appeared to be human.
In January 2001 Dixon’s team excavated the cave and found 1,400 fragments of bone belonging to an adult, two children and a baby. The bones included intact pieces of skull, leg bones with the points used to make spears sticking out, ribs showing signs of having been cut by stone tools, and pieces of hide that had been scraped clean. While human occupation in northern British Columbia is not surprising, the find is unprecedented.
The knowledge that humans were using tools to butcher animals 14,000 years ago was not expected, he added.” Dixon is uncertain whether the three individuals were members of the same family or whether they were placed in the cave after death. He thinks, however, that it is possible they died there while sheltering from an ice storm. The presence of flint chips suggests they could have been hunters laying traps along the old coastline to catch salmon when they swam into fresh water rivers during spawning season.
The team also found shells from a creature that could have been used as bait and a stone wedge used for splitting wood, both dating to nearly 12,000 years ago.
The amount of information contained in the find has led to comparisons to the discovery of Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton belonging to an ancestor of humans. The find comes shortly after other evidence suggesting people were present in America’s North West Coast well before the last ice age. Some scientists have suggested that early humans may have used boats to travel along the northwest coast, eventually migrating across to Alaska and then south into Canada.
“We are adding a new chapter to an unfolding story of the peopling of this land,” Dixon added.”One that will eventually show it was an intricate and testing measure.”
Well, if we forget about the other main finds, such as Kennewick Man, and the various ancient (colder) newcomers such as the Solutreans, who all disagree with Dixon’s new chapter.
But this is not surprising: it is normal in archaeology to view old-fashioned theories as “previous evidence”, while novel, younger alternatives are perceived as “revolutionary” or even “radical”. This is usually done by ignoring the age of the discovery, which is what Dixon has just done with his Lucy reference.
No one disputes that these new finds are important and they deserve to be known worldwide. However, even most orthodox scientists agree that expanding the horizons of our knowledge can only be beneficial so long as this expansion does not go against physical laws and what we know of human capabilities and limitations.
However, as the case of Kennewick Man shows, there is a powerful group within American archaeology which wants to prevent anything but orthodoxy from being known . And with the Lucy reference Dixon has shown that he too is part of this group: afraid of new ideas and unwilling to follow scientific method.