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Evidence of Pre-Clovis Occupation in Southeastern US Discovered

Stone tools and butchered (or scavenged) mastodon bones found at the Page-Ladson site, Florida, show ancient humans lived in the southeastern United States 14,550 years ago — at least 1,500 years earlier than previously suspected, according to a team of archaeologists. In the 1980-90s, David Webb and co-author James Dunbar from Aucilla Research Institute investigated the Page-Ladson site — an archaeological site that is 26 feet (8 m) underwater in a bedrock sinkhole on the Aucilla River, near Tallahassee — and retrieved several stone tools and a mastodon tusk with cut marks from a tool in a layer more than 14,000 years old.

However, the findings received little attention because they were considered too old to be real and questionable because they were found underwater. Between 2012 and 2014, Dunbar and other researchers excavated stone tools and bones of extinct animals. They also found a biface — a knife with sharp edges on both sides that is used for cutting and butchering animals. Co-author Dr. Daniel Fisher from the University of Michigan also took another look at the mastodon tusk that Dunbar had retrieved during the earlier excavations.

He concluded that the original interpretation — that the deep, parallel grooves in the surface of the tusk are cut marks made by humans using stone tools to remove the tusk from the skull — is correct. “These grooves are clearly the result of human activity and, together with new radiocarbon dates, they indicate that humans were processing a mastodon carcass in what is now the southeastern U.S. much earlier than was generally accepted,” Dr. Fisher said.

“In addition, our work provides strong evidence that early human hunters did not hunt mastodons to extinction as quickly as supporters of the so-called ‘Blitzkrieg’ hypothesis have argued. Instead, the evidence from this site shows that humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years.”Dr. Fisher’s re-examination of the tusk revealed more than a dozen deep, parallel linear grooves on the end of the tusk that attached to the skull. The grooves are perpendicular to the long axis of the tusk. Most are 2.4 to 3.15 inches (6 – 8 cm) long and 1.5 mm deep or less. “The tusk may have been removed to gain access to edible tissue at its base,” Dr. Fisher said.

“Each tusk this size would have had more than 7 kg of tender, nutritious tissue in its pulp cavity, and that would certainly have been of value. Another possible reason to extract a tusk is that ancient humans who lived in this same area are known to have used ivory to make weapons.”Using the latest radiocarbon dating techniques, the team found all artifacts dated about 14,550 years ago.

Prior to this discovery, archaeologists believed a group of people called Clovis — once widely considered the first inhabitants of the Americas — settled the area about 13,200 years ago.