Archive for April 6th, 2008

Fossilized feces testify to earliest Americans

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Fourteen coprolites (i.e., fossilized poop) found by archaeologists in an Oregon cave indicate that humans were living in North America a thousand years earlier than previously thought.

The dumps in question were taken 14,300 years ago, which means people were doing their business in the Pacific Northwest when much of Canada and the northern US was still covered in glaciers.

The new research doesn’t set an exact arrival date for humans, but it shakes up long-held assumptions – especially the notion, still dear to many archeologists, that humans couldn’t have punched past the glaciers covering nearly all of present-day Canada and the northern United States much before 13,000 years ago. That’s when warming would have allowed easier transit across a land bridge from Siberia and into the heart of the new continent by interior passageways.

Because this research puts humans in the New World more or less concurrent with the ice wall, the find supports emerging theories that the first Americans followed a rugged, coast-hugging route down the Pacific Northwest – perhaps coursing from peninsula to peninsula in primitive watercraft.

We were a tough bunch back in the day, weren’t we? I’m reluctant to walk down my outside staircase when there’s a light dusting of snow on them.

Anyway, there is some debate about whether the mitochondrial DNA found in cast-off digestive tract cells in the coprolites was actually a more recent contamination of the site, but the find seems solid and it casts a whole new light on the archaeological record of human life in the Americas.






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