Evidence Hints at Earlier Humans in Americas

Nov 18, 2004
New York Times

rchaeologists in South Carolina yesterday announced radiocarbon dates suggesting, they said, that people made tools on a wooded hillside near the Savannah River about 50,000 years ago.

That would be more than 35,000 years earlier than established evidence for humans in the Americas - a stunning discovery, if true, and one that some archaeologists question.

"I think it's the real deal," Dr. Albert C. Goodyear of the University of South Carolina said about the dates for some charcoal flakes found in deep sediments that also contained what he said were primitive stone tools. The dating was performed at the University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Goodyear acknowledged in a telephone interview that the research would "be extremely controversial," because some other scientists are not as convinced that the stone objects are really tools, and not naturally chipped and battered chert, or dense quartz.

The so-called artifacts were uncovered last spring as Dr. Goodyear and his team dug below occupation levels estimated to be 16,000 years old. The site, near Barnwell, S.C., is called Topper, named for the person who brought it to the attention of archaeologists more than 20 years ago.

Until recent discoveries elsewhere, the earliest Americans were once thought to be the Clovis hunters, who left finely worked projectile points across the United States, beginning 13,000 years ago. The Monte Verde site in Chile shows human occupation a few thousand years earlier, so far the oldest evidence for people in the New World that nearly all scholars can agree on.

Dr. Michael B. Collins, a prominent archaeologist at the University of Texas who excavates remains of some of the earliest Americans, said he found nothing wrong with the carbon dates. But all they did, he said, was give the age of a sediment layer.

"We are not seeing any artifacts in that older stuff at the Topper site," Dr. Collins said. "The stones were fractured by nature and ended up resembling tools."

Dr. David G. Anderson, an anthropologist at the University of Tennessee who is familiar with the Topper research, expressed concern that the announcement was made at a news conference and not in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


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