Until the 1980s, archaeologists believed — based on prehistoric finds — that the first humans in the Western Hemisphere belonged to the Clovis culture and settled in North America just over 11,000 years ago. The theory was mainly based on machined flint artifacts, tools and weapon blades.
Meanwhile, more and more skeletal and artifact finds indicate that the earliest settlers may have crossed the Beringia land bridge between Siberia and Alaska several thousand years earlier. Currently, most hypotheses assume that a first wave of immigration along the coasts took place no more than 15,000 years ago. Recent studies in Texas, however, now question this assumption.
A team led by Thomas Williams of Texas State University at San Marcos has rigorously studied tools from the Gault site and dated them using the luminescence method. The result contradicts to a large extent recent discoveries: The stone blades uncovered at the archaeological site 65 kilometers north of Austin are 16,000 to 20,000 years old — far older than anything that has been undoubtedly dated to human artefacts so far.
The tools and weapon tips come from a layer below previously uncovered Clovis blades and differ from these also in a striking way, say the scientists. “These projectiles are unique. So far we have not discovered anything like that,” says Williams. “This fact and our age analysis show together that the Gault site goes back to the very beginnings of American colonization.”
It is not unlikely that the inhabitants had good living conditions right from the beginning, according to the researchers: the area comprises a valley and, connected to it, broad plains. Some springs have provided a stable water supply for humans and animals and rich flint deposits were used by the people for tool and weapons production. The proven Clovis remains prove the area’s attractiveness at the time.
According to the study published in the journal “Science Advances”, the distinctly different blades discovered in deeper layers suggest that humans conquered America at least 2,500 years earlier than expected. And they prove the presence of a hitherto unknown culture in this area – long before the Clovis people gained a foothold here.