Stone tools, cooked animal and plant remains and fire pits found at the Monte Verde site in southern Chile provide greater interdisciplinary evidence that the earliest known Americans--a nomadic people adapted to a cold, ice-age environment--were established deep in South America more than 15,000 years ago. The research, led by Tom Dillehay, Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, appears in the Nov. 18 issue of PLOS ONE.
The team recovered a total of 39 stone objects and 12 small fire pits associated with bones and some edible plant remains, including nuts and grasses. The bones tended to be small fragments, broken and scorched, indicating that the animals had been cooked. They often came from very large animals, like prehistoric llamas or mastodons, as well as smaller creatures like prehistoric deer and horses. The Monte Verde site was unlikely to have been able to support the kind of vegetation that those animals needed to eat, so they were likely killed and butchered elsewhere. The objects were radiocarbon dated and most were found to range in age from more than 14,000 to almost 19,000 years old.
The wide scattering suggests that the people who created these features were nomadic hunter-gatherers who might have camped for only a night or two before moving on. "Where they're going, we don't know, and where they're coming from, we don't know, but this would have been a passageway from the coast to the foothills of the Andes," Dillehay said. Dillehay believes that they may have come through Monte Verde because the terrain was more walkable than the surrounding bogs and wetlands, and because it provided access to stone to make tools.