Archaeological find could rewrite American history

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Steve Holen, former curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, traveled to San Diego in 2008. The potential miscalculation was uncovered by a collection of mastodon bones, which were discovered during construction work on a California freeway in 1992. Dating the tools proved to be challenging.

The researchers involved with the find say they have multiple lines of evidence to support the assertion that the mastodon was slaughtered by humans using stone tools shortly after its death.

UM paleontologist Daniel Fisher, a co-author of the Nature paper, said several lines of evidence from the Cerutti Mastodon site point to "one interpretation that is nearly unavoidable because of the way these different lines of argument interlace".

The fact that human beings were present approximately 100,000 years earlier shows that they may not have been linked with any other group.

"These patterns, taken together, have led us to the conclusion that humans were processing mastodon limb bones ... and that this was occurring at the site of burial ..." It's not believed that the humans killed the animal, however. The nearby stones, hefty and round, show wear patterns consistent with being smashed against bone, the authors say. They also may have extracted marrow from the bones for nutrition. That method indicated they are 130,000-years-old.

Large mastodon teeth and bones have shattered in such a way that they aren't likely to have been taken to the site from another place, the archaeologists argue.

"This site really nails it because the evidence is really clear", Viscera added.

But some were skeptical that the rocks were really used as tools.

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"The very honest answer is, we don't know", said Steven Holen, lead author of the paper and director of the nonprofit Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

He said the study failed to rule out natural causes or other possible explanations for the markings on the bones.

Common wisdom holds that the first Americans didn't arrive until 13,000 years ago in what's called the Clovis culture, named after a site in New Mexico where distinctive stone tools were found in the 1920s.

In this April 28, 1993 photo provided by the San Diego Natural History Museum, a bulldozer refills the Cerutti Mastodon site in San Diego, Calif., after the excavation and salvage of fossils. Over time they found more splintered bones and a smattering of large round rocks embedded in otherwise fine-grained sediment. "People are notorious litterbugs, even back then", she told CBC News. "Or is there a long, but as yet, scarcely recognised presence of humans in this hemisphere?"

Burke said that she'd specifically like to see a closer examination of the surface damage of the bones. Other proposed hypotheses, such as trampling, weather, and modification of eating habits, do not match the observations, as no carnivores at the time were able to break those bones without help.

But Dr Hovers said: "The evidence from the Cerutti Mastodon site has been rigorously researched and presented, and might be more hard to refute, even though the proposed hominin narrative derived from these data has some gaping holes that need filling".

"Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here signficantly earlier than commonly accepted", said co-author Thomas Demere, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Pobriner suggests some museum specimen may have some of the same percussive injuries that can also be dated to this earlier era, helping map what might have been the migration.

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