It was the most shocking discovery in archaeology in a long time. Archaeologists from the United Kingdom and the United States have discovered convincing evidence that humans – dubbed “the forerunners” – were in the Americas about 6,000 years before the oldest previously accepted date.
Archaeologists discovered hundreds of genuine footprints at White Sands in New Mexico, which much outweighs some chipped stones that may or may not be ancient spear points. Furthermore, Prof. Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University in England, the primary author of the research published in the journal ‘Science,’ believes that the majority of the footprints were made by children.
“These were America’s first teenagers,” he told ‘The Observer,’ and they were hanging out together in the same way they do now. The only thing that was lacking was a smartphone.”
We don’t have DNA from the White Sands site, but the people who lived by that ancient lake definitely wouldn’t stand out in a modern street if you dressed them up and gave them a make-over.
However, the forerunners have left us with a few perplexing puzzles. The smaller one is how they arrived.
They most likely began by traversing the now-submerged land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska. That was the simple part. However, 22,000 years ago, a massive wall of glaciers more than a kilometre high barred the land passage south via Canada from Alaska. How did they avoid this?
Maybe they had dugout canoes (albeit large trees were scarce in the Ice Age Arctic), but it would have been a long journey (2,500 km.) along a rocky, ice-clad coast with nothing to eat save the fish you can catch. In comparison, the ‘Clovis’ people, who were thought to be the earliest humans in the Americas, had it easy.
A north-south passage had opened up through the icefields in what is now Alberta by the time they arrived some 13,000 years ago. You could walk all the way to Clovis, New Mexico, and find food on the way.
Evidence of human existence in the Americas has been broad and constant since the arrival of the Clovis people. According to an additional study, some comparable individuals may have lived on both continents as long as 16,000 years ago.
But the greater puzzle is this: if humans existed in New Mexico 22,000 years ago, where did they disappear for the following 6,000 years? How could there not be more proof of their presence elsewhere?
tart with the self-evident question Is it possible that the data is incorrect?
Most likely not. Footprints in the mud cannot be carbon-dated, but the ditch grass seeds trapped in the mud (now converted into rock) in the strata slightly above and below those footprints can. The archaeologists checked the date in every manner they could think of, and the results were consistent: the footprints are between 23,000 and 21,000 years old.
That’s OK. It’s time to ask the question we’d all prefer not to ask. Could the forerunners have been one or more tribes who made an end-run around the glaciers 22,000 years ago, prospered for a short time in the Americas, and then died out for unknown reasons?
The lack of evidence for human presence during the next 6,000 years clearly implies that the forerunners simply did not exist anymore. There will be no major extinction of American megafauna (big prey animals) until the Clovis hunters arrive sixty centuries later.
There was usually a major extinction when human hunter-gatherers first colonised a continent or ocean island where the great prey animals had not co-evolved with humans and did not fear them: Australia 46,000 years ago, the Americas approximately 10-12,000 years ago, and New Zealand barely 700 years ago. If it didn’t happen sooner in the Americas, the forerunners were most likely long gone.
Or maybe, just maybe, they were still holding on in small numbers someplace until the Clovis people arrived, most likely with superior weapons, and swept them aside. That is the opinion of Dr Andrea Manica, a geneticist at Cambridge University.
According to the BBC, the DNA “clearly reveals a separation of Native Americans from Asians some 15-16,000 years ago.” The forerunners aren’t reflected in that genetic lineage, and Manica speculates that “the first colonists of the Americas were supplanted when the ice corridor developed and another wave of colonists arrived.” We’re not sure how it happened.”
We do, indeed. We simply don’t want to think about it.