A mastodon carcass from 130,000 years old suggests that humans were in America tens of thousands of years before the history books say they were.
Paleontologists have dug up a 130,000-year-old mastodon skeleton that looks like it was smashed apart by humans. But they found it in America, where people were not supposed to have arrived for another 100,000 years.
How could that have happened?
The researchers say they think early humans must have come to America much, much earlier than anyone ever thought. They suggest that other scientists start looking for evidence of people in places they never bothered looking before.
If the conclusions are confirmed, they will turn North American archaeology upside down.
“I know people will be skeptical of this because it is so surprising and I was skeptical when I first looked at the material itself. But it’s definitely an archaeological site,” said Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in South Dakota.
The site includes a skeleton that looks like it was taken apart and broken with stone tools, which are left in place alongside the bones they smashed. One tusk appears to have been stuck upright into the ground.
“It appears to be impossible that a mastodon could somehow force its own tusk into the underlying deposits,” the research team noted in their report, published in the journal Nature.
The only reasonable explanation, they say, is that humans did it.
Uranium dating puts the site at around 130,000 years old.
“My first reaction on reading this paper was ‘No. This is wrong. Something’s wrong,'” said stone tool expert John McNabb of the University of Southampton in Britain.
“If it does turn out to be true, it changes absolutely everything.”
Current wisdom holds that modern humans arrived in the Americas no earlier than about 15,000 years ago. The oldest widely accepted site for the first Americans dates to just 13,000 years ago.