First Americans: Not Mammoth Hunters, But Forest Dwellers?

Science  19 Apr 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5260, pp. 346-347
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5260.346


For archaeologists on the trail of the first Americans, fluted points found near the town of Clovis, New Mexico, in 1932 have been sharp indicators of their identity. The points—10,900 to 11,200 years old and long accepted as the continent's oldest known human artifacts—signified intrepid hunters who swept into the continent in pursuit of mammoth, bison, and other giant mammals. But recently, evidence has been accumulating that early Paleoindians were gathering fruits and fishing rather than felling mammoths. A new excavation of a Brazilian cave, described on page 373, provides some of the strongest support yet for that notion. Stone tools, lumps of paint, and the remains of their meals—including fruits, nuts, and bones—indicate that these cave dwellers foraged for food in the Amazonian forest and river basin, had their own distinct tool kits, and painted art on their cave walls. And they may have arrived in America before the “Clovis people” did.