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Paleoindians hunting a Glyptodon. (c. 1920) by Heinrich Harder.

Evidence Mounts in Favor of Early Inhabitants of the Americas Over 20,000 Years Ago


A recent article in the journal Antiquity suggests that prehistoric people were hunting giant sloths in eastern Brazil about 23,000 years ago. This adds to an ever-growing body of research questioning the textbook presentation of when and how the Americas were populated.

According to Science News, numerous stone artifacts and bones of giant sloths were found at the rock shelter site of Santa Elina between 1984 to 2004. It is believed the small, bony sloth skin plates were perforated and notched to become ornaments for humans living in the area. Apart from the sloth remains and stone artifacts, remnants of hearths were also found in the sediment layers.

The Santa Elina Brazilian rock shelter (left) and sloth bones unearthed at the site. (right: top and bottom)

The Santa Elina Brazilian rock shelter (left) and sloth bones unearthed at the site. (right: top and bottom) (D. Vialou et al/Antiquity)

Dating of the sediment, charcoal particles, and sloth bones suggest that people had reached Santa Elina at least 20,000 years ago. The dates also show that people were in the area again from about 10,120 to 2,000 years ago.

Another find suggesting a much earlier occupation of Brazil was made in 2014. That discovery included stone tools which were embedded in a rock shelter dated to 22,000 years ago. April Holloway reported on the discovery for Ancient Origins: “The stone tools were found in Serra Da Capivara National Park, Brazil, a region steeped in history with thousands of rock art paintings across 945 separate sites. The tools were dated using thermo luminescence, a technique that measures the exposure of sediments to sunlight, to determine their age.”

A previous discovery suggested that humans had used tools on a set of 30,000-year-old fossilized bones of giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, oversized armadillos, and other mega fauna that roamed the Americas until around 11,000 years ago. That discovery was made in Uruguay. 

Remains of a Giant ground sloth (Eremotherium laurillardi).

Remains of a Giant ground sloth (Eremotherium laurillardi). (CC BY SA 2.5)

With an even more controversial date, research presented in April 2017 about an Ice Age site in San Diego, California proposes people were already in the Americas 130,000 years ago. The proof supporting that date comes from a trove of ancient bones that were also apparently modified by early humans.

Each of these three finds fits into the category of the common evidence provided for earlier migration dates into the Americas – artifacts and hearths. These finds are usually dated by using the sediment they contained. Critics of these studies often claim that artifacts appearing to have been manipulated by humans do not provide strong enough evidence to ascertain that humans were in the Americas earlier than the accepted view. It is much rarer to hear of human bones older than 10,000 being discovered anywhere in the Americas. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

In September 2017, researchers published their findings on a prehistoric human skeleton found in the Chan Hol Cave on the Yucatán Peninsula which is at least 13,000 years old. Unfortunately, the site of the find was looted shortly after the discovery of the human skeleton in February 2012; unknown divers stole all the bones lying around on the ground of the cave. The hip bone investigated by the German-Mexican researchers remained however - it was protected by the rock-hard lime-sinter of the stalagmite.

Prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula prior to looting by unknown cave divers.

Prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula prior to looting by unknown cave divers. (Tom Poole/Liquid Jungle Lab)

There are also many recent studies which go against the mainstream perspective as to how the Americas were inhabited. For example, one emerging view suggests that ancient maritime travelers set out from Beringia about 16,000 years ago, and within just 1500 years their followers had ended up all the way down the Pacific coast to modern day Chile.

It is also worth noting that a recent analysis of human skulls provides evidence that the Americas were not just populated by one wave of migration – in fact, researchers have said that it took several migrations of ancient Asians and possibly Australian or Polynesian people to populate the Americas thousands of years ago.

Native Americans traveling by boat.

Native Americans traveling by boat. (Public Domain)

The old belief in ‘Clovis-first’ regarding the peopling of the Americas is now falling by the wayside as recent discoveries and improved dating techniques show time and again that the old picture doesn’t quite fit with the new information.

Top Image: Paleoindians hunting a Glyptodon. (c. 1920) by Heinrich Harder. Source: Public Domain

By Alicia McDermott



LadyGreenEyes's picture

That skull in the Chan Hol cave looks, at a glance, to be Caucasoid.  Wouldn’t be the first one like that.  The whole idea of the Americas only being populated from Asia needs to be set aside.  There is evidence of people from every race being here in the distant past, with African-looking artifacts in S. America, and the whole Solutrean mass of evidence for early Europeans.  Also, many Amerind legends actually speak of white-skinned people being in areas when the various tribes arrived there.  Simple fact; we really don’t know who was here first, but it’s a safe bet that the peopling of the Americas was far more complex than prevously believed.  There needs to be a demand that all ancient remains can be properly studied, instead of being turned over to this or that tribal group, just to be hidden away for political reasons.  Real science demands facts.


Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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