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North American ancestors arrived sooner than originally thought

Our early North American ancestors were incredibly hardcore. They found their way across the Bering Strait and started life on a brand new continent. And now, scientists believe they did it 10,000 years earlier than they previously thought.

Until recently, researchers believed that early humans settled in North America sometime around 14,000 Before Present (BP). New evidence suggests that our North American ancestors may have arrived even sooner. Evidence gathered from early archeological sites now places humans in North America as early as 24,000 BP. This was around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, also known as the last ice age.

To arrive at these numbers, scientists studied artifacts from the Bluefish Caves. This ancient archeological site is located next to the Bluefish River in Alaska. It was first excavated by Jacques Cinq-Mars, an archeologist who worked at the site between 1977 and 1987. He initially hypothesized that humans first settled the area as early as 30,000 BP – a claim that generated much controversy in scientific circles.

Enter researchers Ariane Burke and Lauriane Bourgeon. Burke, a professor at the Université de Montréal and Bourgeon, her student, analyzed bone fragments found at the site. The bones showed evidence of human activity. For instance, a preserved piece of a horse mandible revealed that someone had used a stone tool to remove the tongue.

When the scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine how old the bones were, results revealed that they originated between 23,000 and 24,000 cal BP (calibrated years Before Present). This means that the Bluefish Caves are “the earliest known site of human settlement in Canada,” says Burke.

The area in which the Bluefish Caves are located is known as Berengia. It spans from the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories all the way to Russia’s Lena River. Burke says that the people who once populated the area were isolated from “glaciers and steppes too inhospitable for human occupation to the West.” 

This allowed them to survive and eventually populate the entire continent all the way down to South America.

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