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One of the most contentious issue in American, if not world archaeology is the validity of the ‘Clovis first’ theory, which is based on the argument that humans first came into America with the opening of a vast ice corridor running from north-west to south-east about 13,000 years ago. While this used to be the mainstream belief, trumping other fringe theories, a complete turnaround has just surfaced and the evidence of pre-Clovis habitation is now irrefutable. But who were these people and where did they come from?
Map of the Americas showing pre-Clovis sites, from the journal Science. ( Pratyeka / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Debunking Mainstream Clovis
A human-worked mammoth bone radiocarbon dated to 24,000 years ago has been recovered from Bluefish Caves in Yukon, Canada, and there is hard evidence of human activity at Meadowcroft in North America around 19,000 years ago. However, many archaeologists remain adamant that the earliest ‘reliably’ dated evidence of human habitation in the Americas are 11,500-year-old fluted projectile points found in Clovis, New Mexico; regarded as evidence of small groups of people spreading slowly across North America - the Clovis Culture.
Mainstream dogma had everything pinned down with the Clovis theory until 1997 when evidence of human habitation was unearthed at a coastal site known as Monte Verde in the sub-Antarctic and evergreen softwood forests of mountainous southern Chile. A UNESCO article informs that artifacts predating the earliest known Clovis artifacts by 1,000 years confirm that humans lived beside a small forest stream about 14,800 years ago according to calibrated Carbon 14 testing.
Clovis spearpoints from Clovis, New Mexico on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio. Dated from 13,500 to 13,000 years ago they were found in (from left to right) Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin/Illinois border, Illinois, Ohio, and Georgia. ( CC BY-SA 2.0)
Researchers from the Austral University of Chile discovered among ancient homes the remains of wild potatoes and animal bones and six mastodons were also found. Among the lithic tools recovered were egg sized rocks which might have been used in a sling and a spiked extended cylindrical stone that might have been used for drilling.
This is all evidence that the America’s first people arrived by traveling along the Pacific coast and that prior to the Late Upper Paleolithic period, humans inhabited every continent on the planet.
What Was in the First Americans' Toolkit?
But what was a toolkit like 15,000 years ago? Surprisingly sophisticated, Waters tells PM.
Among the many pieces of chert (a type of sedimentary rock) that showed obvious signs of shaping by human toolmakers, Waters' team found what archaeologists call blades and bladelets&mdashlong, slender flakes of rock at least twice as long as they are wide. Waters, the director of Texas A&M's Center for the Study of the First Americans, says there are so many in the site that they wouldn't be shards created from another project, but intentionally created tools.
Under a microscope, Waters says, he saw on the blades a pattern of polish and scratches that suggests the people were cutting soft material. "Leatherworking comes to mind," he says. "So they might be making bags they might be making clothing they might be making a backpack or a pouch." The team members manufactured their own blades of chert to test this idea, and in the experiment the tools worked like a charm. "It's just like an Exacto knife," he says.
In addition, the excavation turned up a piece of chert that looks like a little boring tool, which Waters says could've been useful for punching holes in hides to sew pieces together.
Just like Clovis people, the pre-Clovis people who left tools in the Texas find appear to have used lots of bifaces&mdashan archaeological term for simple two-sided multipurpose knives. They could have used the knives for digging, hunting, or a variety of other purposes. But sometimes, Waters says, it seems that the people smashed them.
"Imagine they put that biface on the table and they just smashed it right in the middle to break it into a bunch of little pieces, like pieces of pie," he says. Those shards often have a nice sharp chisel end, he says, which the pre-Clovis people could have used to work hard materials. "These people were probably making handles for tools, or [wanted] to groove something to insert maybe a blade or a scraper tool into the wooden handle. They could've been shaping bone to a point to make a bone projectile."
Paint or Glue
"I'll never forget this," Waters says: "This undergraduate student was digging and he called me over and said, 'Dr. Waters, I found this shiny stone, you should come look at this.' So I looked at it and said, 'Yeah, holy smokes, you found a shiny stone.'"
That stone was a golf-ball-size piece of the mineral hematite, which has a red ochre color. If the pre-Clovis people ground the hematite into a powder, they could have mixed that powder with animal fat or with plant sap to create a red paint. In addition, Waters says, mixing hematite powder with some fats, oils or plant juices would create a binding agent&mdasha glue they could have used to attach stone tools to wooden handles. "If you mixed a little bit of hematite powder in there, it helps bind that stone tool firmly to the wood," he says. "And then you wrap sinew around it and it's not going anywhere."
What We Don't See
Even before the Waters team began excavating Buttermilk Creek Valley in 2006, finding 15,000-year-old tools, Waters says new archaeological finds were poking holes in the Clovis-first theory: that people with artifacts dating back 13,000 years were the first Americans. Some archaeologists have been loath to give up on the Clovis-first idea, Waters says, partly because Clovis-era people left behind many stone tools, while these people&mdashwho appear to be their precursors, according to Waters' team&mdashdid not. Archaeologists have to take what the ground gives them, and most of the pre-Clovis culture&mdashincluding perhaps clothing, baskets and shoes&mdashdidn't survive. Or, at least, scientists haven't found those artifacts yet.
"You think, 'Wow, this is a rich site, we found a lot of artifacts,'" Waters says. "But if you ever go to a dry cave in West Texas and see what's pulled out of there, what you find is that stone tools are only about 5 percent of what people had. We're only getting a glimpse of these people from the stone tools we find at the site."
What DNA can reveal
Forty years ago, researchers thought the peopling of the Americas was fairly straightforward. It was thought that humans arrived in a single southern wave of migration about 13,000 years ago, which corresponds to the spread across North America of distinctive stone tools attributed to a group called the Clovis culture.
But thanks to new archaeological discoveries and more precise dating techniques, we now know that the Clovis people wielding these tools weren't the first Americans. At several sites in North and South America, researchers have convincingly shown that pre-Clovis people arrived centuries before these tools appear. (Learn more about the first Americans.)
Studying ancient DNA adds extra detail to this picture, revealing the presence of genetically distinct groups who didn't leave behind unique physical traces. That said, it offers only a fuzzy, zoomed-out view. After all, early Native Americans didn't march across the land in one fell swoop. Instead, small groups of hunters and gatherers meandered through the region as they lived day to day collecting food, seeking shelter, making clothing and tools, and socializing with others.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of oversimplifying what was probably an extremely complex process, depicting it as straight arrows southward,” Raff says.
The Clovis Point and the Discovery of America’s First Culture
When Edgar B. Howard heard that a road crew in eastern New Mexico had stumbled across a cache of big ancient bones, he dropped everything and grabbed the first westbound train. At the time—November 1932—Howard was an archaeology research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. He had been working for a few years in the Southwest and had seen his colleagues in this intensely competitive profession snatch discoveries from under his nose. Days later, he was in Clovis, New Mexico, persuading the landowners to let him excavate.
Howard launched his field project at the site the following summer, soon uncovering what he called the “matted masses of bones of mammoth.” Mixed in with the bones were slender, finger-long spear points—Clovis points, as they are called today—which Howard carefully left in place. Eminent researchers quickly converged on Clovis and bore witness to the discovery.
Clovis points are wholly distinctive. Chipped from jasper, chert, obsidian and other fine, brittle stone, they have a lance-shaped tip and (sometimes) wickedly sharp edges. Extending from the base toward the tips are shallow, concave grooves called “flutes” that may have helped the points be inserted into spear shafts. Typically about four inches long and a third of an inch thick, they were sleek and often beautifully made. After discovering Clovis points in New Mexico, Howard and others looked for traces of them in collections of artifacts from Siberia, the origin of the first Americans. None have ever been found. Clovis points, it seems, were an American invention—perhaps the first American invention.
More than 10,000 Clovis points have been discovered, scattered in 1,500 locations throughout most of North America Clovis points, or something similar, have turned up as far south as Venezuela. They seem to have materialized suddenly, by archaeological standards, and spread fast. The oldest securely dated points, discovered in Texas, trace back 13,500 years. In a few centuries they show up everywhere from Florida to Montana, from Pennsylvania to Washington State.
Care must be taken: Dating stone objects is difficult, and the results are subject to controversy (the timeline here is from a widely cited 2007 article in Science by Michael R. Waters of Texas A&M and Thomas W. Stafford Jr., who then operated a private archaeological lab in Colorado). Even when dates are established, they are not easy to interpret. Because artifact styles—forms of pottery, tools, spear points—can change arbitrarily, one can’t say that a particular style necessarily represents a particular society. The near-simultaneous advent of Clovis points might represent the swift adoption of an improved technology by different groups, rather than the spread of one group. Still, most researchers believe that the rapid dissemination of Clovis points is evidence that a single way of life—the Clovis culture—swept across the continent in a flash. No other culture has dominated so much of the Americas.
So quickly did Clovis proliferate that researchers imagined it must be the first truly American culture, the people who took fire and spear across landscapes empty of humankind. But others kept offering data that the Americas were inhabited before Clovis. The vituperative debate ended only when strong evidence for a pre-Clovis settlement turned up in Chile in the late 1990s. Other pre-Clovis sites followed, notably a cave in Oregon with fossilized human excrement identified by DNA analysis and dated by accelerator mass spectrometry. Little is understood about these early peoples. Clovis may no longer be the oldest American culture, but it remains the oldest American culture we know much about.
Initially discovered between the rib bones of large, extinct mammals, Clovis points were long viewed as hunting tools. Similarly, it was thought that the Clovis culture focused on hunting big game—“Pleistocene megafauna.” To this day, countless museum dioramas portray doughty paleo-Indian men thrusting spears in the faces of mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. Women and children lurk at the edges, hoping the hunters will survive. Later archaeologists questioned this picture. Chasing after giant beasts with sticks and sharp stones is dangerous. How could any group base its subsistence on something so risky? It would be like a society in which the majority of adults made their living by disarming land mines.
In a study published in 2002, Donald Grayson of the University of Washington and David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University searched through data from scores of Clovis sites for evidence of humans killing big animals (butchered bones, for instance). In only 14 did they find evidence of hunting—or, possibly, “hunting,” since at several of the sites people seemed to have killed animals at water holes that were already near death. “Pitiful,” Meltzer joked in First Peoples in a New World, his history of America’s first colonization. Today it appears likely that Clovis people depended mostly on foraging for plants, hunting small mammals and, probably, fishing. Along with scrapers, blades, drills and needles, the Clovis point was part of a generalized tool kit—the Leatherman of the ancient world—that human beings used to flood into a still-new land.
Clovis points were made for three or four centuries, then disappeared. So did the culture that created them. As Clovis people settled into different ecological zones, the culture split into separate groups, each adapting to its own separate environment. The end of Clovis marked the beginning of the enormous social, cultural and linguistic diversity that characterized the next 10,000 years. Of the brief florescence of Clovis, only the tools, notably the points, remained—the last physical traces of America’s first and most extensive cultural imperium.
The author of the recent best-selling books 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, Charles C. Mann sees our country’s past in the light of events that stretch back at least as far as 13,500 years ago, when people first began to fabricate the stone tools known as Clovis points.
“The Americas have a long and fascinating history before Columbus,” he says. “I think everyone should know it—it’s the history of half the world, and it’s part of our human story.”
A thriving North American ancient society
The that the Clovis thrived from the time of their arrival could be evidence of culture beyond hunter-gathering. Their skills were very adaptive to a difficult North American environment. They lived alongside the largest number of megafauna species on the planet at the time.
Evidence has been found of campsites and stone quarries, mined for generations. These were people with ingenious adaption, but also the signs of the first civilized society.
Early evidence of sedentary dwelling
The swift expanse of the Clovis people showed they were adept at finding food sources. Analysis of spear points reveal the types of animals they hunted. Although they were found in and around mammoth remains, they preferred hunting turtles.
As a species that live for a year without food, keeping turtles could have been a way of reducing nomadic hunting needs. These could be traits of a herder-gatherer society.
The Clovis spears were extremely important to the culture. There is evidence they traveled for hundreds of miles just to find specific materials to carve spear points from.
It is as if the spears were a rite of passage for the culture not only are Clovis points extremely difficult to carve, they are easily chipped and broken while trying to do so.
They used a technology called ‘overshot flaking’ (bifacial thinning) to create them. It’s the only culture so far in North America to have been found to adopt this technology, and one of the few in the entire world.
Culture and religion
Evidence has also been uncovered of ceremonial and society-like culture. Spear points have been often found with red ochre decorating them.
The remains of only one person of the Clovis culture has been found. His name is Anzick-1 a toddler found in a grave would become dated to 12,600 years ago. He was laid to rest surrounded by at least 100 stone tools, and 15 ivory ones. Some of these were covered in red ochre, and together they suggest Anzick was a very special child who had been ceremonially buried in splendor.
It represents non-hunter gatherer behavior, and perhaps a belief system in the culture existed. These are further evidence of an ancient society.
Ancient DNA Ties Native Americans From Two Continents To Clovis
The mysterious Clovis culture, which appeared in North America about 13,000 years ago, appears to be the forerunner of Native Americans throughout the Americas, according to a study in Nature. Scientists have read the genetic sequence of a baby from a Clovis burial site in Montana to help fill out the story of the earliest Americans.
Until now, archaeologists have had to rely mainly on tools made of stone and bone, and other artifacts to tell the story of human migration about 15,000 years ago to the New World.
Now that story is bolstered with some dramatic, ancient DNA, extracted from the remains of a 1-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana more than 12,000 years ago.
That's the only human skeleton known from a brief but prolific culture in the Americas called Clovis.
Until recently, finding characteristic stone and bone tools was the only way to trace the fate of the Clovis people, whose culture appeared in North America about 13,000 years ago. Sarah L. Anzick/Nature hide caption
"Clovis is what we like to refer to as an 'archaeological complex,' " says Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University. That complex is defined by characteristic tools, he says.
The Clovis artifacts were common for about 400 years, starting about 13,000 years ago. But at this point, there is only one set of human remains associated with those sorts of tools: that of the baby from Montana.
"So this genetic study actually provides us with a look at who these people were," Waters says.
The most obvious conclusion from the study is that the Clovis people who lived on the Anzick site in Montana were genetically very much like Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere.
"The Anzick family is directly ancestral to so many peoples in the Americas," says Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen. "That's astonishing!"
He led the effort to read that genome. The genes reveal that early Americans are the product of two lineages that most likely met and interbred in Asia before making the trek across the Bering land bridge.
This strongly suggests that there was a single migration of people into the Americas. And these people were probably the people who eventually gave rise to Clovis.
Michael Waters, archaeologist
"So this strongly suggests that there was a single migration of people into the Americas," Waters says. "And these people were probably the people who eventually gave rise to Clovis."
The finding contradicts a long-shot hypothesis that Clovis' ancestors actually came from Europe, not Asia. But it leaves many other questions about Clovis unresolved.
The artifacts from this culture are found from Washington state to Florida and many places in between. But the culture also disappeared suddenly, around 12,600 years ago. Waters doesn't find all of that so mysterious.
"People change all the time and cultures change all the time and technologies change," Waters says. "And they change because people are adapting to new environments and changes in climate."
"And at the end of the Clovis time period, 12,600 years ago, when this child was buried, the climate was changing. It was the beginning of the Younger Dryas cold snap. This is when you start seeing a lot of cultural differentiation taking place," Waters says.
In Ancient Ore. Dump, Clues To The First Americans?
The DNA evidence now makes clear that the people who used Clovis tools lived on, even though they left their old technology behind. But the Clovis genes give only a broad-brush view of how and when migrations through the Americas took place.
Texas Find Turns Back Clock On Settlers In America
"We have no idea exactly where the U.S. fits in this pattern," Willerslev says. "And to be completely honest, we have no idea how they actually moved through time, these different groups throughout the continent. In order to answer that question there's only one way to go, and that is sequencing more genomes from ancient remains."
That will require, among other things, cooperation with native peoples.
In the case of the Clovis child, the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately. The Clovis infant is to be reburied later this year, on the property where he was unearthed.
New Evidence Puts Man In North America 50,000 Years Ago
Radiocarbon tests of carbonized plant remains where artifacts were unearthed last May along the Savannah River in Allendale County by University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear indicate that the sediments containing these artifacts are at least 50,000 years old, meaning that humans inhabited North American long before the last ice age.
The findings are significant because they suggest that humans inhabited North America well before the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, a potentially explosive revelation in American archaeology.
Goodyear, who has garnered international attention for his discoveries of tools that pre-date what is believed to be humans' arrival in North America, announced the test results, which were done by the University of California at Irvine Laboratory, Wednesday (Nov .17).
"The dates could actually be older," Goodyear says. "Fifty-thousand should be a minimum age since there may be little detectable activity left."
The dawn of modern homo sapiens occurred in Africa between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago. Evidence of modern man's migration out of the African continent has been documented in Australia and Central Asia at 50,000 years and in Europe at 40,000 years. The fact that humans could have been in North America at or near the same time is expected to spark debate among archaeologists worldwide, raising new questions on the origin and migration of the human species.
"Topper is the oldest radiocarbon dated site in North America," Goodyear says. "However, other early sites in Brazil and Chile, as well as a site in Oklahoma also suggest that humans were in the Western Hemisphere as early as 30,000 years ago to perhaps 60,000."
In 1998, Goodyear, nationally known for his research on the ice age PaleoIndian cultures dug below the 13,000-year Clovis level at the Topper site and found unusual stone tools up to a meter deeper. The Topper excavation site is on the bank of the Savannah River on property owned by Clariant Corp., a chemical corporation headquartered near Basel, Switzerland. He recovered numerous stone tool artifacts in soils that were later dated by an outside team of geologists to be 16,000 years old.
For five years, Goodyear continued to add artifacts and evidence that a pre-Clovis people existed, slowly eroding the long-held theory by archaeologists that man arrived in North America around 13,000 years ago.
Last May, Goodyear dug even deeper to see whether man's existence extended further back in time. Using a backhoe and hand excavations, Goodyear's team dug through the Pleistocene terrace soil, some 4 meters below the ground surface. Goodyear found a number of artifacts similar to the pre-Clovis forms he has excavated in recent years.
Then on the last day of the last week of digging, Goodyear's team uncovered a black stain in the soil where artifacts lay, providing him the charcoal needed for radiocarbon dating. Dr. Tom Stafford of Stafford Laboratories in Boulder, Colo., came to Topper and collected charcoal samples for dating.
"Three radiocarbon dates were obtained from deep in the terrace at Topper with two dates of 50,300 and 51,700 on burnt plant remains. One modern date related to an intrusion," Stafford says. "The two 50,000 dates indicate that they are at least 50,300 years. The absolute age is not known."
The revelation of an even older date for Topper is expected to heighten speculation about when man got to the Western Hemisphere and add to the debate over other pre-Clovis sites in the Eastern United States such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pa., and Cactus Hill, Va.
In October 2005, archaeologists will meet in Columbia for a conference on Clovis and the study of earliest Americans. The conference will include a day trip to Topper, which is sure to dominate discussions and presentations at the international gathering.USC's Topper: A Timeline
May, 1998 &mdash Dr. Al Goodyear and his team dig up to a meter below the Clovis level and encounter unusual stone tools up to two meters below surface.
May 1999 &mdash Team of outside geologists led by Mike Waters, a researcher at Texas A&M, visit Topper site and propose a thorough geological study of locality.
May 2000 &mdash Geology study done by consultants ice age soil confirmed for pre-Clovis artifacts.
May 2001 &mdash Geologists revisit Topper and obtain ancient plant remains deep down in the Pleistocene terrace. OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dates on soils above ice age strata show pre-Clovis is at least older than 14,000.
May 2002 &mdash Geologists find new profile showing ancient soil lying between Clovis and pre-Clovis, confirming the age of ice age soils between 16,000 - 20,000 years.
May 2003 &mdash Archaeologists continue to excavate pre-Clovis artifacts above the terrace, as well as new, significant Clovis finds.
May 2004 &mdash Using backhoe and hand excavations, Goodyear and his team dig deeper, down into the Pleistocene terrace, some 4 meters below the ground surface. Artifacts, similar to pre-Clovis forms excavated in previous years, recovered deep in the terrace. A black stain in the soil provides charcoal for radio carbon dating.
November 2004 &mdash Radiocarbon dating report indicates that artifacts excavated from Pleistocene terrace in May were recovered from soil that dates some 50,000 years. The dates imply an even earlier arrival for humans in this hemisphere than previously believed, well before the last ice age.DR. ALBERT C. GOODYEAR III
University of South Carolina archaeologist Albert C. Goodyear joined the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in1974 and has been associated with the Research Division since 1976. He is also the founder and director of the Allendale PaleoIndian Expedition, a program that involves members of the public in helping to excavate PaleoAmerican sites in the central Savannah River Valley of South Carolina.
Goodyear earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of South Florida (1968), his master's degree in anthropology from the University of Arkansas and his doctorate in anthropology from Arizona State University (1976). He is a member of the Society for American Archaeology, the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, the Archaeological Society of South Carolina, and the Florida Anthropological Society. He has served twice as president of the Archaeological Society of South Carolina and is on the editorial board of The Florida Anthropologist and the North American Archaeologist.
Goodyear developed his interest in archaeology in the 1960s as a member of the F1orida Anthropological Society and through avocational experiences along Florida's central Gulf Coast. He wrote and published articles about sites and artifacts from that region for The Florida Anthropologist in the late 1960s. His master's thesis on the Brand site, a late PaleoIndian Dalton site in northeast Arkansas, was published in 1974 by the Arkansas Archeological Survey. At Arizona State University, he did field research on Desert Hohokam mountain hunting and gathering sites in the Lower Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona.
Goodyear, whose primary research interest has been America's earliest human inhabitants, has focused on the period of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition dating between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago. He has taken a geoarchaeological approach to the search for deeply buried early sites by teaming up with colleagues in geology and soil science. For the past 15 years he has studied early prehistoric sites in Allendale County, S.C., in the central Savannah River Valley. These are stone tool manufacturing sites related to the abundant chert resources that were quarried in this locality.
This work has been supported by the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, the University of South Carolina, the Archaeological Research Trust (SCIAA), the Allendale Research Fund, the Elizabeth Stringfellow Endowment Fund, Sandoz Chemical Corp. and Clariant Corp., the present owner of the site.
Goodyear is the author of over 100 articles, reports and books and regularly presents public lectures and professional papers on his PaleoIndian discoveries in South Carolina.
Materials provided by University Of South Carolina. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
A trail of DNA
Two new papers add DNA from 64 ancient individuals to the sparse genetic record of the Americas. They show that people related to the Anzick child, part of the Clovis culture, quickly spread across both North and South America about 13,000 years ago.
Upward Sun River 11,500 years ago
Spirit Cave 10,700 years ago
Lovelock Cave 2000–600 years ago
Monte Verde 14,500+ years ago
Lapa do Santo 9600 years ago
Lagoa Santa 10,400–9600 years ago Australasian ancestry
Northern Native Americans
Southern Native Americans
The two studies also provide an unprecedented view of how ancient Americans moved across the continent beginning about 13,000 years ago. Previous genetic work had suggested the ancestors of Native Americans split from Siberians and East Asians about 25,000 years ago, perhaps when they entered the now mostly drowned landmass of Beringia, which bridged the Russian Far East and North America. Some populations stayed isolated in Beringia, and Willerslev sequenced one new example of such an "Ancient Beringian," 9000-year-old remains from Alaska's Seward peninsula. Meanwhile, other groups headed south. At some point, those that journeyed south of the ice sheets split into two groups—"Southern Native Americans" and "Northern Native Americans" (also sometimes called Ancestral A and B lineages), who went on to populate the continents.
By looking for genetic similarities between far-flung samples, both papers add detail—some of it puzzling—to this pattern. The 12,700-year-old Anzick child from Montana, who is associated with the mammoth-hunting Clovis culture, known for their distinctive spear points, provided a key reference point. Willerslev detected Anzick-related ancestry in both the Spirit Cave individual—who is associated with western stemmed tools, a tradition likely older than Clovis—and 10,000-year-old remains from Lagoa Santa in Brazil. Reich's team found an even closer relationship between Anzick and 9300- to 10,900-year-old samples from Chile, Brazil, and Belize.
Those close genetic affinities at similar times but across vast distances suggest people must have moved rapidly across the Americas, with little time to evolve into distinct genetic groups. Reich's team argues that Clovis technology might have spurred this rapid expansion. But anthropological geneticist Deborah Bolnick of the University of Connecticut in Storrs notes the Anzick-related ancestry group may have been broader than the Clovis people, and doubts that the culture was a driver.
Willerslev also finds traces of this Anzick-related ancestry in later samples from South America and Lovelock Cave in Nevada. But in Reich's data it fades starting about 9000 years ago in much of South America, suggesting "a major population replacement," he says.
After that population turnover in South America, both teams see striking genetic continuity in many regions. But that doesn't mean no one moved around. Reich's group sees a new genetic signal entering the central Andes about 4200 years ago, carried by people who are most closely related to ancient inhabitants of the Channel Islands, off Southern California. Meanwhile, Willerslev's team detects ancestry related to the present-day Mixe, an Indigenous group from Oaxaca in Mexico, spreading to South America about 6000 years ago and North America about 1000 years ago. Neither of these migrations replaced local communities, but rather mixed with them. Both teams say they could be seeing the same signal, but "without comparing the data, it's really hard to tell," says archaeogeneticist Cosimo Posth of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, the first author of the Cell paper.
Just as mysterious is the trace of Australasian ancestry in some ancient South Americans. Reich and others had previously seen hints of it in living people in the Brazilian Amazon. Now, Willerslev has provided more evidence: telltale DNA in one person from Lagoa Santa in Brazil, who lived 10,400 years ago. "How did it get there? We have no idea," says geneticist José Víctor Moreno-Mayar of the University of Copenhagen, first author of the Willerslev paper.
The signal doesn't appear in any other of the team's samples, "somehow leaping over all of North America in a single bound," says co-author and archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He wonders whether that Australasian ancestry was confined to a small population of Siberian migrants who remained isolated from other Native American ancestors throughout the journey through Beringia and the Americas. That suggests individual groups may have moved into the continents without mixing.
Delighted as they are with the data in the new studies, scientists want more. Meltzer points out that none of the new samples can illuminate what's happening at pre-Clovis sites such as Chile's Monte Verde, which was occupied 14,500 years ago. And Potter notes that, "We have a huge, gaping hole in the central and eastern North American [sampling] record. … These papers aren't the final words."
Origins of a fortune cookie
Earlier this year we invited Jennifer 8 Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, to meet with our staff and share her insights into the mysteries of Chinese food. One topic that really caught our attention was the origin of the fortune cookie. You might be surprised to discover that fortune cookies are not a Chinese creation but rather an American one by way of Japan. I know I was surprised and I grew up around fortune cookies, although I always preferred almond cookies.
Excited about this revelation, research specialist Noriko Sanefuji went out to investigate. Armed with information from Ms. Lee, Noriko contacted Gary Ono, whose grandfather, Suyeichi Okamura, an immigrant from Japan, is one of the claimants to the original fortune cookie in the U.S.
Noriko Sanefuji (left) and Gary Ono (right).
In 1906, Suyeichi started Benkyodo, a Japanese confectionery store in San Francisco. The store supplied fortune cookies (Japanese fortune cookies are a regional delicacy and much larger than the ones we know) to Makoto Hagiwara, who ran the Japanese Tea Garden at the Golden Gate Park.
Mr. Ono showed Noriko a selection of antique sembei iron kata (hand skillet mold), which were used in the Japanese Tea Garden to make the fortune cookies one at a time. Although some of the katas were plain, others had engraved initials (M.H. for Makoto Hagiwara) or had logos for the Tea Garden (Mount Fuji with “Japan Tea”). Mr. Ono was kind enough to donate three katas to the Smithsonian.
Senbei irons. Gift of Suyeichi & Owai Okamura family, Benkyodo Co., San Francisco. Photo credit: Gary Ono.
(Left) Senbei iron with engraved initials, M.H. for Makoto Hagiwara.(Right) Senbei Iron with Japan Tea logo. Gifts of Suyeichi & Owai Okamura family, Benkyodo Co., San Francisco. Photo credits: Gary Ono.
Benkyodo continued to be the Japanese Tea Garden’s sole supplier of fortune cookies until the outbreak of World War II, when Japanese Americans in California were sent to internment camps. Chinese businessmen used the opportunity and started to produce their own fortune cookies, selling them to Chinese restaurants, and setting in motion an association between cookie and restaurant that continues today.
So what do you think? Did you know that about fortune cookies? I didn’t even get to the fortune part of the cookie. So I’ll leave you with this question, what is the best fortune you’ve ever gotten? And for those wondering, Gary says his grandfather resumed making fortune cookies after the war ended.
Cedric Yeh is Deputy Chair and Associate Curator in the Division of Armed Forces History and Noriko Sanefuji is a research specialist in the Division of Work and Industry at the National Museum of American History.