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Oldest New World tools uncovered along Idaho river

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2023 - 3:05pm
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A collection of 16,000-year-old projectile points uncovered along Idaho’s Salmon River could offer the earliest evidence of tool use in the Americas.

But while some say they point to earlier occupation, others call that a wild stab in the dark.

Any discussion of the settlement of the Americas begins with the telltale technology known as Clovis, once believed to mark the continents’ earliest settlers.

The 13 spear points reported in Science Advances, which differ significantly from Clovis points, are radiocarbon dated to be about 3,000 years older.

Moreover, they confirm dating estimates of another find located 25 meters away. Earlier estimates at that site had to be extrapolated, which left the door open for speculation that the cultural remains were not as old as the authors thought.

Both sites lie on land occupied by the Nez Perce people, who participated in the research.

The toolmaking techniques most closely resemble methods in use 20,000 years ago near present-day Hokkaido, Japan.

Genetic studies show those craftspeople were not the ancestors of modern Native Americans. Rather, the authors believe the technology might have been passed on to Paleoindians before they left Asia for the New World.

More evidence is needed before the interpretations are fully accepted in this often contentious area of study.

For one thing, 16,000 years ago corresponds to a glacial period when massive ice sheets barred the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia to North America.

But some experts argue the earliest migrants could have boated along the ice-covered land and down the Pacific coast.

Science