The question of when humans first migrated to the Americas is an interesting one whose answer will provide excellent insight into the migration paths of early humans, as well as the human history of the Americas.
Given its great importance, it’s no wonder that the search for answers has lead to some debate among archaeologists.
The Clovis Culture
The generally accepted theory of human migration over the past 90 years among scientists says that the first migration of humans to North America took place along a then-existent land bridge across the Bering Sea between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago, with subsequent migrations taking place in the following years.
These people were believed to have rapidly made their way down the Pacific coast, eventually settling throughout the Americas within about 2,000 years of their arrival.
This view, dubbed the short chronology theory, was originally supported by a find of artifacts, including distinctive spearheads, at a site in Clovis, New Mexico. While other archaeological sites have been identified across the Americas bearing evidence of humans, none had been dated to a time previous to the so-called “Clovis culture.”
A more recently reported find at the Paisley Caves in Oregon has provided researchers with human DNA and more artifacts, including spearheads made quite differently from those of the Clovis culture and dating to about the same time, suggesting that more than one people inhabited North America during the time of the supposed first migration.
Theorized migration paths of Clovis people:
Given my previous understanding that the Clovis people were the first in the Americas and the obvious importance of this question as it relates to our understanding of recent human history, I set off to see if any other finds had contradicted the ideas behind the short chronology theory.
To my surprise and delight, I quickly began to learn about the sites at Pedra Furada in Brazil.
The highlight of the Pedra Furada sites are apparent human settlement artifacts that date to up to 60,000 years ago along with evidence of continuous human settlement during this long period.
The find has been hotly contested given the long-held idea of the Clovis people being the first to migrate to the Americas and many of the archaeologists who support that theory claim that the Pedra Furada sites and artifacts are simple geofacts, caused by natural forces.
It is an interesting debate and a reminder that no matter how much we know, there is much more that we don’t, especially when it comes to human history before the Neolithic Revolution.