Peopling of mesoamerica
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Peopling of Mesoamerica. When did people first appear in the Americas? Where did they come from? What did they look like? Early Mesoamerican Sites. Geological Background. 50,000-7000± Wisconsin Glacial Period

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Peopling of Mesoamerica

When did people first appear in the Americas?

Where did they come from?

What did they look like?

Early Mesoamerican Sites

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Geological Background

  • 50,000-7000± Wisconsin Glacial Period

  • The presence of land corridors from Beringia allows the possibility of human passage, but convincing evidence is still wanting.

  • >11,500 Cary Advance

  • 11,000-10,000 Mankato Advance (humid)

  • 10,000-8000 Two Creeks Interval (dry)

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When did people first appear in the Americas?

  • Part of a larger debated centered around two issues:

    • The traditional, undisputed evidence for the presence of a fluted point manufacturing Clovis culture throughout most of the inhabitable continent between about 13,500-12,000 cal. (clovis/short chronology)

    • New evidence of sites in Americas dating to 19 and 15 kya. (pre-clovis/long chronology)

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Climatological/Migration evidence for Modern Humand

  • Earliest modern humans outside Africa ca. 100,000

  • The last lands to inhabit:

    • Sumatra and Borneo

    • before 20,000 B.P. connected by land bridge to SE Asia

    • People could walk to new areas.

  • Sea level was much lower because water taken up in polar ice.

    • Approximately 120 meters lower than at present.

    • Oldest Australians-35 kya (some argue 55 kya)

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How did they get there and where did they come from?

  • Invention of water transport (boats), modern computer simulations have shown that at certain times of the year it would take seven days to go from Borneo/Java to Australia/New Guinea (55 miles of open water).

  • No boats recovered from Australia which date to this time period.

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  • Peaks of glacial max-lower sea levels

  • Siberia and Alaska connected by Bering Land Bridge

  • Ca. 50 kya during the “Happy” interval of Pleistocene (level 200 ft lower)

  • Ca. 20 kya during the Duvanny Yar Interval (level 300 ft lower)

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Two Conflicting Theories

  • The antiquity of the earliest Americans is controversial, much debate

  • Short Chronology (Clovis)

    • No evidence of humans in New World before 12-13 kya.

  • Long Chronology (Pre-Clovis)

    • Humans in many migrations in New World, as early as 20 kya (or even earlier).

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Short Chronology (Clovis)

  • No evidence of humans in New World before 12-13 kya.

  • Crossed Bering Land Bridge during last glacial maximum, moved between major ice sheets-Laurentide (C. Canada), Labrador (E. Canada), and Cordilleran (W. Canada). All touched at glacial maximum.

  • Ice free areas developed during last periods (20-12 kya) and people crossed Beringia, following larger herds of bison, Mammoth, and Mastodon.

  • People carried large spears-Clovis Points and lived in highly mobile groups traveling rapidly across unglaciated N. America into S. America in very short period of time. Called the Paleoindians.

  • Possible that the rapid expansion of humans in conjunction with warmer climate (ca 10 kya) caused extinction of megafauna in New World.

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Possible Migration RoutesBering Land Bridge

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Long Chronology (Pre-Clovis)

  • Humans in many migrations in New World, as early as 20 kya (or earlier).

  • Smaller groups than indicated by Clovis hypothesis, largely a wood and bone tool industry. Also chopper and scraper industry.

  • Postulated due to recent finds of sites which date to before 13 kya.

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Pre-Clovis Sites

  • Meadowcroft Rockshleter, PA (16-19,5 kya) artifacts include stone blades, scrapers and knives.

  • Cactus Hill, VA (17 kya)

  • Wilson Butte Cave, Idaho (14,5 kya)

  • Most compelling are S. American sites

    • Flea Cave, Peru 14,7 kya

    • Pedra Furadarockshleter, Brazil 30-12 kya

    • Monte Verde, Chile excavated by Tom Dillehay

      • One area of site dates to ca. 13 kya houses, preserved by an overlayer of peat. Wood, bone, skin, meat, botanicals are extremely well preserved.

      • Ambiguous lower level of three possible cultural features and some stone tool fragments dated to 33 kya. Affiliation unclear, but more recent research suggests early dates very compelling.

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Asian-Coastal Western North America

Tool found



In coastal Pacific

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Clovis vs. Solutrean

Different shapes, but similar technology

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Paleoindian Sites in Mesoamerica

  • Valsequillo

    • located in the state of Puebla

    • excavated by Cynthia Irwin-Williams and Juan Armenta

    • at least five sites show human habitation

    • tools found in gravels from the Wisconsin glaciation

    • unifacial stone tools near the bones of extinct animals

    • shell near stone flakes dated to ca. 22,000 BP

    • Early human footprints??

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Valsequillo Reservoir area

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Early Footprint?

  • Dating unclear-some suggest 40,000, but very controversial.

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  • located in the Valley of Mexico

  • mammoth bones with simple flakes dated to ca. 27,000 - 22,000 BP (25,000 - 20,000 BC)

  • dates based on radiocarbon from one of three fire hearths

    • hearths associated with bones of Ice Age fauna

    • bear, deer, and stag

    • 2500 stone flakes, blades and cores found in this level

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  • site in the Valley of Mexico north of Lake Texcoco, 42 mi north of Mexico City

  • carved sacrum of a Pleistocene camelid

    • find made by Mariano Barcena in 1870

    • was 12 m (40 ft) below the surface and represents face of a dog, wolf, or coyote

    • simple stone scrapers, pressure-flaked unifacial blades

    • splinters of mammoth bone made into bone awls found at the same site

    • indicate butchering and scraper hide processing

  • bottom of deposits thought to have been laid down 40,000 years ago

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Carved Bone

Discovered in 1870 by the Mexican naturalist Mariano Bárcena, this piece is of particular importance, given the fact that it is one of the earliest cultural artifacts to have ever come to light in Mesoamerica. Carved from the sacrum of a now extinct American relative of the camel, its original use remains unknown.

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  • found by Helmut de Terra in 1949

  • located on the northern shore of Lake Texcoco

  • skeleton, called "Tepexpan Man" found with a mine detector

  • bones in association with Becerra formation

  • was actually a female individual

  • found face down, with legs flexed

    • common form for Archaic period burials

    • no associated offerings

    • height estimated at 5'5" tall

    • between 25 and 30 years of age

    • skeleton is morphologically similar to modern Indians

    • within normal range of present-day Indian populations

    • no associated artifacts

    • actual stratigraphic position is not well known

    • fluorine content in bones very close to that of the mammoths from Santa Isabel Ixtapan

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Santa Izabel Iztapan

  • located in the northern Basin of Mexico, just a few miles south of Tepexpan

  • first discovery was in 1952 by workers opening a drainage ditch

  • kill sites with two mammoth (Mammuthus imperator) skeletons

    • animal had been butchered in situ with six stone tools found with one mammoth, three artifacts with the second

    • include obsidian side scrapers, flint blades, fragment of a bifacial knife, three projectile points, and prismatic obsidian blades

    • one of the points was of a North American type known as Scottsbluff

  • second mammoth found in 1954

    • tools found associated with mammoth bones

    • hind leg of animal had apparently caught in the muck

    • bones had deep cut marks

    • artifacts included an Angostura point, a Lerma point of flint, and a bifacial chert knife

    • datable charcoal from hearth next to third mammoth and radiocarbon dates fall between 14,000 and 9000 BP