INTRODUCTION to instead provide significant evidence and ideas


When did the first humans
arrive in the Americas? Questioning the time period in which the peopling of
the New World took place is a long-standing topic of interdisciplinary debate
between scholars (Dillehay 2015). Many scholars in the archaeological community
have accepted the Clovis-first model as the first human entry culture. However,
there are many archaeologists that have rejected this model (Dillehay 1999). These
spontaneous archaeologists are pre-Clovis proponents who believe that the
presence of early humans in the Americans happened before the Clovis-first
model (Meltzer, Grayson, Ardila, Barker,
Dincauze, Haynes, Mena, Nunez, Stanford 1997). Despite having
skeptics that disregard the idea of the pre-Clovis model, there are
archaeologists out there that support, and even accept, the model.

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            This article will use the necessary evidence to support
the peopling of the Americas during the Pleistocene. Though it is important to
state that this article’s purpose does not involve “proving” an idea or theory,
but to instead provide significant evidence and ideas to back up any claim mentioned.
Using solid evidence found at the site of Monte Verde and Tom D. Dillehay’s
dedication to researching the site will both assist with supporting the
pre-Clovis model. Persistence and determination are both crucial to find
further evidence to support the theory of the Peopling of the Americas during
the Pleistocene period in order for it to gain widespread acceptance by
scholars and then hopefully solve the mystery of how and when the first Americans
arrived in the New World. If that is unattainable, a better understanding of
the archaeological record will still be attained and more investigations shall
and should be done.

Origins of the First Americans: Peopling of the Late Pleistocene

the origins of the first American populations has always fascinated
archaeologists, and Dillehay writes, “Important to an understanding of the
first people of any continent is an understanding of human dispersion and
adaption and their archaeological signatures” (Dillehay 2009). Many
archeologists agree that the first humans to have slowly migrated to the New
World were from Asia around 12,000 B.P. Even though this is widely accepted,
the ways in which the migrations were done is unknown; the unfortunate truth is
that the ways in which the peopling of the New World was accomplished still
remains a mystery that has yet to be solved (Whitley and Dorn 1993).
Fortunately, this presents the opportunity to claim that the colonization of
the Americas happened far earlier than previously thought. The idea of the
pre-Clovis model suggests that it exists and holds a place in the
archaeological record, and it would have logically lead to the Clovis-fist
model. However, it should be stated that no single cultural model can fully
explain the peopling of the Americas; theories and ideas are only accommodations
for unknown occurrences of the past.  Nevertheless, scholars who commit their work
to investigations to provide the world with their insight will help with
putting the peopling puzzle together, leading to a better understanding of the
entire process (Dillehay, Collins 1991).

classic theory on how early humans arrived at the New World is that a small
population from Asia migrated to North America by crossing Beringia, an ancient
land bridge that connected Russia to Alaska, no earlier than 13,500 B.P. This
entry route theory is known as the Ice-Free Corridor Model (IFC). The other one
is the Coastal Model (CM), which theorizes that early humans migrated to the
Americas following the Pacific Coastline; it is believed that they either
migrated along the shoreline by foot or by boating (Waguespack 2007). Interest in the CM
model has soared, and Waguespack (2007) has two key concepts as to why the
interest has grown:

First, the
relatively widespread acceptance of Monte Verde presents a continental
archeological record where a near-coastal South American site predates all
early interior sites. Second, recent geological work concerning the location
and boundaries of continental ice masses has altered our understanding of the
corridor. It is now generally acknowledged that the Laurentide and Cordilleran
ice sheets coalesced during Wisconsin glaciation. Further, cosmogenic dating of
glacial erratics associated with the Laurentide ice sheet,58 together with
other geologic evidence, imply that the corridor was not open between
26,000–14,000 CYBP, severely limiting the temporal ”freedom” the IFC model
allowed for colonization. If Monte Verde is as old is it appears to be, humans
were south of glacial ice before the opening of the corridor (Waguespack 2007).

suggests that the peopling of the New World happened thousands of years before
the Clovis-first model. Those who oppose this claim might point out why there
are little to no sites that provide documentations of the supposed events. This
question can easily be answered using logical thought. The CM model consisted
of early humans residing and traveling by the Pacific coastal route during the
glacial period. Those early colonizers arrived before the glaciers started to
melt, and the melting outlines an evident scenario. The rising sea levels,
caused by the melting of glaciers, had submerged the earliest sites that would
have been present on the coastal route (Waguespack 2007).

presence during the pre-Clovis model differs between North and South America must
be mentioned. Differences include: colonization, demographic models, migration
routes and subsistence strategies (Scheinsohn 2003). North America was ravaged
by glacial sheets while South America only dealt with minor glaciers, but
successful colonization in South America was no easier. Some early humans in
South America decided to settle in the highlands of the Andes Mountains. High-altitude
environments are never welcoming; high-altitude environments are harsh and are
more difficult to adapt to due to colder temperatures and limited resources.
Obviously far from being a pleasant experience, it comes to no surprise that high-land
environments were some of the last landscapes to be colonized in South America
around 15,000 – 11,000 B.P. In general, a majority of scholars believe that
early humans settled in South America at least during 14,600 B.P (Jolie, Lynch,
Geib, Adovasio 2011). Strangely enough, there are more pre-Clovis sites present
in South America than there are in North America (Scheinsohn 2007). Also, the discovery and dating of South America’s
Monte Verde questions if North America was even colonized before South America
(Whitley and Dorn ). According to Edward Lanning’s article:

radiocarbon dates from four archaeological sites are in excess of 13,000 years.
Seven of them have faunal associations, but only three are clearly associated
with a definable lithic industry. These are 14,180 +/-300, 14,180 +/- 250, and
14,190 +/- I80 B.P. These dates, from Pikimachay Cave in the south-central
Peruvian highlands, refer to the newly-discovered Ayacucho complex. The
associations are impeccable: a stratum that has yielded to date fifty-one
artefacts plus bones of Paleolama and Megatherium, the whole sealed in by a
massive rock fall from the cave roof (Lanning 1970).

            These dates suggest that South
America was colonized by or before 14,000 B.P.; early humans resided in South
America during the times of the late Pleistocene at the latest (Lanning 1970).
The amount of pre-Clovis sites present in North and South America is not
significant, but the fact that both continents contain any pre-Clovis sites at
all is what is significant. The most precise or accepted cultural model that
determines the migration of early humans also does not matter. These sites and
models all provide valuable evidence that supports the idea of Pleistocene
peopling in the Americas, bringing the archeological record closer to solving
the puzzle of the New World’s origins.

Monte Verde: The most Viable
pre-Clovis Site

            The site of Monte Verde (located in Chile,
South America) is recognized as one of the most viable pre-Clovis sites of the
Americas. Tom D. Dillehay was the first to excavate the site in 1977 and
continues to conduct research at the site to this day (Meltzer, Grayson,
Ardila, Barker, Dincauze, Haynes, Mena, Nunez, Stanford 1997). Dillehay
challenged the Clovis-first model after the discovery and dating of Monte
Verde. Like previously stated, many scholars agree that early humans migrated
from Asia to North America around 12,000 B.P. (Clovis-first model date) using
the land-bridge Beringia that was last present between 35,000 and 14,400 B.P.,
but Dillehay states that the Clovis-first model of human entry can no longer
explain the peopling of the Americas (Meltzer 1989; Dillehay 2015). The reason
he makes this claim is because Monte Verde had beautifully well-preserved
organic remains, like wood, bone, and skin, and inorganic artifacts and
features dating from 33,000 to 12,500 years B.P. (Meltzer 1997). Although these
dates are controversial and are doubted by many, including by Dillehey himself,
the dates can still be authenticated and they still imply that early humans
colonized the Americas earlier than the Clovis-first model (Waguespack 2007).

            An example of a date that has been
tested carefully is the date of when the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets coalesced.
Although the ice sheets were only located in North America, they still have a
connection with South America’s Monte Verde. Waguespack writes in his article:

is now generally acknowledged that the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets
coalesced during Wisconsin glaciation. Further, cosmogenic dating of glacial
erratics associated with the Laurentide ice sheet, 58 together with other
geologic evidence, imply that the corridor was not open between 26,000–14,000
CYBP, severely limiting the temporal ”freedom” the IFC model allowed for
colonization. If Monte Verde is as old is it appears to be, humans were south
of glacial ice before the opening of the corridor (Waguespack 2007).

            These generalizations suggest that
early humans managed to migrate to South America before the glaciers melted.
Not only does this support the Coastal Model, but it also supports the idea
that early humans possibly colonized South America before 26,000 – 14,000 B.P.
The early colonizers must have used the coastal route to migrate to South
America and then dispersed once they arrived at the continent. Also, they might
have built multiple sites along the coastline, and the reason why remnants of
those now extinct sites is because they were lost and destroyed by rising sea
levels caused by the glacial sheets melting (Waguspack 2007). Nevertheless, evidence
was still attainable and that evidence supports the peopling of the Pleistocene
in the Americas.

            Monte Verde II (MV-II) is seen as a
Pleistocene site, since the site’s dating goes back to around 30,000 to 15,000
B.P., that has played an important role in interdisciplinary research on the
dating and nature of the initial peopling of South America for decades
(Dillehay 2015). Dillehay (2015) excavated the site recently once again, and
its nearby locality of Chinchihuapi, in hopes of discovering new findings that
will reveal cultural evidence that strengthens the possibility of an earlier
human presence on the continent. Some of the new evidence found consists of low-density
occurrences of stratigraphic in situ
stone artifacts, faunal remains, and burned areas. These findings suggest
discrete horizons of ephemeral human activity radiocarbon dates between 14,500
to 19,000 B.P., which further suggests a wider diversity of tool types of
ephemeral human behavior, landscape use, site size and structure. The data
finally suggests that people might have arrived in South America before 15,000;
early South American colonizers were very mobile and managed to adapt to a wide
variety of environments (Dillehay 2015).

Dillehay and his colleagues found thirty-nine lithic
assemblage samples at Monte Verde, findings that have a significant role in
contextual and chronometric evidence. The earliest probable lithics are thought
to date from around or before 25,000 years ago. These lithics share similar
dates to the site of MV-I (15,000 to 20,000 B.P. as well), and consists of four
specimens that include:

well-rounded possible “sling stones,” a possible chopper with a clear
percussion flake on an exotic white quartz, and an angular spall of basalt showing
no evidence of cultural use. Next is nine specimens, dated between ~19,000 and
17,000cal BP, including a clearly flaked pebble of serpentine, five human-made
percussion flakes, a round stone, and aspherical stone possibly used as a sling
stone, and an exotic discoidal beach pebble manuport. Dating between
~16,000-and15,000 cal BP are three artifacts, a basalt wedge, aculturally produced
basalt flake with clear percussion marks, and an intentionally split pebble with
heavy marginal retouch and “edge-batter”. The fourth assemblage, dated at
~15,000 to 14,500cal BP, is contemporary with MV-II and numbers18 specimens.

These dates provide more
evidence for the presence of early humans during the Pleistocene. While it is
phenomenal that these archaic findings were able to be recovered, lithic remains
are inorganic materials which gives them an advantage when it comes to being
preserved. Organic remains sadly do not preserve as easily. However, they were
still able to find bone fragments at MV-I and CH-I, but they were unfortunately
too small to identify what species it belonged to. Faunal remains found at
strata MV-7 and MV-8 also possess impressive dates; an animal skin fragment was
recovered at a depth of 2.1 m and dated 43,000 B.P., which agrees with a
previous 14^C assay of 42,000 B.P. at the same level in a nearby block that was
excavated (Dillehay 2015).

dates are undeniably very exciting and crucial for Pleistonce-proponents, but
not for the opposing side. Dillehay mentions and writes about Lynch in one of
his articles:

Lynch remarks that “pre-Clovis proponents” are looking too
“hard” and too “anxiously” for pre-Paleoindian sites. He
makes a plea for “colleagues to be more restrained, even self-critical, in
the interpretation of archaeological data, and to depend more on the absolutely
secure cases and major patterns than on the infrequent, and often transitory
exceptions (Dillehay 1991).

            These are indeed brash statements, to say the least,
about Monte Verde. Yet, Dillehay (2015) has concluded that, “the majority of anatomical,
archaeological and genetic evidence gives credence to the view that people were
relatively recent arrivals to the Americas, probably sometime between 20,000and
15,000 years ago, (Dillehay 2015). Thankfully, Dillehay made comments that
protected the site from Lynch’s criticisms. He writes that pattern recognitions
start off with discoveries and observations of infrequent occurrences.
“Infrequent” and ‘transitory” patterns encouraged further research to be
conducted at the site. He even went as far to question if Clovis-first sites
had any major patterns when they were first discovered to deliberately provoke
Lynch (Dillehey 1991). In archaeology, it is necessary to heavily rely on
assumptions and on arguments of plausibility. The construction of archeology can
be misconstrued by factual errors, inconsistencies, and misinterpretations made
by those who investigated the site and those who critique the sites as well. No
model can fully explain how the early peopling of the Americas, be it the
Clovis- First or pre-Clovis models, happened. Yet, the insights of
archeologists allow for a better understanding of the peopling of the New
World, which adds once missing pieces back to the puzzle (Dillehay 2015).


“When did the first early humans arrive in the America,”
is indeed a question that is difficult to answer. Seeking the traces left
behind by those early colonizers could help to answer that question. Solving
their migration patterns and finding out how they adapted to different
environments could also help to answer the question, which then leads to a
better understanding. The reality is, “A better understanding of such things
will not set the boundaries within which humans came to the Americas. None can
give that sort of information,” (Meltzer 1989). These words might sound
disheartening, but they speak the truth. “Rather, their value will come in an
ability to predict and, possibly, discover the earliest traces of the first
North Americans, and evaluate and understand that evidence if we do,” (Meltzer
1989). This is why investigations are crucial in archaeology; their traces will
eventually be found if we continue to look and dig for them.

            Working in the field of archaeology
truly does require persistence and determination because it could take a long
time to find evidence that is needed to support a model and there are scholars
out there that will try to provoke insights. The quarrels between pre-Clovis
and Clovis-first proponents interferes the progression of attaining knowledge.
We can only progress if the debate is outgrown and then investigations are
continued (Dillehay and Collins 1991). The evidence that is found will always
assist with the understanding of how the whole processes, the peopling of the
of the Americas during the Pleistocene, was possibly done.

            To conclude, we have yet to find all
the pieces of the puzzle but pursuing the missing pieces is crucial. Many
archeologists have dedicated their time to look for those pieces of evidence to
provide insight for what model they believe in. I think that those
archeologists have done a remarkable job to support the pre-Clovis model, and
there is more data out there to be gathered and assessed. Nevertheless, the
unpredictability of the early archeological record of the New World will
continue to be intriguingly and satisfyingly complex (Dillehay 2015).