nsucurrent.com May 23, 2018

Neanderthals in California? Maybe so, new study says

30 April 2017, 01:14 | Shelley Chandler

Jaw-Dropping Study Says Some Human Relative Was in California 130000 Years Ago

Paleontologist Don Swanson points at rock fragments near a large horizontal mastodon tusk fragment at the San Diego Natural History Museum in San Diego California U.S. in this handout

The fossil remains were discovered by museum paleontologists during routine paleontological mitigation work at a freeway expansion project site managed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Since its initial discovery in 1992, this site has been the subject of research by top scientists to date the fossils accurately and evaluate microscopic damage on bones and rocks that researchers now consider indicative of human activity.

Then, in 2014, co-author James Paces, a researcher with the US Geological Survey, used state-of-the-art radiometric methods to measure traces of natural uranium and its decaying by-products in the mastodon bones, which were still fresh when broken by precise blows from stone hammers.

"This discovery is rewriting our understanding of when humans reached the New World". Beyond the need for broader consensus about the nature of the percussion signs on the bones loom much more tantalizing questions-if true, how did those first humans arrive here, well before the appearance of the land bridge, and what happened to them?

Until recently, archaeologists acknowledged that the oldest documented human sites in North America are about 14,000 years old.

"It's hard for me to get my head around", he said, pointing to the need for more research comparing the San Diego specimens to other confirmed paleolithic sites in Africa and other places. This is not that uncommon a find per se - we know early humans ate mastodons all the time.

"This is a whole new ball game", Steve Holen, co-director of the Center for American Paleolithic Research and the paper's lead author, told CNN.

"These bones were not broken by carnivore chewing". Distinct breakage patterns, as well as scrapes and other markings on the bones, are consistent with other sites where humans have broken apart bones with rock hammers and anvils to harvest the marrow or fragments of bone. The arrangement of the bones at Cerutti suggests the early appearance of humans at the site, the researchers said.

The other bone fragments that were unearthed showed that they too came from a single mastodon.

"This is the first time there's been a demonstrated archaeological site with all the bells and whistles", said Curtis Runnels, an archaeologist at Boston University who was not involved with the study, referring to the combination of several lines of evidence at the site.

According to Holen, however, the team has "made a very good case that this is an archaeological site", and is "quite prepared for the firestorm that's coming".

In this April 28, 1993 photo provided by the San Diego Natural History Museum, a bulldozer refills the Cerutti Mastodon site in San Diego, Calif., after the excavation and salvage of fossils. Dr. Rob Benson, Adams State professor of geology and earth sciences, assisted Beeton by running X-Ray Diffraction on soil samples in the university's Interdisciplinary STEM Laboratory, and by collaborating on thin section analysis.

The researchers defended their conclusions, published in the journal Nature.

"Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here signficantly earlier than commonly accepted", said co-author Thomas Demere, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum. He has also published articles in major global peer-reviewed journals such as Geoarchaeology and Quaternary Research.

Mastodon excavation site San Diego.

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