New Cave Find Challenges Long-Held Migration Theory

Anthropologist Ciprian Ardelean leads cave dig in Mexico
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2020 5:30 PM CDT
Updated Jul 26, 2020 6:44 AM CDT

Human habitation of the Americas, 30,000 years ago? That's what a new study is suggesting based on charcoal, stones, and bone samples recovered from a cave in the mountains of north-central Mexico, the Wall Street Journal reports. If true, the find doubles the known time humans inhabited this part of the world. "It is a fundamental change in our way of thinking," says an expert uninvolved in the find. Study leader Ciprian Ardelean, an anthropologist at Mexico's University of Zacatecas, says his team spent years digging up hundreds of limestone spear points, blades, and other items from Chiquihuite Cave nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. Nature reports that 239 of almost 2,000 stone tools at the site have been carbon dated to between 25,000 and 32,000 years ago.

That puts humans in North America well before the last great ice age and scuttles the notion that they first crossed over from Asia after glaciers retreated some 19,000 years ago, per National Geographic. But there are issues: Researchers found no other signs of human habitation in the cave, and at least some of the stone "tools"—sharp rocks, really—might have been fractured by natural means. There were signs of human DNA, but it's unclear how old they are. Yet Ardelean is sticking to his vision of an unusual people who lived high up and used their own kind of tools: "They were much more diverse culturally and probably genetically than we are eager to accept today," he says. "There may be a great diversity of people hiding under our misconceptions." (Read about a related study from a few years back.)

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