Gault site research pushes back date of earliest North Americans

Gault site research pushes back date of earliest North Americans
Stone tool assemblage recovered from the Gault Site. Credit: N. Velchoff ©The Gault School of Archaeological Research

For decades, researchers believed the Western Hemisphere was settled by humans roughly 13,500 years ago, a theory based largely upon the widespread distribution of Clovis artifacts dated to that time. In recent years, though, archaeological evidence has increasingly called into question the idea of "Clovis First."

Now, a research team led by Thomas Williams from the Department of Anthropology at Texas State University, working at the Gault Site northwest of Austin, has dated a significant assemblage of stone artifacts to 16 to 20,000 years of age, pushing back the timeline of the first human inhabitants of North America far before Clovis. Clovis artifacts are distinctive prehistoric stone tools so named because they were initially found near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s but have since been identified throughout North and South America.

The team, which also includes Texas State's Michael Collins, Nancy Velchoff and Sergio Ayala, published its findings in the online journal Science Advances on July 11.

"These projectile points are unique. We haven't found anything else like them," Williams said. "Combine that with the ages and the fact that it underlies a Clovis component and the Gault site provides a fantastic opportunity to study the earliest human occupants in the Americas."

The Gault Site, which encompasses a valley at the intersection of the Edwards Plateau and Blackland Prairie, would have had great appeal to early human arrivals. Reliable springs provided ample water for both humans and wild game during drought, and high-quality chert (flint) outcroppings were valuable for use in crafting tools and projectile points.

The presence of Clovis technology at the site is well-documented. Excavations below the deposits containing Clovis artifacts revealed well-stratified sediments containing artifacts (Gault Assemblage) distinctly different from Clovis. Using optically stimulated luminescence age estimates, the researchers dated the Gault Assemblage to a range of 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.

Significantly, the Gault Site excavation provides evidence pushing back earliest human habitation of North America by at least 2,500 years, and identifies a previously unknown, early projectile point technology unrelated to Clovis. Within a wider context, this evidence suggests that Clovis technology spread across an already well-established, indigenous population.

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More information: Thomas J. Williams et al. Evidence of an early projectile point technology in North America at the Gault Site, Texas, USA, Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5954
Journal information: Science Advances

Citation: Gault site research pushes back date of earliest North Americans (2018, July 16) retrieved 17 July 2019 from
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Jul 16, 2018
"Within a wider context, this evidence suggests that Clovis technology spread across an already well-established, indigenous population."

Humans, by definition, are neither indigenous or native to the Americas, but an invasive species. The correct term is "aboriginal Americans".

Jul 16, 2018
Actually sparcboy your definition is incorrect. Aboriginal is from the Latin for "original peoples'. And I have the impression that you meant your usage as a racist slur.

The writers of the article used indigenous (from Latin "a native) as a more accurate description. Though there is no evidence (so far) That the Gault technology predecessors to the Clovis technology were of a different racial grouping.

Rather that the invention and dispersal of Clovis tech was a cultural event. Maybe with a religious ferment or seachange to language and commercial efforts?

As DNA testing has established the continuity of the earliest Americans, I favor the term First Nations. But let's face it, we are engaging in pettyfogging pedagogy.

Basically, it is up to the First Americans to define themselves. And that the rest of us should just butt out of what is actually a family argument!

Jul 16, 2018
Using that logic, sparcboy, one could make the argument that nearly every species since Homo Heidelbergensis were 'invasive' species on every continent but Africa, but what's the point?? That's the definition of evolution and migration.

Jul 17, 2018
Let's stick to the point of the article. This is an important piece of work because it demonstrates pre-Clovis technology underlying Clovis at the same site. People are so used to thinking about dating as radiometric dating (undeniably very important) that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes good old stratigraphic dating is what you need to support your hypothesis. And that's what this is. Even if the new finds were undatable by modern technical means, the dating would stand. Nice work!

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