Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Chiquihuite Cave occupied 35,000 years ago? A very early date for human presence in America

This paper, published in Nature yesterday: Ardelean, C.F., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Pedersen, M.W. et al. Evidence of human occupation in Mexico around the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature (2020)., found evidence that human beings lived in the Chiquihuite Cave for around 20,000 years, starting some 35 ky ago.

The cave is located in north central Mexico (see map) in a dry area, which at the time had forests that resembled those we now see in British Columbia or NW USA.

The authors unearthed stone tools in the cave but these are quite unusual: "The site yielded about 1,900 stone artefacts within a 3-m-deep stratified sequence, revealing a previously unknown lithic industry that underwent only minor changes over millennia.". That is, a technology that produced stone tools in the same manner over thousands of years and in a way that is different from other stone making tools!

People have been living here since before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) which took place between 19 and 26,000 years ago. This is long before the purporte "Beringian" standstill, (theory which assumes that Asians on their way to America stood still in Beringia because the LGM didn't let them into America).

The stones! the authors state: "The flaked artefacts reflect a technological tradition that was previously unknown, and remains mostly unchanged over the sequence." and they are quite unique: "...However, the majority of these tools are unifacial with marginal retouch... Apart from incipient preforms, finished bifacial artefacts are scarce; their existence is inferred from the abundance of tertiary thinning flakes. Notches and stems are almost completely absent. The bases are rounded or convergent, and are rarely thinned... Overall, the assemblage represents a lithic industry with no evident similarities to any of the other cultural complexes of the Pleistocene or Early Holocene epochs known in the Americas".

The authors conclude: "The occupants of the cave were seemingly adapted to altitudes and mountain landscapes, showing a behavioural pattern that—to our knowledge—was previously unknown in the archaeological record of the Americas. Their lithic industry has no parallel in the continent and its qualitative traits suggest a mature technology, possibly brought in from elsewhere before the LGM."

Of course the unusual stone tools and the lack of bones, ashes or hearths which would indicate actual human presence has been used by some skeptics to doubt the validity of this find. I quote some of them from this article in National Geographic below:

  • Loren Davis,Oregon State archaeologist: "The thing to remember is that humans don’t have a monopoly on the physics required to break rocks" (implying a natural origin for the unusual stone tools.
  • Tom Dillehay -discoverer of the Monteverde Site in Chile- "It's very curious that the assemblage is so different from anything anyone has known before. How is it possible that it’s not related to anything previously found? Well, it’s possible."

These are some of the tools (from the article):

They look man-made to me. And the tools found inside the cave were from stones of a green or black color (90% of the total) wich is interpreted as an act of human choice. Furthermore these stones are found close to the cave but not in it. The cave's rocks are grey so there is no doubt that they didn't fall from the cave's walls or roof.

To my inexperienced and non-academic eyes they look rather coarse and similar to Mousterian tools made by Neanderthals.

There is much to learn yet! But if humans were using these caves 35 Ky ago, then they must have arrived even earlier. In a Spanish language article one of the paper's authors -Ardelean- tells us that they found the cave following the indications given to them by a local farmer. That it took him a lot of work and effort to secure funding to excavate the cave; that there are few discoveries like this due to lack of funding and that the scarce funding goes into the "pyramids" (Mayan and Aztec ones) because they can be exploited as tourist attractions.

Ardelean added that "humans came to the caves now and then, they didn't live there, instead it was a winter shelter, probably part of a migration route".

Let's look forward to more discoveries like this one.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2020 by Austin Whittall © 

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you posting again and hope you are well.
    Louis Leakey was working on a site in Calico California which contained flaked tools and unifacial tools too. Many artifacts that i have seen from particular sites around southeastern US have the same characteristics as the Calico tools. Reminiscent of the tools of Neanderthal. Hand axes and Unifacial blades.
    I have several questions since the date is again pushed back. Is this tool technology to be considered Upper Paleolithic or Middle Paleolithic? I assume Middle Paleolithic but I'm not an archeologist.
    Is there any time period before the Last Glacial Maximum that Mode 2 people could have trekked from Asia into Alaska? Do you suppose they could sew?
    In other continents, the transition from Mode 2 to more advanced stone tool technology indicated a transition from Archaics to Sapiens. How could the American continents be any different?

    I've been pondering those questions lately after reassessing the artifacts I've seen in light of this new finding.


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