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Evidence For Earliest Maritime-Based Societies In The Americas Reported In Science Magazine

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Washington D.C. - By unearthing ancient fragments of sea shells, cutting tools, and the bones of butchered seabirds, researchers have found what appears to be the oldest evidence of maritime-based societies in the New World. Radiocarbon dating of these and other artifacts, excavated by two groups of researchers at two different sites near the coast of Peru, extends the South American record of maritime exploitation by a thousand years to between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago, the time when much of the New World was probably first occupied. The two reports will appear in the 18 September issue of Science.

Since rising sea level submerged coastlines bordering the Americas between 18,000 and 5,000 years ago, archaeologists have found little evidence of how the earliest people in South America (or elsewhere in the Americas) adapted to living along the shore. The findings from the two sites, named Quebrada Jaguay and Quebrada Tacahuay, suggest that the people who dwelled there "possessed a fairly sophisticated knowledge of exploiting coastal areas," says Daniel Sandweiss of the University of Maine, who led the excavation at Quebrada Jaguay. The other was led by David Keefer of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, CA.

The two excavations help clarify a newly emerging picture of Paleoindian societies in which members exploited a wide variety of resources. Although the first discoveries of Paleoindian sites suggested that the inhabitants relied solely on hunting big game animals, a growing body of evidence indicates that the earliest Americans used a more diverse set of strategies for survival. Paleoindian sites in North and South America have typically been recognized by the presence of spear points used for hunting large animals. But there are no such tools at Q
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Contact: Heather Singmaster
hsingmas@aaas.org
(202) 326-6414
American Association for the Advancement of Science
18-Sep-1998


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