When did the First Americans Arrive?

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary It is a question that has perplexed scientists, ethnographers and historians for over 400 years. When did the first Native Americans (also called the “First Americans”) come to the Americas? Before, it was largely considered that the Native Americans came 13,000 years ago. These First Americans, identified as the “Clovis Point” culture after the spear points found near a town called Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930’s date between 13,000 to 11,000 years ago and until the last 30 years were considered the oldest archeological finds of Native Americans in the Americas. However, newly identified sites and items left over by Native Americans all over the continent have pushed back the date when they may have first arrived in the Americas.

One mastodon rib that had shown signs of butchery made by humans dates to 13,800 years ago. Cave paintings found in South America date to 13,000 to 13,500 years. These two pieces of evidence point to a migration that probably began as long ago as 30,000 years ago and that the height of this migration really started 16,000 to 15,000 years ago. Scientists are convinced that the migrations were never a one-time deal, and that they continued onto the American continent until probably 3,000 years ago with the arrival of the Eskimos from Siberia. We know that the first great Native American civilization, the Olmecs, began about 5,000 years ago and that more complex civilizations grew rapidly after that.

The real question behind all of this is when exactly did the first immigrants’ wave begin and how long did the subsequent waves last? We now know that early humans not only used stone tools but also bones and wood to make tools for hunting and making clothes as well as shelter. We now know that the First Americans may have moved from north to south even before the last Ice Age retreated completely. This is why we can find cave paintings and other tools used by Native Americans 13,000 years ago in South America when supposedly they had only come to this continent 13,000 years ago or later. Over the past generation, scientists have developed new methods of testing radio carbon in bones using atomic accelerators that are so accurate that there is only an error point of 20 years. It is through this method that archeologists have been able to measure the amino acids found in the piece of found mastodon rib in question to 13,800 years ago.

But are we talking about a few individuals crossing at any one time or whole groups composed of large numbers moving from Asia to the Americas during these waves of migration? Could it have been both? What was the rate of migration throughout the Americas over the hundreds of years that followed? Why were humans more likely to be found in greater numbers in certain places while they were almost absent in others? In studying the past of the First Americans, we have only barely touched the surface of a very ancient story.

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