Bone fragments upend timeline of human’s arrival in North America

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Ancient rock and bone fragments discovered in southern California suggest humans may have been around more than 100,000 years earlier than originally believed, according to a new study.

The controversial claim, outlined in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, could mean humans settled in North America much earlier than most scientists accept.

Many scientists hold the view that homo sapiens came to the area less than 20,000 years ago.

But the new study suggests another type of the hominims — a group comprised of extinct human species, such as Neanderthals; modern humans, and immediate ancestors — actually wound up in North America from Asia before then.

“It’s such an amazing find and — if it’s genuine — it’s a game-changer. It really does shift the ground completely,” John McNabb, a Palaeolithic archaeologist at the University of Southampton in England, told Nature. “I suspect there will be a lot of reaction to the paper and most of it is not going to be acceptance.”

A team of 11 scientists reached their determination by studying the teeth and tusks of a mastadon, a now-extinct relative of elephants, discovered in San Diego in 1992. In the bones, they noticed break patterns that were of human origin.

“We were looking at something very, very old, but it had the same fracture patterns that we had seen before,” said Kathleen Holen, one of the study’s co-authors.

And nearby, they found rocks that were either used, “to extract the mastodon’s bone marrow or for making more-delicate bone tools,” according to Nature.

The new study is expected to cause shockwaves.

“I’m sure that many of our colleagues are going to be quite skeptical. I would expect that,” conceded Holen’s husband and colleague Steven, who also worked on the study. “This is far, far older than most archaeologists expect hominins to be in North America. I say that even for myself.”

Archeaologist David Meltzer, from Southern Methodist University in Texas, said more research, including examining the breakage patterns in greater details, needs to be done before such history-changing claims can be made.

“If you are going to push human antiquity in the New World back more than 100,000 years in one fell swoop, you’ll have to do so with a far better archaeological case than this one,” he said.

Meltzer also said it was “curious” that no other signs of human presence were found at the San Diego site.