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Spearheads from Paisley cave The artifacts found in Oregon’s Paisley Caves date back 14,000 years. (University of Oregon, Jim Barlow / AP Images)

Who Were the First Americans?

Spearheads recently found in Oregon may have been made by some of America’s earliest settlers

By Sara Goudarzi | September 18 , 2012

Archaeologists have discovered that humans may have lived in the Americas earlier than once thought. Weapons and other items that date back 14,000 years were recently found deep inside Oregon’s Paisley Caves.

Until recently, many archaeologists thought that the Clovis people were the first Americans. These ancient mammoth-hunters are thought to have entered what is now Alaska about 13,000 years ago, via land bridges connecting Asia with North America. They then spread south throughout the continent. These hunters are known to archaeologists for the specific shape of their spearheads (sharpened rocks attached to spears), which were first discovered near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s.

But new evidence is making many scientists question the Clovis theory. The spearheads left behind in the Paisley Caves were not made in the specific style used by the Clovis people. The spearheads found in Oregon are known as Western Stemmed, and are similar to weapons found in northeastern Asia.

“These two approaches to making projectile points were really quite different,” says Loren Davis, a researcher from Oregon State University. “The fact that Western Stemmed point makers fully overlap, or even predate, Clovis point makers likely means that Clovis peoples were not the sole founding population of the Americas.”

In addition to the spears, researchers analyzed artifacts and bones found in the layers of earth nearby. Through radiocarbon dating—or analyzing the carbon molecules in these materials to determine their age—scientists found that some of the items date back 14,150 years.

Says Eske Willerslev, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, “The dissimilar stone artifacts . . . show that humans were present before Clovis and that another culture in North America was at least as old as the Clovis culture itself.”

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