Acquiring pet peeves is an inevitable part of growing older. Some people can’t stand those who confuse “their” with “they’re,” while others have ended romantic relationships due to the chewing habits of their partners. As a student of all things Weird, I have my own particular set of Fortean-based peeves (it’s “chupacabraS“ not “chupacabra,” dammit!) and in this article I will be discussing one of my oldest ones: the persisting notion that humans first arrived to the Americas around 13,000 years ago, by crossing through the natural land bridge which once existed over the Bering strait that connected Alaska with Siberia.
The ‘Beringia’ theory is what I was taught in school 35 years ago, and it’s what still maintained as the ‘prevalent’ explanation of how the first colonizers of the ‘New World’ began to spread across this continent. Schoolchildren are also taught that the Clovis culture –recognized by their characteristic flint spearheads– are the ancestors of *all* the early Native Americans, beginning their slow migration to the South as they went in search of big game to hunt. And by ‘big game’ we literally mean the mammoth-sized type.
Archeological evidence of Clovis hunting these furry proboscideans can be found in places like Manis Site, Washington (13,800 years ago), Western Utah (13-12,000 years ago), Lehner, Arizona (11,000 years ago), and Naco, Arizona (11,000-10,000 years ago). As you can see, with this four sites a noticeable pattern starts to emerge: the further to the South you go, the more recent the archeological sites would be.
But what happens when you find evidence of human activity that’s even further to the South, yet considerably older than the Clovis remains of North America? Consider this article recently published (in Spanish) by the official gazette of Mexico’s National University, detailing a couple of recent discoveries of Pleistocenic remains:
On January 29th of 2019, at the construction site for a new waste containment center in Tultepec, State of Mexico, the excavation works uncovered a treasure trove of ancient fossils and the municipal authorities contacted the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The archeologists led by Luis Córdoba Barradas discovered 824 bones belonging to 14 mammoths, along with the remains of a horse and a camel.
There are two extremely notable features about this archeological find: One is that the archeologists found evidence of what looks like two artificially-created pitfalls. The reason the cavities look man-made is because their walls are cut at a 90° angle, and because the disposition of the bones suggest the animals were cut down and dismembered. If confirmed, the Tultepec site would be the first mammoth trap ever found in the world, and would help to unravel the mysteries surrounding our early ancestors’ hunting strategies –since the manner in which primitive hunters managed to take down an animal as large and powerful as a mammoth is still a matter of considerable debate.
But the second feature is the actual age of the site: The fine sediment of volcanic ash deposited by an eruption of Mount Popocatépetl suggests the bones are approximately 14,700 years old (much older than the Clovis sites previously mentioned). Again, the INAH researchers maintain these findings need further confirmation.
But if that’s not incredible enough, the gazette article also mentions another finding of a mammoth where the same archeologist Córdoba Barradas participated, which took place in Milpa Alta (a mayoralty of Mexico City) in 2011. The multidisciplinary and multi-institutional study of the fossil, undertaken between 2012 and 2013, included soil analysis, polen retrieval and spectrometry dating of the molars, and concluded the Milpa Alta specimen was the oldest mammoth ever found in Mexico’s central valley, with an approximate age of 18,460 years.
The study also found that some parts of the skeleton showed clear signs of having been cut and serrated by a hand instrument. Which means either human hunters took the animal down, or opportunistic scavengers cut down pieces of meat from the carcass. Either way, the Milpa Alta site is evidence there were people living in Mexico at least 18,500 years ago. “Stuff keeps getting older,” as our esteemed Graham Hancock is fond of saying.
Like the proverbial powerful pachyderms discussed in this article, the Bering strait theory is still standing and refuses to fall down. Each year though, new fortuitous discoveries –like the Tultepec and Milpa Alta fossils, or the findings which suggest humans might have been hunting giant sloths in South America 30,000 years ago — throw ‘spears’ at its thick hide and eventually the mighty giant will finally be put to rest. Once that happens, a new paradigm shall take hold which will force us to revise our concepts about our earliest history, and if I’m still around I’ll be all too happy to devote myself into raging about another one of my many pet peeves –like the notion that Pharaoh Khafre built the Sphinx…