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Given the previous finds in Wisconsin, Chile and other sites, John Shea, an associate professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York State, notes that "it's been pretty clear" that humans were living in the Americas long before the Clovis tradition emerged.
Likewise, Bamforth was not surprised by the discovery of the new evidence.
When the makers of these tools were using the site (from 15,500 to 13,200 years ago), the region would have been slightly cooler than it is today, probably by an average of about 5 to 6 degrees Celsius—"rather amiable at that time period," Lee Nordt, of Baylor University's Department of Geology and co-author of the new study, said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
But the resources in the area were likely plentiful, added Michael Waters, of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University in College Station and co-author of the new study.
Recent descriptions of relatively sophisticated stone tools from California's Channel Islands also add strength to a costal path.
Diligent dating Surrounding any ancient artifact is a slurry of questions and doubts as to whether the place they are found reflects when and where they were originally discarded.
"I think it's kind of been waiting to be found," he says of a substantial pre-Clovis site.
The presence of a settlement in the middle of North America by 15,500 years ago gives "ample time for Clovis to develop" and plenty of time for people to reach the South American sites in Monte Verde, Waters said.
"You'd have to get to central Texas, and that would probably take a little while," Waters said.
"There are a lot of problems with the Clovis-first model," Waters said, adding that it is "time to abandon [it] once and for all." Some of the pre-Clovis tools found at the Buttermilk Creek site, such as "bladelets," do show similarities with bifacial (two-sided) techniques found in Asia, suggesting a deeper history.
But, as Waters pointed out, known tools from that period in Siberia and northeastern Asia are relatively scant.
Such an old habitation predates the widespread toolmaking tradition known as Clovis, which spread across the continent some 12,800 to 13,100 years ago and was once thought to mark the first wave of settlers in the Americas.
The find is "unequivocal proof for pre-Clovis occupation of America," said Steven Forman, of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.