The Japan Times
April 6, 2000
The Washington Post

Remains point to 'pre-Clovis' Americans

WASHINGTON — Archaeologists said Tuesday they have strong new evidence from campfire remains at a southern Virginia sand dune that humans inhabited the Western Hemisphere as early as 17,000 years ago, adding further fuel to the bitter debate over who the first Americans were and where they came from.

Team leader Joseph McAvoy said new lab tests of material from Cactus Hill, about 70 km south of Richmond, confirmed human habitation at two levels. The most recent is 10,920 years old, while the oldest is at least 15,000 years old, and may be as old as 17,000 years.

The later level corresponds closely in time to the so-called "Clovis" culture, for decades regarded as the nation's first, created by immigrants who crossed a land bridge from Asia 11,200 years ago and over the next 500 years peopled the entire land mass from the Arctic to the tip of South America.

But the lower level is roughly comparable in time to southwestern Pennsylvania's Meadowcroft rock shelter. While archaeologists have scattered indications of far older American settlements, Cactus Hill and Meadowcroft are the only ones presenting extensive evidence of a pre-Clovis culture.

And of more importance, Cactus Hill has "a very well-documented Clovis level, and something under it that is not Clovis," McAvoy said, and can be used to suggest that someone — either from Asia or elsewhere — settled the Americas before Clovis.

This argument, damned as heresy by the archaeological establishment for years, is gaining increasing acceptance, although debate continues to rage. "To me," McAvoy said, pre-Clovis settlement "is irrefutable."

McAvoy, a professional archaeologist working on grants from Virginia and the National Geographic Society, said he began serious excavation of Cactus Hill in 1993, bringing discipline to a site that was inadvertently discovered in the 1980s when a load of sand dumped onto a logging company's roadbed turned out to be filled with ancient artifacts.

The new evidence was to be presented this week at the Society for American Archaeology's annual meeting in Philadelphia.