The Japan Times, September 19, 1998
Earliest American settlers were fishermen, not hunters
WASHINGTON AP - Many of America's earliest settlers may have been digging clams and netting fish rather than throwing spears at mammoths.
About 12,000 years ago, the residents of a pair of coastal communities in southern Peru were taking their food from the ocean -subsisting on fish seabirds and shellfish in the earliest evidence of maritime societies in this hemisphere, according to two studies published Friday in the journal Science.
"It really gives a lot more evidence to the theory that very early migration to America could have taken place along a coastal route by people who were fishers rather than big game hunters." said David Keefer of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. "It could change the view of what the earliest Americans were really like."
The most common theory for the populating of America has been hunters crossing the frozen Bering Strait and moving through the interior of the continent on foot. Some anthropologists have speculated that people sailed small boats along the coasts, but until now they have had no solid evidence of such communities.
The settlements studied by teams headed by Keefer and Daniel Sandweiss, of the University of Maine at Orono, existed slightly earlier than those of big game hunters in North America.
Sandweiss isn't quite as sure that the new findings prove the theory of a coastal migration route for America's earliest settlers, which was separate from the inland route. The residents of the community he studied at Quebrada Jaguay appear to have spent part of the year there and part of their time in the highlands, where they may have been hunters, he said.
What the research does show. Sandweiss said, is that "people were interested in exploiting all different kinds of food sources from almost as soon as they arrived in the Americas."
For archaeologist Betty Meggers at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, the new findings confirm her suspicions. Researchers have long expected to find such sites, she said, but many of them were probably destroyed by rising sea levels over the centuries.