People may have lived in Brazil more than 20,000 years ago

pictures from Santa Elina rock shelter

EARLY ARRIVALS  Excavations at a Brazilian rock shelter near the center of South America (left) suggest that humans hunted giant sloths there more than 20,000 years ago. Ancient people used some sloth bones unearthed at the site (right, top and bottom) as personal ornaments, based on notches and holes in those finds.

D. Vialou et al/Antiquity 2017

People hunted giant sloths in the center of South America around 23,120 years ago, researchers say — a find that adds to evidence that humans reached South America well before Clovis hunters roamed North America 13,000 years ago.

Evidence of people’s presence at Santa Elina rock-shelter, in central-west Brazil, so long ago raises questions about how people first entered South America. Early settlers may have floated down the Pacific Coast in canoes before heading 2,000 kilometers east to the remote rock-shelter, or they might have taken an inland route from North America, Denis Vialou of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and colleagues report in the August Antiquity. Other proposed Stone Age South American sites lie much closer to the coast than Santa Elina does.

Excavations revealed remains of hearths, stone artifacts and bones of giant sloths. Sloth remains included small, bony plates from the skin that humans apparently made into ornaments of some kind by adding notches and holes. 

Three different dating methods indicate that people reached Santa Elina over 20,000 years ago.

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