Stone Age Siberians move up in time

From Denver, at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology

More than 30 years ago, Russian investigators dug up the remains of several human camps situated along the Kamchatka River in eastern Siberia and dated them to as early as 14,000 years ago. These ancient settlements, dubbed the Ushki sites, have been viewed as possible launching pads for pioneering treks into North America much earlier than 11,000 years ago, the date at which archaeologists have traditionally assumed the New World was first settled.

However, new work doesn’t support the idea that people lived at the Ushki camps well before that time. Radiocarbon dating of ancient charcoal found at an Ushki site excavated in 2000 by a joint team from Russia and the United States indicates that residents first arrived at the site between 11,300 and 11,000 years ago, says Ted Goebel of the University of Nevada, Reno. A subsequent occupation occurred around 10,400 years ago, he adds.

If comparable dates of human occupation emerge for other Ushki camps, the standard account of Siberians initially entering Alaska about 11,000 years ago via a land bridge may get a boost. Artifacts found at the recently excavated Ushki site resemble those at Alaskan sites of about the same age, Goebel says.

The oldest Ushki material includes notched stone points and two hearths constructed of large stones. The younger artifacts include a hearth and miniature blades.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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