Digging in the dirt and learning about our past

Two new discoveries might make it easier to study humanity’s past.

First, a group of researchers studying material from the Cerutti Mastodon site near San Diego, CA claim that the first Americans were on the continent much longer than has been believed.  Using uranium-thorium dating as well as evidence from the site, the researchers concluded that  “humans were processing [working on or breaking up] mastodon limb bones using hammerstones and anvils and that the processing occurred at the site of burial 130,000 years ago.”  (You can find the article here.)

In a second study, scientists working in a number of caves found that they could retrieve and analyze ancient DNA from dirt samples.  The finding, as reported by The NY Times, means that “Researchers could feasibly begin searching for bones in caves where DNA in the dirt indicates habitation by ancient humans. And they are likely to begin learning much more about human prehistory.”

It will be interesting to see if the research techniques used in the second study can and will be used in an attempt to confirm the findings of the first study.



Image credit: Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill, painted by Pieter Claesz (1628), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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