Ice Age Hunters in the Americas

New sites and finds are emerging that may radically change what scientists know about the timing of the peopling of the Americas.

While prehistoric hunters were following big game like bison and mammoth across ancient Eurasia during the peak of the last Ice Age, it seems there may have been contemporaries doing much the same thing thousands of miles and an entire ocean away in the Americas. In what is today called Europe, these ancient hunters represented defined cultures described in the archaeological literature as Aurignacian and Gravettian, leaving behind stone implements that included objects like worked bone and antler, fine blades and bladelets of flint, pointed blades and even the bow and arrow. In the Americas, however, contemporaneous stone tool technologies and other representative artifacts are yet ill-defined, as the number of sites that contain evidence of the American hunters’ presence during this very early time period are still few by comparison and have only been discovered in recent years, with other potential sites and locations still under exploration and investigation.

Who were these ancient Ice Age contemporaries in the Americas? Though the artifacts and other clues they left behind can arguably be dated back to at least 20,000 years ago, and perhaps even deeper into prehistory, scientists have yet to determine from whence they originally came, though many scholars hypothesize they originally migrated from points far to the north and east, on and across ancient Beringia and perhaps ultimately into Siberia and northeast Eurasia, if DNA studies of later Native Americans have any bearing.

Certainly there are far more questions than answers, but in coming years, archaeologists will continue to survey for new potential sites and return to old sites to re-explore and re-investigate with new tools, approaches and research objectives. 

Recent discoveries in the Yukon of Canada, Mexico, and other locations in South America are now emerging to tell the story of these American Ice Age hunter populations. In the article, America’s Ice Age Hunters, Popular Archaeology author James Kensington relates a narrative that details findings that may be up-ending long-held thoughts and assumptions about when the earliest humans arrived and thrived on the American continents.* 

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Northern Hemisphere glaciation during the last Ice Age (26,000 to 13,300 years ago). Hannes Grobe, Creative Commons  Attribution 2.5 Generic license, Wikimedia Commons

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*See the recently published subject article, available to Popular Archaeology premium subscribers.

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