Who Were the First Americans?; September 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Sasha Nemecek; 8 Page(s)
The leaf-shaped spearpoint I'm holding is surprisingly dainty-for a deadly weapon. I let my mind wander, trying to imagine life some 14,700 years ago in the marshes of southern Chile, where this relic was found. The 30 or so people who lived there then, at the creekside campsite now known as Monte Verde, were some of the earliest inhabitants of South America-most likely descendants of people who reached North America by crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia at least 15,000 years ago, perhaps more. Did this roving crew realize they were such pioneers? Or are such musings reserved for people who don't have to worry about where to find their next meal?
My thoughts are interrupted by Tom Dillehay, professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and the man who in the 1970s uncovered Monte Verde, the oldest known site of human habitation in the Americas. In a basement classroom on the university's campus, Dillehay has spread out a gallery of artifacts from Monte Verde on the table before me. He directs my attention to a fragment of another spearpoint, which, were it still intact, would be virtually identical to the one I'm holding. "These were probably made by the same person," he says.