Unlike the more sophisticated blade tools found at the 13,000-year-old site, most of the Yana tools were based on flake production from pebbles available in the riverbed. Using radiocarbon dating, Pitulko established them to be more than 30,000 years old.
On the Prowl
Pollen samples taken from the site suggest the Arctic landscape was grassy, tree-less, and vast. The climate was cold and dry, with the Arctic sun shining 24 hours a day for months at a time.
Game appears to be abundant. The researchers discovered shards of bone from mammoths, musk ox, brown bear, wolverine, rhinoceros, hares, bison, horses, reindeer, and cave lion.
"We found bone remains for almost all species from that time," said Pitulko. "But reindeer [appears to be] their most important food source."
These people were probably modern humans (Sapiens sapiens) and accomplished hunters who moved with the herds of their prey. They knew fire and were able to create portable shelters. Pitulko believes they may even have built more permanent dwellings in some places to survive the winters.
"This group camped near the river crossing, perhaps on the side channel or on a small stream that was running into the river," said Pitulko. "It was a good place to camp if you want to hunt animals crossing the river and, at the same time, stay out of sight."
The New World
The Yana findings also have intriguing implications for understanding the origins of the New World. Traditionally, Native Americans are believed to have descended from northeast Asia, arriving over the Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska some 14,000 years ago.
But the new discovery suggests this migration could have started earlier with the people who inhabited Arctic Siberia.
To add to the intrigue, the foreshaft first found in Yana bears a striking resemblance to others used by the Clovis people, believed by many archeologists to be the first humans in North America.
However, Pitulko says the connection remains tenuous. The Clovis foreshafts are around 16,000 years younger than those found at Yana River and were found 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) away.
"The Yana site doesn't give direct evidence of an earlier human migration to North America, but it suggests that it could be a possibility," said Pitulko. "We can now see the early presence of humans relatively close to the Bering Strait, in the part of the world believed to be the source of initial human migrations to the New World."
The research was published earlier this month in the journal Science.
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