Earliest Known American Settlers Harvested Seaweed

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
May 8, 2008

People living in the earliest known settlement in the Americas harvested seaweed and other marine plants from a coastline more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away, new research shows.

Scientists discovered several species of seaweed and marine algae dating back more than 14,000 years at the Monte Verde archaeological site in south-central Chile.

The findings suggest that these early Americans were beachcombers with a tradition of using coastal resources, says study lead author Tom Dillehay.

"At least some first Americans had a broad spectrum diet, because we're seeing that they exploited a wide range of resources from multiple environmental zones—terrestrial, coastal, and so forth," said Dillehay, an anthropologist at Tennessee's Vanderbilt University.

The results, which will appear in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science, also support the theory that the first Americans spread through the New World along a coastal route after walking across a land bridge from Asia to Alaska at least 15,000 years ago.

(See an interactive map of ancient human migration.)

Rising Sea Levels

The discovery of a human settlement at Monte Verde in the mid-1970s provided the first evidence that people had inhabited the Americas before the spread of the so-called Clovis culture around 13,000 years ago.

Scientists were long mystified how people could have reached the southern tip of South America without leaving much evidence along the way.

But many now believe the first Americans spread down the coast where they could exploit the sea for food.

(Read related story: "First Americans Arrived Recently, Settled Pacific Coast, DNA Study Says" [February 2, 2007].)

The lack of archaeological evidence of this migration may be due to rising sea levels.

Continued on Next Page >>


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