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Tomorrow Today

Bonanza of ice-age artifacts redefine America's pre-history

Volunteers and scientists sift through dirt looking for artifacts

CNN's Marsha Walton looks at an archeological dig in South Carolina
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Speculating on the age of the Allendale artifacts
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July 2, 1999
Web posted at: 9:06 a.m. EDT (1306 GMT)

ALLENDALE, South Carolina (CNN) -- A virtual gold mine of ice-age artifacts recently found on the banks of the Savannah River in South Carolina is forcing archeologists to revise theories for how and when humans first migrated to North America.

Al Goodyear with the University of South Carolina oversaw the dig, which involved dozens of volunteers and scientists.

"I think what is tantalizing about this site is we may have different cultures coming into the New World that we didn't even know about," he says.

From the artifacts uncovered at this site, such as crude stone tools, archeologists say it is reasonable to believe that humans could have lived in the area anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.

That time frame defies the long-held "Clovis" theory that humans only reached the New World on a land path from Asia.

Now there is stronger ammunition that others may have come from Southeast Asia or Europe, much earlier than 11,000-year-old artifacts found in Clovis, New Mexico, suggest.

"This is an extremely important New World site in deciphering when people came to North America," Goodyear says.

stone blade
A stone blade   

Digs in Monte Verde, Chile; West Virginia, Virginia; Pennsylvania and now South Carolina all suggest cultures older than 12,000 years.

"This is so far the star of the show, what we refer to as a measuring pit microblade," says Dennis Stanford, a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist.

Sean Maroney is a graduate student who worked on the dig. "The discoveries are not as sexy as human bones or animal skulls," says Maroney. "But they do provide insight about our tough-as-nails ancestors."

Maroney showed a stick with a rock mounted on it. "Arm yourself with a stick and a rock on it and think about going after an African elephant," he says. "It's gonna give you a real appreciation for what these people did and how they had to survive."

Goodyear and his colleagues have worked on this site since 1983, but this year's discoveries could pay off with a re-writing of history.

Correspondent Marsha Walton contributed to this report.

Ancient bones may rewrite theory of earliest Americans
June 8, 1999
Ancient California bones could change land-bridge theory
April 11, 1999
Stonemason refuses to cut up ancient stone circle
February 15, 1999

Smithsonian Institution
University of South Carolina
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