Reconstruction of campsite at Monte Verde



Anthro 7

Monte Verde
Oldest Archaeological Site in the Americas

This artist's illustration of how the Monte Verde campsite may have looked some 12,000 years ago comes from the MSN Encarta website and is the sole property of the Microsoft Corporation.

NOTE: Experts certified two years ago that Monte Verde in Chile is the oldest archaeological site in the Americas and the story of humans in the New World was rewritten. Now Monte Verde faces a scientific challenge. For more information on the challenge, click here.

Until a few years ago, most archaeologists believed that the Clovis people were the first humans to reach the Americas, spreading across North America shortly after 12,000 years ago. Such a belief no longer seems tenable in light of the Monte Verde site in Chile, which was occupied at least a thousand years before the oldest Clovis settlement (about 11,500 years ago). Furthermore, the Monte Verde site gives us a picture of Paleo-Indian lifestyles very different from that of the broad-spectrum big-game hunting Clovis people. Most Clovis sites are not habitation sites but kill sites, places where game was killed &butchered. Consequently, we know little about Clovis lifeways apart from their hunting and butchering abilities. But at Monte Verde, the situation is very different.

For reasons not yet clear, about 13,000 years ago the watertable at Monte Verde rose and flooded the campsite, forcing the people to leave. A peat bog then formed and smothered the site, protecting the site from bacterial attack (peat provides a water-logged, oxygen-free environment) and destructive changes in humidity. The peat also preserved amost everything the people left behind:

Taken as a whole, the Monte Verde site gives us a picture of life in the Americas heretofore unexpected, as well as forcing a reconsideration of the theories and interpretations concerning the first occupation (and occupants) of the Americas. As noted above, the traditional paradigm states:

The evidence at Monte Verde contradicts the first point and differs markedly from the second point. The radiocarbon dates of 11,000 B.C. (or 13,000 years ago) from Monte Verde indicate that humans had already crossed the Bering Strait at some earlier time. Also, the organic materials from Monte Verde indicate that plants were extremely important in their diet and that they lived in one place year round, contrasting with the traditional image of the Paleoindians as primarily mobile hunters of big game.

Pictured below are several of the artifacts recovered from Monte Verde. The pictures come from Rick Gore's article, "The Most Ancient Americans," published in the October 1997 issue of National Geographic, pps. 92-99.

Artifacts from Monte Verde, Chile

Bone gouge

Digging stick fragment from Monte Verde

Digging stick - fragment


Twine made from plant fiber


Possible bola stone with cordage

The Web sites listed below offer additional information on Monte Verde and I encourage you to visti them. If you know of other Monte Verde Web sites, please let me know.


Monte Verde isn't the only site to call into question the traditional paradigm. Last year (1997), an international team of scientists, headed by Dr. Anna Roosevelt of the Chicago Field Museum, announced the results of their excavations at the Cavern of the Painted Rock site, located deep in the Brazilian Amazon. There, in the lowest occupational levels of a cave overlooking the Amazon River at Monte Alegre, they found the remains of an ancient campsite, including pigments, stone spear points, animal bones, and fruit pits dating back more than 11,000 years. The finds show that people colonized the tropical forests as early as other environments, and adapted not by big game hunting, but by gathering nuts and fruits, fishing and hunting small game.

In addition to Monte Verde and Cavern of the Painted Rock, several other sites scattered throughout the Americas are claimed by their excavators as being at least 11,000 years old, some more than 12,000 years old. The most widely discussed ones are:

Toca do Boqueirão da Pedra Furada
This is a large rockshelter whose excavators claim contains evidence of human occupation dating to as early as 40,000 years ago. According to Dr. Brian Fagan [Ancient North America, 1995, p. 78] the evidence consists of " 'crude' artifacts made on local rocks ... that are extremely hard to identify as being of human manufacture." Dr. Fagan believes that the charcoal used to date the site may be "the result of natural brush fires."

Pendejo Cave, New Mexico
The site's excavator has claimed dates in excess of 14,000 years for this cave site. Little evidence from the site has been made available to the scientific community and as yet no determination has been made as to the validity of the age claim.

Meadowcroft Rock Shelter, in western Pennsylvannia
This site was occupied from at least 12,000 until nearly 700 years ago. However, the site's excavator, Dr. James Adovasio, claims the deepest cultural bearing layers fall in a time range between 19,000 and 13,240 years ago. At present, there is little agreement on the pre-12,000 year old dates. Some researchers believe the lowest levels contain intrusive "dead carbon" which is older than the cultural residue with which they were found and thus give a false (and older) date to the layer.

In addition, there are a number of sites where human skeletal remains have been found that point to populations physically unlike modern native Americans. These sites call into question the dominant paradigm concerning the ancestral population(s) to first settle the Americas. For a brief look at some of these site, click here or chose from the below:

 O T H E R   A N C I E N T   I M M I G R A N T S

Luzia  | Spirit Cave Man  | Buhl Woman
Kennewick Man  | Prince of Whales Island Man  | Clovis


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Last Updated 18 Feb 2000 by CSmith