Here’s a peculiar thought for you: The first Americans appeared more than 130,000 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed – and, most tantalizingly, we can’t be sure who they even were or quite what species of hominid they belonged to.
A far cry from the melting pot of diversity that America is today, these settlers pre-date Native Americans and even the enigmatic Clovis people. The most likely possibilities, according to the team, are that they were anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, or, perhaps, something else.
“There are Neanderthal sites in Siberia, and unquestionably, they could have made the journey across during the last interglacial when sea levels were lower,” Fullagar commented, mentioning Beringia, the now-submerged land bridge between Siberia and what is now Alaska.
This would have been quite the journey. They would have made it all the way from Europe, through to Asia, and up, across and around Siberia before making their way down the western seaboard of the US. Remarkably, Fullagar also suggests that these Neanderthals “could have even used boats.”
If these travelers were Neanderthals, this would be the first evidence of them found outside of Europe. Interestingly, Native Americans do have relatively high numbers of Neanderthal genes in their genomes.
Excavation of the site. NPG Press via YouTube
They could have been modern humans too, or even the mysterious Denisovans, who started their epic migrations from East Africa (or perhaps China), and South-East Asia, respectively. Fullagar suggests the site could have been populated by “meta-populations” of humans, a “hybrid mix” of different species.
It’s almost certain, though, that whoever made these marks will never be identified.
“Human remains are very rare in NA back at the time of the Clovis,” co-author James Paces, research geologist at the United States Geological Survey, told reporters. “The possibility of finding remains dating back to 130,000 years would be a truly exceptional find, but not very likely, unfortunately.”
The disappearance of the Bering land bridge. NOAA
Whomever the First Americans were, they certainly settled in a rather pristine environment. “There were mastodon, capybara, deer, dire wolf there,” Paces added. “It was close to a river along the coast – a nice place to live.”
In any case, the migration from Eurasia to North America would have been incredibly dangerous. Ancient America, then, was certainly the land of the free and home of the brave.
A timeline of human evolution, featuring its major lineages. Smithsonian Museum of Natural History