3D rendering of the pendant with two holes.

Survival During America’s Ice Age: Insights from Early Human Archaeology , Humans lived in South America many thousands of years earlier than previously thought, during the height of the Last Ice Age. New archaeological survey discovered this by analyzing a trio of necklaces made from ground sloth bones.

The project enters an ongoing debate when and how Homo sapienswhich evolved in Africa and first spread to Europe and Asia, reaching the relatively distant Americas.

How did people settle the Americas?

IN conventional view of American settlement, human beings crossed from Asia to present-day Alaska and continued to explore the Americas about 15,000 years ago. Widespread settlement of the Americas took another thousand years or so, archaeologists say, and many years after the last ice age.

Recently, however, more unconventional finds have appeared that have attempted to revise the timeline, such as the new study of the pendant.

In 2021 paper reported fossilized human footprints found in New Mexico that researchers dated to between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago. And in 2020scientists discovered a cave in northern Mexico that contained stone tools dating back to about 33,000 years ago.

in 2017 known paper claims to have identified signs of a 24,000-year-old butchery on bones found in a cave in the Yukon Territory.

The Santa Elena site. (Credit: Águeda and Dennis Vialou)

Ancient bones

The bone pendants from the new study came from the Santa Elena rock shelter in western Brazil, a well-studied site where scientists discovered the skeletons of two extinct giant ground sloths. The pendants come not from the 3,700-pound beast’s skeleton, but from osteoderms embedded in its skin like armadillo armor.

Using stone tools, ancient people drilled holes into bones to thread some kind of rope through, similar to how Ice Age cultures in Europe created bone jewelry.

Using three different techniques, the researchers dated the layer where they found the bone pendants to about 27,000 years ago, roughly the time of the last glacial maximum. During this phase, the Ice Age glaciers would have reached their peak and ocean levels would have dropped to 400 feet lower than today.

Painted art at the Santa Elena site. (Credit: Águeda and Dennis Vialou)

Worn smooth

For some reason, the people living in Santa Elena sought to express themselves through bone ornaments. Craftsmen’s work was also important to them, as evidenced by how worn the pendants were from use, the researchers found.

So how did such treasures end up in the dirt? Well, two of the pendants broke at some point and were probably discarded, while the other may have been lost.

But there is nothing to say. The document suggests that the people who produced the bones lived in the shelter, but on the other hand, they may have traveled through it. Either way, some ancient group shed osteoderms in patterns under the shelter that look like piles, according to the researchers.

The team also found stone tools near ground sloth skeletons, but the bones were too badly decomposed to look for so-called carnage marks. A common strategy for detecting the presence of ancient humans—the same one used for this study—is to look for the marks left by their tools.

Read more: Early Humans 

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