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Seaweed Fragments Found in Chile Suggests Humans May Have Migrated Along Pacific Coast
View of a rocky shoreline in the inland marine bay south of Monte Verde.
[Image courtesy of Mario Pino]
Based on 14,000-year-old seaweed fragments found at a Chilean archaeological site, researchers publishing in Science suggest that the first humans in the Americas may have migrated along the Pacific coast.
In addition to providing more information about the continents' earliest settlers, the researchers said the findings support that the inhabitants of Monte Verde village, located at least 15 kilometers from the shoreline, relied on the marine ecosystem for food and medicine.
In the article, lead author Tom Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn, wrote that some seaweed fragments suggest the aquatic plant was a regular part of settlers' diet, while other specimens suggest it was chewed into clumps, or "cuds," and used for medicinal purposes.
"The data [suggests] an early settlement of South America was along the Pacific coast and that seaweeds were important to the diet and health of early humans in the Americas," the team wrote in the article published in the 9 May issue of the journal Science.
Previous research at the site uncovered wood tents, hut foundations, hearths, digging sticks, animal bones, hides, human footprints, and numerous stone tools, leading Dillehay to believe that the site was occupied year round.
While it is widely accepted that the first humans entered North America around 16,000 years ago via the Bering Strait, anthropologists were puzzled by their ability to reach this site near the tip of South America within 2,000 years.
The authors wrote that a "strong reliance on coastal resources for food and medicine" supports theories suggesting a coastal migration pattern.
Prior to the original discovery of Monte Verde in 1976, there were very few, if any, known civilizations in the Americas that predated 13,000-year-old Clovis villages found throughout North America.
Kathy Wren and Benjamin Somers
8 May 2008