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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, April 28, 2017

Researchers with KGS ties co-author paper claiming far earlier arrival of prehistoric humans in North America than now thought

Two researchers with ties to the Kansas Geological Survey are co-authors of a new paper published in the prestigious journal Nature that is stirring up controversy for its assertion that prehistoric humans occupied North America 130,000 yeas ago--more than 100,000 years before currently thought. The authors' claim is based on evidence found at a mastodon site uncovered during highway construction in San Diego, California.

Jared Beeton, the first graduate student to complete his dissertation as a component of the KGS-based Odyssey Archaeological Research Program--in 2003--is a co-author on the paper. Steven Holen, who completed his Ph.D. at KU, collaborated with the KGS Odyssey research team during his tenure as curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of History & Science. Also, the KGS conducted laboratory analysis of soil samples collected at the southern California locale, known as the Ceruttie Mastodon site.

Holen, Beeton, and their colleagues argue that the thick mastodon bones found at the site were smashed and shattered around the time the animal died, and the damage was too extensive for a predator attack. They propose that rounded rocks found near the bones were used by humans, possibly Neanderthals or other species of Homo, to crack open the bones and remove the marrow.

Rolfe Mandel, KGS interim director and head of the Odyssey program, says the rocks would not have occurred naturally in the environment in which they were found, which gives some credence to the argument that they were carried there by humans.

The authors' assertion has already stirred up reaction and lively debate in the scientific community, and The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, and other media outlets have picked up the story.

Holen received his PhD in anthropology from KU and is now Director of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in South Dakota. He was instrumental in getting Odyssey involved in excavations at the Kanorado site in northwestern Kansas. In addition to yielding Clovis-age and Folsom archaeological materials, the Kanorado site contains the remains of mammoth and American camel dating to about 14,400 years ago.

Beeton received his PhD in geography from KU and is now professor of physical geography at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado.

Mandel is available to answer media questions about the Ceruttie Mastodon site by contacting KU News Service.

Story by Cathy Evans, (785) 864-2195.

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach