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Ancient bones may rewrite theory of earliest Americans

bone in block
A researcher points to a human bone embedded in a block of dirt   

June 8, 1999
Web posted at: 4:43 p.m. EDT (2043 GMT)

SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- The bones of an early American woman found off the coast of California may rewrite the history books on how the earliest visitors arrived in North America.

The three bones were discovered 40 years ago on the Channel Islands, on a ridge called Arlington, just off the California coastline.

Now, technological advances are offering new clues into just how far back in history the bones may reach.

Using radiocarbon dating to analyze the bone protein at the molecular level, scientists at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History say they've dated the remains at 13,000 years old.

If that's accurate, the bones precede by several hundred years the oldest previously known remains, discovered in Montana and the Midwest.

"This woman probably belonged to a band of people that were not necessarily hunting mammoths, but were living along the coasts, hunting, fishing, gathering shellfish," says John Johnson, the museum's curator of anthropology.

The bones were found 40 years ago on an island off the coast of California   

The fact that the woman was found on an island indicates the earliest Paleo-Indians had watercraft necessary to cross the Santa Barbara Channel

If that's so, the find offers an alternate theory to the long-held belief that the first visitors to North America came from Asia and walked from Siberia to Alaska across a land bridge, now covered by the Bering Straight.

But exactly where the woman came from may forever remain a mystery.

"We can't tell what genetic background this woman had, because there's no DNA present," Johnson says.

The newly-established age of the so-called Arlington Springs Woman lends credence to the coastal migration theory that ancient peoples first entered North America by boat down the Pacific Coast from Alaska, according to a museum statement.

Correspondent Jennifer Auther contributed to this report.

Bones of ancient human-like meat eater found in Ethiopia
April 22, 1999
Ancient California bones could change land-bridge theory
April 11, 1999
S. Africans report key find of ape-man skeleton
December 9, 1998

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Paleo Indians
Channel Islands National Park
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