The New Archaeological Site In British Columbia
While it has received prominent mention in recent years, it is still possible to gain valuable insights into human prehistory by means other than genetics. Sometimes old school archaeological digs and carbon dating can still be a source of important discoveries.
An archaeological site in British Columbia sheds light on the lives of members of this Founding Population at a time close to their primary expansion out of Beringia. Among other things, it corroborated the hypothesis that these people had relatively long term settlements in some places, and relied on a mix of fishing and terrestrial hunting and gathering for subsistence.
CTV reports that a team of students from the University of Victoria’s archeology department have uncovered the oldest settlement in North America. This ancient village was discovered when researchers were searching Triquet Island, an island located about 300 miles north of Victoria, British Columbia.
The team found ancient fish hooks and spears, as well as tools for making fires. However, they really hit the jackpot when they found an ancient cooking hearth, from which they were able to obtain flakes of charcoal burnt by prehistoric Canadians.Using carbon dating on the charcoal flakes, the researchers were able to determine that the settlement dates back 14,000 years ago[.] . . .
Alisha Gauvreau, a Ph.D student who helped discover this site. . . and her team began investigating the area for ancient settlements after hearing the oral history of the indigenous Heiltsuk people, which told of a sliver of land that never froze during the last ice age.
But, one quote from the PhD student in the story is mostly wrong:William Housty, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, said, “To think about how these stories survived only to be supported by this archeological evidence is just amazing. This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years.”
“What this is doing, is changing our idea of the way in which North America was first peopled, said Gauvreau.”
In fact, while this find is important, it is important mostly because it confirms and corroborates the existing paradigm regarding the peopling of the Americas, not because it "is changing our idea" of how this happened. It is notable not because it changes our ideas about the peopling of the Americas, but because it is some of the most clear and concrete evidence to date confirming the existing paradigm.
But, it is understandable and forgivable that an investigator selling a story about her discovery to the press stretched the truth a little on this score. Paradigm changing discoveries are hot news. And, while this particular paradigm affirming find actually is important, paradigm affirming results are rarely news (imagine how dull the nightly news would be if it ran a big news story every time that the Large Hadron Collider had a result consistent with the Standard Model of Particle Physics).
Background: Why Does The "Founding Population" Of The Americas Matter?
When it comes to the prehistory of the Americas, one of the central questions is to understand is how people arrived in the Americas, and one of the central players in the answer is the "Founding Population" of the Americas.
The Founding Population was a group of people with a quite small effective population size (a few hundred at most) who rapidly expanded from Beringia into essentially all of the "virgin territory" of North America and South America over a period of a couple of thousand years or so as the last great ice age (which peaked at the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago) retreated, starting more than a thousand years before the Young Dryas climate event (ca. 12,900 to 11,700 years years ago, which was a return to glacial conditions which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the Last Glacial Maximum started receding).
There is a growing community of investigators and observers of the prehistory of the Americas who give credence to the scattered bits of evidence for one or more older hominin populations in the Americas (either modern human or archaic hominid) who migrated into the Americans from Beringia before or during the Last Glacial Maximum, rather than only starting when the vast North American glacier started to melt and recede. But, we know that any earlier hominins in the Americas (modern human or otherwise) never thrived and were either almost entirely wiped out by the later waves of modern human migration, or were so similar genetically similar to the founding population of the Americas they are indistinguishable from them genetically. Because there is no distinguishable trace of them in any modern or ancient DNA samples from the Americas with the possible exception of some minor "paleo-Asian" ancestry in a few tribes in the Amazon, whose origins are a mystery.
But, even if you find that evidence to be credible, there is overwhelming modern and archaic genetic evidence that 99.99% or more of the ancestry of the pre-Columbian residents of the Americas is derived from a single "Founding Population" which started to expand in earnest not many centuries earlier than 14,000 years ago, subject to two exceptions: (1) Inuits in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, and (2) some select tribes in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest with Na-Dene ancestry.
The Inuits derive from a migration wave from Northeast Asia within the last two thousand years and replaced earlier "paleo-Eskimo" populations in Northern Canada. The Na-Dene derive from a migration wave from Northeast Asia around the time of the European Bronze Age and then admixed with descendants of the Founding Population who were already present in North America.
But, apart from a small component of some cryptic "paleo-Asian" ancestry in a handful of hunter-gatherer tribes in jungles in the Amazon River basin near the northeastern foothills of the Andes Mountains, all other pre-Columbia genetic ancestry in the Americas derives from the Founding Population. Founding Population ancestry was the predominant source of ancestry in almost every non-Inuit indigenous person in North America and South America in 1492, and was the only source of ancestry in the lion's share of those millions of people.
So, given their central role as the primary ancestors of all of the indigenous people of the Americas, except the Inuits, knowing more about this quite small community of people from around 14,000 years ago, is obviously a matter of great importance.