Monte Verde, Ghost populations, Brazil

There is a new report about Monte Verde, an archaeological site in Chile. There is solid evidence that people were there 14,500 years ago – the earliest occupation of South America that we can be sure of – older than the Clovis culture of North America!

Further work, just published, suggests that there are artifacts at Monte Verde that are at least 18,500 years old. John Hawks talks about it, here

Remember also that A. there is a genetic evidence of a ghost population in some Amerindian groups, a population most closely related to the Onge (Andaman islanders), but also to other groups such as Melanesians and Philippine Negritos (Mamanwa). This component makes up one or two percent of the ancestry of Amazonian Indians. Also consider that the earliest known skeletons in the Americas, especially in Brazil, look a lot like Australo-Melanesians. Although I don’t we think we have any ancient DNA from those Brazilian skeletons yet.

It seems possible that a vaguely Andaman-like population, using a maritime strategy, crossed into American waters, moved down the Pacific coast, and eventually settled inland South America, well before the Amerindians we known showed up at Ellis Island. John talks about them “following the kelp road”.

There is another fact that helps in knitting these observations together. When in doubt, look at the map – it often tells you something.


Thing is, if you arrived so early, when deglaciation had barely begun, North America was a pretty crappy place, ice in Chicago and taiga down to the Gulf Coast. While on the other hand, parts of Brazil were pretty decent habitat for hunter-gatherers.

Suppose this happened. These guys didn’t start out as experienced big-game hunters. The Amerindians, originating in Beringia, were. So these hypothetical sort-of-Andmananese took a while to adapt to a continental lifestyle and never became awesome, extinction causing hunters. Their tool kit looks pretty simple.

You might compare them to the Australo-Melanesians that occupied Southeast Asia, before people from South China moved in and squashed them (with some admixing).

Here is looks like replacement by Amerindians with just a little admixture. Those Amerindians could easily spread over North America – they were good hunters and the climate was much improved by then.

How to tell if this story is correct? if we find a sufficiently old (C-14 dating) skeleton in Central or South America that has vaguely-Andamanese DNA, rather than Amerindian autosomal, we’ll know. Would take only a sliver of bone.

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33 Responses to Monte Verde, Ghost populations, Brazil

  1. Their DNA could also also tell us if they arrived in such a small population that they were at a serious disadvantage from inbreeding depression. This could in part explain why their population did not explode like the later arriving Amerinds from Beringia.

    It should be good comedy to see how the Amerinds react to their demotion to second in line to arriving at this continent. Maybe a war reenactment. The peaceful people of the kelp combing the beaches for clams and other goodies then along come the injuns and split their heads like coconuts.

    • Ursiform says:

      “It should be good comedy to see how the Amerinds react to their demotion to second in line to arriving at this continent.”

      To generalize, but not as much as you have: Amerinds who respect history will simply accept it. Amerinds who believe that their ancestors have always lived where they are now will deny it. Not much comedy either way.

      • gcochran9 says:

        If it turns out to be true and is proved, I’m looking forward to a powerful argument that the pre-Indians had it coming.

        • TWS says:

          Obviously. They were white. Well a blackish kind of white. I suspect that somebody who died crossing the mountains in a cave would be our best bet. Hope they find someone.

      • The comedy comes from people who don’t know what they are talking about getting exposed. A whole lot of poobahs in acedemia were absolutely dead certain that no way no how could humans have entered the Americas before 13000 years before present. They wouldn’t go down to South America to even look at the evidence to the contrary, they just said it had to be wrong. I enjoy it when fake experts have to eat their words and boy oh boy are there a lot of fake experts in this field. Now the amerinds as a people don’t piss me off but their “you can’t study ancient bones cuz that’s my daddy” attitude sure does. Now we have evidence that they can’t own all the bones anymore, and I like that.

        Another comedy theme that is bound to pop up (I’m easily amused) is that not all the people in the world are exactly equal. These first dibs people got here and what did they do? Nuttin. Slacker beach combers who couldn’t even colonize a couple of empty continents. Now either they were seriously inbred because just a few of them made it across the Pacific or they were world class stupid. Now I have read the Hawks article and it is excellent but a university professor cannot come out and say what i just said even though it’s true. Hawks goes on at length about how it took 4000 years for these new arrivers to figure out how to hunt big meaty tasty delicious critters that don’t even have enough sense to run away. What’s that odor i smell? Is it bullshit? Yes, it is! Either those first arrivers were very inbred or very stupid.

        • Steven C. says:

          There’s a law in the USA that pre-emptively gives ownership of “prehistoric” human remains (before modern European settlement) to the nearest indigenous tribe. That would means that any human remains found in a medieval Norse settlement would be handed over to the local Indian tribe.

    • Bob says:

      Wouldn’t they just get drunk, if they’re not so already?

  2. IC says:

    Further back, less evidences survive, more speculative/fantacy.

    Human history, evolution, universe genesis ect are the fields in science facing such challenge. Keeping open-mind to all possiblities are the best approach.

    Egypt was considered as oldest civilization mightbe due to preserved stone structure in desert enviroment. Other civilizations might be around but failed to leave any evidence behind due to non-durable building in more humid enviroment. Chinese civilization evidence is all due to its writing literature which could be copied repeatedly over generations. Very few surface physical evidence remained from Confucius time. Luckly Chinese nobles like to bury with a lot of physical material even the human body often decayed into nothing.

    But this makes study of past very interesting and challenging.

  3. dearieme says:

    “These guys didn’t start out as experienced big-game hunters.” Howdchaknow? A maritime people will at least be used to hunting seals and sea lions, I’d think. Porpoises and dolphins maybe too. On a northern leg of their journey, walruses.

  4. The new genetic data are consistent with work by Joanna Nichols finding linguistic strata (not the same as language families; her methods are different from Greenberg’s) linking Australo-Melanesia and southern South America. More here:

    IIRC, one of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories involved pre-Indians in North America being shoved aside by newly arrived Paleo-Indians. I think he also got the Indo-European invasion of Northern Europe right. (But it’s been a while since I read this.)

  5. Jacob says:

    So which way does the maritime route go? When you last posted on this, I looked up some maps of the last Glacial maximum, and it looked like Tanzania was about four hundred miles from the sea ice, and their might have been a lot of glaciers in between. Would that be close enough?

    • Acres of Statuary says:

      (Jacob meant Tasmania.) Yea, I remember it. The ice map of the southern ocean made it look a lot more feasible than the map of today. Historical native Tasmanians didn’t have clothing tho, IIRC. That would be a really big obstacle to traversing that route.

    • dearieme says:

      Not Tanzania. Tasmania?

      • dearieme says:

        Sorry, Jacob: AoS had already corrected the typo.

        • Jacob says:

          Yeah, those Zs/Ssand Ns/Ms threw me off, evidently.

          I guess it comes down to whether you think a coastal route of 20,000 miles- without leaving any recoverable bones along the way- is more plausible than traveling over open water for 400 miles (or between glaciers) and then staying along the sea ice for 6,000 miles. The coastal route may well be much more likely.

          • dearieme says:

            It could be 20,000 miles over scores of generations, and that’s just if we guess correctly where they started from. “without leaving any recoverable bones along the way” is less strong than it might be if their coastal sites were all drowned by the rise of sea level when the ice melted.

          • Jacob says:

            Yeah, I remember a geologist telling me that the Hudson valley was probably carved out in just a few years during the glacial retreat; it was, as they say, a Flood of Biblical proportions.

          • engleberg says:

            I’d think a straight shot across the Atlantic from West Africa to Brazil is more likely. It’s with the ocean current. The disease load in Africa was probably lower when the whole planet was colder (less reduced IQ from horrible diseases). And 18500 BC is about right for the first boats to be invented (my memoryof John Hawks’s Coursera).

            • gcochran9 says:

              You’d be wrong. Boats or rafts are far older than that – you can’t get to Australia/New Guinea?Solomon islands without them: humans showed up in Australia around 50k years ago, in the Solomons around 40k years ago. People dribbled on from one island to the next in the Solomons (which was visible); but when the next step got to be 200 miles, nobody took it until the Polynesians, real sailors, 35,000 years later.

              The Cape Verde islands are only 350 miles off West Africa, but they were uninhabited until the 15th century.

  6. Dillehay used to get kicked a lot, but the cat came back.
    He sounds fairly modest and precise in his claims. I don’t know the inside baseball of anthropology. Are people coming around to him, or still holding him at arms lengths, with a bit of a sneer?

  7. Hugh says:

    If it is true, these pre-Indians would win the award for Most Incompetent Prehistoric People. Every other group of humans who arrived on an uninhabited continent or island, before or after, had no trouble in slaughtering the local megafauna.

    • Arthur Pierce says:

      Technically speaking, wouldn’t that make sub-Saharan Africans, whose struggles with their continent’s megafauna persisted until the arrival of Europeans, the most incompetent ethnic group?

  8. JayMan says:

    ” When in doubt, look at the map – it often tells you something.”

    And that is why I like maps.

  9. ohwilleke says:

    “Also consider that the earliest known skeletons in the Americas, especially in Brazil, look a lot like Australo-Melanesians. Although I don’t we think we have any ancient DNA from those Brazilian skeletons yet.”

    The investigators in those studies made a special effort to get all the ancient DNA they could from remains that were phenotypically atypical of other Native Americans and all of those tests came up empty handed. Admittedly, they didn’t have any 18kya ancient DNA form South America to work with, but this does disturb the presumption that physical anthropology phenotype is a good proxy for genetics in this context. The individuals who do have trace ancestry that looks Paleo-Asian are phenotypically ordinary for South American indigeneous peoples.

    Overall, the traces are so scant that I think a hypothesis that the founding population’s fastest moving Pacific coast route wave may have contained one or two wandering or lost Negrito type ancestry individuals who ended up with the rest of the genetically different founding population of the Americas by accident seems like a more likely scenario. If this outlier individual were at the front of the wave of advance, then that individual should have wound up where we see those genes and that individual’s genes wouldn’t be hopelessly diluted as they would be someplace where there were other genotypical founding population tribes to admix with.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If those reports of older artifacts at Monte Verde are correct, your scenario can’t work. If there’s anything to the idea of a Melanesian influence on Amazonian languages, your scenario won’t explain it.

      If one guy could get to , say, Beringia, more than one could also. Which scenario is more likely? For your scenario to work, the hypothetical Onge-like person has to merge with ancestral Amerindians in a fairly narrow time window. If he shows up two thousand years before the trek to America, his genes are homogenized and it’s difficult for different Amerindians groups to have substantially different amounts of Onge-like ancestry – yet they do, with some having none, and most found in the Amazon. And he has to show up before the trek – much later and the Amerindians have increased in number and he can’t contribute 1 or 2%.

      Alien individuals and small groups are sometimes absorbed, but are more often enslaved and/or killed. An earlier colonization into an empty continent, before the Amerindians showed up, wouldn’t have faced those hazards. It fairly naturally leads to higher densities in South America than North America, which was much the nicer of the two 18-20k years ago.

      • TWS says:

        It’s almost too spot on that the local Indians have stories of a little people that couldn’t properly hunt or speak (they were scavengers and gatherers and spoke in whistles). They will try to lure women and children who were out gathering berries. They didn’t use proper tools so they were called “Stick Indians” and would try to hide from real people.

  10. Neil Barden says:

    One position that has not been considered here is that the peopling of the Americas happened much much earlier. There are at least 6 sites from both north and south America with well established radiocarbon dates ranging from 63000ya to around 20000ya. And one of those is actually Monte Verde!

    Tom Dillehay had, by 1997, secure radiocarbon dates of 12500 BP and 33000 BP for his Monte Verde sites known as MV-II MV-I respectively.

    The problem was, that in 1997 even the radiocarbon date of 12500 BP for MV-II was controversial. The Clovis-first school of north American archaeology still held fiercely onto their established orthodoxy.

    To establish his site as a legitimate one Dillehay had to convince the establishment of the sites’ antiquity. He did so by inviting an array of Paleoindian archaeologists to view the Monte Verde artifacts and site. Guests included the fiercely Clovis-first proponent Vance Haynes.

    The combined team of archaeologists wrote up their report later that year.

    In their 1997 paper “On the Pleistocene Antiquity of Monte Verde, Southern Chile” (American Antiquity. 62(4), 1997, pp. 659-663.) Meltzer et al supported an extremely early date of 33000ya for the Monte Verde site.

    “In regard to the extremely intriguing MV-I materials. Dillehay (1997) remains noncommittal. The MV-I materials were found deep within the MV-7 deposits; at least some of them are clearly artifactual: there is no suggestion that they owe their position to disturbance; and associated radiocarbon determinations indicate an age of at least 33.000 years B.P. The chances seem good that these materials indicate a significantly early human occupation in the region. However. MV-I is located some 70 m south of the present Chinchihuapi Creek (on the north side of which sits the main, MV-11, occupation), and additional stratigraphic work is needed to relate the sequence here to the sequence that has been so well elucidated in the area of the site itself (Dillehay’s Zones A and D). In addition, further excavations are needed to seek additional cultural materials and radiocarbon samples. In saying this, we are simply agreeing with and repeating what Dillehay himself feels is needed to clarify the MV-I situation.”
    The simple fact is that Dillehay had the evidence of an extremely old occupation of the Americas nearly 20 years ago and chose not to push his discovery for fear of a career destroying backlash.

    • gcochran9 says:

      A solid C-14 date of 63k would be quite a trick, since the method doesn’t work that far back, even using accelerator mass spectroscopy (AMS). Which would lead me to doubt you, if I didn’t already.

      The problem with earlier arrivals to the Americas is that they should have been fruitful and multiplied, and left a huge signature after a while. This notion of an earlier Andaman-like colonization runs into that objection – but maybe the idea works if they were mostly coastal (sea level changes hide the evidence), expanded in South America rather than North America (less investigated), didn’t arrive a lot earlier than the Paleoindians, and were unimpressive hunters.

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