This Ancient Spear Is Rewriting the History of Humans in North America

©. Photo courtesy of Texas A

A new discovery is changing when scientists think humans came to the continent.

If you're an anthropology nerd like me, you may think humans came to North America around 13,000 years ago. That's what the best scientific minds thought until recently. But scientists have been finding evidence that humans have been hanging around this continent way longer than that. And researchers recently uncovered the oldest weapons ever found in North America.

Until recently, the oldest weapons ever found around these parts were stone spears that researchers dubbed “Clovis points." Ancient humans used these Clovis points, which were found in Texas and Mexico, to hunt mastodons and mammoths about 13,000 years ago.

But recently, scientists from Texas A&M;, the University of Texas and Baylor University discovered some 3-4 inch spear points near Austin in Texas. And here's the cool part: the spears are 15,500 years old. That means humans have been using weapons in North America at least 1,500 years longer than we realized. That's like if aliens uncovering our civilization thought humans only started making weapons when Rome fell.

archaeologists excavating ancient spear points

© Photo courtesy of Texas A&M;

In all seriousness though, props to these archaeologists. And props to this new finding. It means ancient peoples were way more advanced than scientists realized. Not much lasts over the millennia — we may never know what kind of art or toys these ancient humans made. But resilient materials like spears point to a more complicated civilization than we'd imagined.

“There is no doubt these weapons were used for hunting game in the area at that time,” explained Michael Waters, an anthropology professor at Texas A&M.; “The dream has always been to find diagnostic artifacts – such as projectile points – that can be recognized as older than Clovis and this is what we have at the Friedkin site.”

This isn't just about weapons. These findings suggest other things about ancient peoples.

“The findings expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America,” Waters continued. “The peopling of the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age was a complex process and this complexity is seen in their genetic record. Now we are starting to see this complexity mirrored in the archaeological record.”

Complexity is, of course, complex. Humans have a tendancy to show up in a new place and hunt entire species to extinction, and we seem to have a thing for large animals (probably all the meat). These spear points may well have had a devastating effect on local wildlife.

Humans are amazing problem-solvers. If we're hungry, we don't just starve, we come up with new ways to get food. That includes inventing deadly technologies. We're often too good at this, which why we are bringing about a mass extinction today.

I'm proud of our ingenuity, but I'm afraid it might be our undoing, and the undoing of many other animals. Like I said ... Complex.