Oldest North American Rock Art May Be 14,800 Years Old
Nevada petroglyphs could date back to the first peopling of the Americas.
Benson said it might be possible to better pinpoint the age of the petroglyphs, but it would require sampling carbonate from inside the etchings themselves—something that he has agreed not to do.
Benson obtained permission to non-invasively examine the carvings from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which owns the land.
“One of the deals I made was that I would only work to the side of the glyphs, and not touch any of the glyphs themselves,” Benson said.
Prior to the new dating of the Lake Winnemucca petroglyphs, the oldest rock art in North America was thought to be carvings found at Long Lake in Oregon that date to roughly 7,300 years ago.
Benson says he doesn’t know what the symbols at Lake Winnemucca mean, or who might have made them, but he notes that their ages roughly match those of several pieces of fossilized human feces, or coprolites, that were discovered in Paisley Cave in Oregon and dated to around 14,400 to 13,000 years ago.
This date is close to when scientists think humans first began settling the Americas. In a new study published in this week’s issue of the journal of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say they have found genetic evidence that a first wave of migrants crossed into the Americas from Asia about 15,000 to 18,000 years ago by slowly creeping down the continent’s coasts.
A few thousand years later, according to the study, a second wave of humans entered North America, this time by slipping across the Bering Strait into Alaska and then crossing through an ice-free corridor into Canada.
Benson speculated that members of the first wave of settlers might have been responsible for the Lake Winnemucca rock art.
“It’s possible that those people did occupy areas farther south, like the Lake Winnemucca area … [but] it is also possible that paleoindians occupying the Winnemucca Lake basin between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago carved the petroglyphs,” he said.
“At the moment we have no way to decide between the two possibilities.”
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