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But the resources in the area were likely plentiful, added Michael Waters, of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University in College Station and co-author of the new study.
With the rich hill country around them, "it's not surprising people came back time and time again." The people who left the tools and fragments described in the study were likely hunter–gatherers, passing through the site from time to time over thousands of years.
"This is almost like a baseball bat to the side of the head to the archaeological community to wake up," he said.
"You'd have to get to central Texas, and that would probably take a little while," Waters said.
Waters argues that their find of 15,528 artifacts (made from chert, a flint-like rock), which span the 2,400 years before the accepted emergence of Clovis technology 13,100 years ago, is the nail in coffin of the theory that Clovis toolmakers were the first inhabitants of the New World, the so-called Clovis-first model.
This arrival would have placed the initial migration from northeastern Asia over the Bering Land Bridge and through the Arctic corridor that opened between ice sheets at some 15,000 years ago.
This latest tool evidence, however, suggests that people were already making and discarding stone tools about 15,500 years ago, which would mean that the migration likely occurred even earlier.
The find is "unequivocal proof for pre-Clovis occupation of America," said Steven Forman, of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"This was a mobile tool kit—something that was easily transported," Waters said.The prevalence of Clovis style tools—epitomized by fine, fluted (grooved) stone points—across the continent had suggested to many archaeologists for decades that the groups who made these tools must have comprised the first wave of settlement in the Americas.