Excavations of South American sites containing traces of ancient human activity have suggested that humans reached the southern region of the continent at least 14,500 years before present (BP)—remarkably quickly after first entering the Americas—and that they soon developed diverse technologies across different sites. But the picture yielded by these archaeological investigations is a patchwork, leaving open key questions, such as whether the first humans migrated south along the Pacific coast or by some other route. The history is further complicated by disputed claims (examples marked by red headers with asterisks) that certain sites reflect a much earlier occupation of the continent beginning more than 20,000 BP.
Site: Rock shelter at 4,480 meters in elevation dated to ~12,400 BP
Contains: Remains of plants and animals consumed as food and other human-made debris; human remains; stone tools
Significance: Oldest known site in...
Genetic insights about the first South Americans
Two studies published in late 2018, one led by David Reich of Harvard University (results depicted in cool colors) and the other by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen (results in warm colors), compared ancient and modern genomes from across the Americas to infer that there were multiple waves of migration from the northern continent to the southern one.
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Clarification (September 4): The language in this infographic has been updated to reflect the fact that Cuncaicha is the oldest known site in the high Andes, not the Andean region.
Correction (September 8, 2020): The first map has also been updated to correctly denote Monte Verde's location. The Scientist regrets the error.