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"If they came down an interior ice-free corridor, they could have turned right, saw the beaches of California, and said, ‘To hell with this,’" says archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.Matthew Des Lauriers transforms a beach cobble into a type of stone tool used by people who lived on Cedros Island nearly 13,000 years ago.They're looking at the gateway to the Americas, along stretches of the Alaskan and Canadian coasts that were spared the post–ice age flooding. And on Cedros Island, Des Lauriers is helping fill in the picture of how early coastal people lived and what tools they made, details that link them to maritime cultures around the Pacific Rim and imply that they were not landlubbers who later turned seaward. On a sunny June day, Des Lauriers crouches in a gully here, bracing himself against the wind blowing off the ocean.He leans over to examine what could be a clue to how people lived here 12,000 years ago: a delicate crescent of shell glinting in the sun.
Findings such as those on Cedros Island bolster that picture by showing that people were living along the coast practically as early as anyone was in the Americas.As he explored, his feet crunched over shells of large Pismo clams—bivalves that he hadn't seen before on the mountainous island, 100 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Baja California.The stone tools littering the ground didn't fit, either.Curiosity piqued, he returned for a test excavation and sent some shell and charcoal for radiocarbon dating.When Des Lauriers's adviser called with the results, he said, "You should probably sit down." The material dated from nearly 11,000 to more than 12,000 years ago—only a couple thousand years after the first people reached the Americas.
Unlike the finely made arrow points and razor-sharp obsidian that Des Lauriers had previously found on the island, these jagged flakes had been crudely knocked off of chunky beach cobbles.