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Monte Verde (Chile)

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Hut Foundation Remnants, Monte Verde

View of excavated Monte Verde II wishbone-shaped structure thought to be a medicinal hut and containing several masticated cuds. "Monte Verde II" refers to the upper layer of the Monte Verde site.

Image courtesy of Tom D. Dillehay

Monte Verde is an archaeological site, located in a peat bog 500 miles south of Santiago, Chile. Its discovery in the spring of 1997 cracked the foundations of what archaeologists had understood about how the Americas were populated, leading to the idea and eventual acceptance of Preclovis.

Monte Verde's ruins are extremely well preserved, and they represent a small settlement of 20-30 people who lived in 12 huts. Extinct llama, shellfish, a variety of vegetables and nuts, and most astoundingly, a still-recognizable chunk of mastodon meat, were recovered at the site and represent the diet of the occupants.

A single footprint, that of a small child, was preserved near a hearth. A suite of radiocarbon dates from bone and charcoal from the hearths returned a date of close to 13,000 years ago, making Monte Verde one of the very oldest well-established sites in the Americas.

The site was the center of considerable controversy, because it was in the wrong place to comfortably fit in with then-established understandings of when the continents were first settled, by Clovis hunters, about 12,000 years ago. Although some controversy continues, many more pre-clovis sites have been identified and are being much more seriously considered than they were before Monte Verde.

Recent re-examination of mammoth bone from the occupation layer at Monte Verde returned four statistically significant radiocarbon dates averaging 12,460 (+/- 30) RCYBP, and about 14,600 cal years BP, lending support to the advanced age of Monte Verde.

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This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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