When the crew of the Virginia scallop trawler Cinmar hauled a mastodon tusk onto the deck in 1970, another oddity dropped out of the net: a dark, tapered stone blade, nearly eight inches long and still sharp.
Forty years later, this rediscovered prehistoric slasher has reopened debate on a radical theory about who the first Americans were and when they got here.
Archeologists have long held that North America remained unpopulated until about 15,000 years ago, when Siberian people walked or boated into Alaska and then moved down the West Coast.
But the mastodon relic found near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay turned out to be 22,000 years old, suggesting that the blade was just as ancient.
Whoever fashioned that blade was not supposed to be here.
Its makers probably paddled from Europe and arrived in America thousands of years ahead of the western migration, making them the first Americans, argues Smithsonian Institution anthropologist Dennis Stanford.
“I think it’s feasible,” said Tom Dillehay, a prominent archaeologist at Vanderbilt University. “The evidence is building up, and it certainly warrants discussion.”
At the height of the last ice age, Stanford says, mysterious Stone Age European people known as the Solutreans paddled along an ice cap jutting into the North Atlantic. They lived like Inuits, harvesting seals and seabirds.
The Solutreans eventually spread across North America, Stanford says, hauling their distinctive blades with them and giving birth to the later Clovis culture, which emerged some 13,000 years ago.