Scientists have discovered evidence of prehistoric humans on the Falkland Islands, upending the idea that European explorers were the first people to set foot on archipelago.
A group of researchers, led by those at the University of Maine, have discovered animal bones, charcoal records dating back 8,000 years and other evidence of human activity that predates 17th century Europeans.
The researchers found evidence that Indigenous South Americans likely traveled to the islands between 1275 and 1420 A.D.
However, anything further back can’t be ruled out, because there is some evidence (such as a tooth from an extinct Falkland Islands fox known as a warrah from 3450 B.C.) that dates back thousands of years.
Scientists have found evidence of prehistoric humans on the Falkland Islands. One ‘notable’ sign of pre-European human activity stems from an 8,000-year-old charcoal record collected from a column of peat (b) on New Island that showed an increase in fire activity around 150 A.D., with spikes in 1410 and 1770 AD
Other evidence of pre-European human activity includes piles of bones (a) near where a landowner discovered a stone projectile point (b) that is similar to the technology Indigenous South Americans have used for a millennium
One ‘notable’ sign of pre-European human activity stems from an 8,000-year-old charcoal record collected from a column of peat on New Island that showed an increase in fire activity around 150 A.D., with spikes in 1410 and 1770 A.D., the latter corresponding to the timeframe when Europeans settled the archipelago.
Other evidence of pre-European human activity includes piles of sea lion and penguin bones (also taken from New Island) which date between 1275 and 1420 A.D.
They were found near where a landowner discovered a stone projectile point that is similar to the technology Indigenous South Americans have used for a millennium.
Sea lion bones (pictured: a male sea lion skull) were found at New Island, the study added
The study’s lead author, Kit Hamley, said the location, amount and type of bones are indicative that humans likely assembled them.
It’s highly probably that Indigenous South Americans visited the islands between 1275 and 1420 A.D.
They may have come to the archipelago for ‘multiple short-term stays’ and not a longer term occupation, the researchers added.
As such, they did not leave a lot of materials behind, but there was enough for Hamley and the other researchers to find a footprint and date the evidence centuries before European settlers first appeared on the islands.
‘These findings broaden our understanding of Indigenous movement and activity in the remote and harsh South Atlantic Ocean,’ said Hamley in a statement.
‘This is really exciting because it opens up new doors for collaborating with descendant Indigenous communities to increase our understanding of past ecological changes throughout the region.
People have long speculated that it was likely that Indigenous South Americans had reached the Falkland Islands, so it is really rewarding to get to play a role in helping bring that part of the past to life of the islands.’
British navigator John Strong is believed to be the first European to set foot on the chain of islands in 1690.
Researchers have also found evidence of a tooth from an extinct Falkland Islands fox known as a warrah from 3450 BC that dates back thousands of years
It’s unclear how the warrah was introduced to the islands: some believe it was introduced by European settlers, while others believe it was there before them, with Hamley suggesting it was the Indigenous South Americans who domesticated it and brought them to the islands.
‘This study has the potential to change the trajectory of future ecological research in The Falklands,’ Hamley added.
‘The introduction of a top predator, like the warrah, could have had profound implications for the biodiversity of the islands, which are home to ground nesting seabirds such as penguins, albatross and cormorants.
‘It also changes the ever-captivating story of past human-canine relationships.
‘We know that Indigenous South Americans domesticated foxes, but this study helps show how potentially important these animals were to those communities extending back thousands of years.’
The warrah was wiped out in 1856 from hunting and is widely believed to be the first extinct canid in record history, Hamley added.
The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.