The Mastodon in the Room

As new discoveries shake up the timeline of when people first came to the Americas, how do we decide what’s true?

Humans may have been in North America much earlier than previously thought. Here’s the evidence: chipped rocks, crushed mastodon bones, and reliable dates showing the remains are 130,000 years old. Is that enough to rewrite the history? SAPIENS co-hosts Chip Colwell and Jen Shannon talk to Steven and Kathleen Holen, archaeologists and co-authors of a controversial discovery. And they further evaluate the claims with the help of anthropologist Todd Braje.



    • Steven Holen and Kathleen Holen are co-directors of the Center for American Paleolithic Research. Steven’s publications include series on Great Plains Paleoindian Archaeology and Ice Age Humans in the Americas. (He co-edited both series with Kathleen.) Steven and Kathleen were co-authors of the Nature article “A 130,000-Year-Old Archaeological Site in Southern California, USA,” published in April 2017.

    For SAPIENS’ original coverage of the mastodon site discovery, check out the news article “Broken Bones Could Rewrite Story of the First Americans.”

    Matthew Simonson composed our theme song and all the other music in this episode.

    Read a transcript of this episode here.