The last decades of fieldwork have not decisively upset the long-held view that the settlement of the Americas occurred in the very latest Pleistocene, as marked in North America by the Clovis archaeological horizon at about 11,200 years ago, and by a variety of contemporaneous South American industries. Yet there are several sites that may prove to be older, among them Pedra Furada, in the thorn forest of northeastern Brazil, a large and remarkable rock-shelter, whose Pleistocene deposits have been interpreted as containing clear evidence of human occupation.
This paper offers a considered view of Pedra Furada from three archaeologists with a wide range of experiences in sites of all ages in the Americas and elsewhere, but who also share a special interest and expertise in the issues Pedra Furada has raised: Meltzer from long study of the peopling of the Americas and the frame of thinking within which we address that issue (Meltzer 1993a; 1993b); Adovasio from his intensive excavations and analysis of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, the prime North American pre-Clovis candidate (Adovasio et al. 1990; Donahue & Adovasio 1990); and Dillehay from his work at the Monte Verde site in Chile, a site in which extraordinary preservation has produced a rich archaeological record with radiocarbon ages in excess of 12,500 years b.p. (Dillehay 1989a; in press). At the invitation of the Pedra Furada team, the three travelled to Brazil last December to participate in an international conference on the peopling of the Americas, and see first-hand the evidence from Pedra Furada.