ASU professor’s research named one of top 100 science stories by Discover Magazine

ALAMOSA — Adams State University professor of physical geography Jared Beeton contributed to a study that was named one of the 2017 Top 100 Science Stories from across the globe by Discover Magazine in its January/February 2018 issue.

Beeton is one of 11 scientists who conducted research on the Cerutti Mastodon site in San Diego. That study showed evidence of human occupation at the site 130,000 years ago, which is 115,000 years earlier than humans were previously thought to have reached North America. The Cerutti Mastodon Discovery was first announced in the April 27 issue of the prestigious science journal Nature. The project was led by the San Diego Natural History Museum.

“When we first discovered the site, there was strong physical evidence that placed humans alongside extinct Ice Age megafauna,” said Dr. Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology and director of PaleoServices at the San Diego Natural History Museum. “Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here significantly earlier than commonly accepted.”

Noting that much more research is required to fully understand the site, Beeton said, “These humans may have come to North America from Asia near the end of the Illinoian Stage glaciation, when sea levels were lower and the continents were connected by a land bridge.”

Conducted over 25 years, the highly interdisciplinary project involved paleontologists, archaeologists, geologists, and geographers. A specialist in physical geography and geoarchaeology, Beeton was called upon to describe the general geomorphology of the area. He then analyzed the various layers of sediment in order to determine geologic events that contributed to the arrangement of fossils and stones at the site.

He recently returned to San Diego, where he worked with a new research team to further explore the Cerutti Site and surrounding area. “We are putting together a GIS map of landforms in the Sweetwater River watershed, including their age, which hasn’t been done before. This will tell the story of what the landscape looked like 130,000 years ago. We want to place the Cerutti Mastodon site into a context that tells us where it was in relation to alluvial fans and the river system and hill slopes of that time. This helps rule out other potential causes of deposition of the artifacts.”

Beeton will return to San Diego this summer to describe, sample, and date those landforms.

Beeton was invited to work on the project by Dr. Steve Holen, lead author on the study and director of the Center for American Paleolithic Research. He was previously with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The two have collaborated over the last eight years on several mammoth and mastodon sites, including two in the San Luis Valley.

Caption: Dr. Jared Beeton, Adams State professor of physical geography, at the San Diego Natural History Museum during the April announcement of the Cerutti Mastodon Discovery./Courtesy photo