Ancient American carving found
Sao Paulo - Brazilian archaeologists have discovered an ancient rock carving they say is at least 10 000 years old, making it the oldest human carving in the Americas.
The claim, detailed in an article in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE, opens the controversial debate over when and how humans populated the Americas.
The 30cm carving is of a man with a "C" shaped head, three fingers per hand and an oversized phallus.
Walter Neves, an archaeologist with the Universidad de Sao Paulo and a member of the team that made the discovery, said the rock carving, or petroglyph, could be part of a "cult of fertility".
The ancient work of art was found in 2009 at Lagoa Santa, in central Brazil some 60km from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state.
"We can confidently state that the petroglyph is older than 10 500 years, perhaps being as old as 12 000 years, which means that this pecked figure could be the oldest figurative petroglyph ever found in the New World," the authors, including Neves, wrote in the journal.
The experts based their claim on carbon dating the sediment covering the carving.
The most widely accepted theory is that humans crossed the frozen Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska some 11 000 years ago and gradually spread south.
The theory, best known as "Clovis First", states that the Clovis people from western north America were the first humans to arrive in the continent some 11 500 years ago.
Neves, a critic of the Clovis First theory, disagrees.
"We have proven a very early human occupation of the American continent. Some 11 000 years ago there was already great symbolic diversity in the continent," he told local media.