CORVALLIS - Some of the leading scientists in the United States involved in searching for evidence of the peopling of the Americas will gather on April 24 at Oregon State University to discuss the latest findings in that field.

The event is OSU's 58th annual Biology Colloquium, which this year has the theme, "Who Were the First Americans?"

The colloquium will run from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. in OSU's LaSells Stewart Center, 26th Street and Western Boulevard in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

First American studies are undergoing something of a revolution lately, experts say, as new evidence is destroying previously accepted models of how people first populated North and South America. For years, conventional wisdom held that the continents' first inhabitants came across the Bering Land Bridge about 11,500 years ago.

Now mounting evidence suggests that people were here much earlier and their origin isn't necessarily eastern Asia.

New technology and contributions from the field of genetics have fueled the new theories, according to Rob Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at OSU.

"What we have known about the peopling of the Americas has largely come from geochronology, paleoecology and archaeology data," Bonnichsen said. "Those were the lines of data used to learn about when people were here. What this conference is about is looking at new lines of evidence - including modern genetics, ancient genetics and skeletal remains - to think about who these people were.

"This colloquium is kind of the kickoff to that quest," he added.

Among the speakers at the colloquium will be Anne Stone, University of Arizona; Ted Schurr, Emory University; Katharine Field and Walt Ream, OSU; Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian Institution; Richard Jantz, University of Tennessee; D. Gentry Steele, Texas A and M University; Francis P. McManamon, National Park Service; and Alan L. Schneider, a Portland attorney.

Topics discussed at the colloquium include the recovery of DNA from archaeological sites, new archaeological evidence, implications of the new evidence, the skeletal record, human genetic systems, and an overview of existing knowledge on the peopling of the Americas.

"The scientists who are attending are national and international leaders in the effort to develop a new understanding of America's cultural heritage," Bonnichsen said. "This conference is not about politics, it is about science."

The colloquium is sponsored by OSU's Research Office and several other campus groups. The complete schedule follows: 8:15 a.m.

Welcome: By Richard Scanlan, OSU dean of research. 8:20 a.m.

Opening remarks: Rob Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at OSU. 8:30 a.m.

"Status of Existing Archaeological Knowledge of the Peopling of the Americas," by Rob Bonnichsen, OSU. Discussion will follow. 9:45 a.m.

"Reconstructing Human Genetic Systems with Ancient Molecules," by Anne Stone, University of Arizona. Discussion will follow. 10:45 a.m.

"Using DNA to Model the Peopling of the Americas," by Ted Schurr, Emory University. Discussion will follow. 1:15 p.m.

"Analysis of Hairs from Prehistoric Settlements: Long-Term Associations Between Humans and Dogs," by Katharine Field, Walter Ream and Rob Bonnichsen, OSU. Discussion will follow. 2:10 p.m.

"The Smithsonian Skeletal Analysis Program and the First Americans," by Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian Institution, and Richard Jantz, University of Tennessee. Discussion will follow. 3:15 p.m.

"The Paleo-American Skeletal Record of North and South America," by D. Gentry Steele and Joseph Powell, Texas A and M University. Discussion will follow. 4:15 p.m.

Panel Discussion: "What Does the New Evidence Mean?" - featuring Dennis J. Stanford, Smithsonian Institution; Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian Institution; Francis P. McManamon, National Park Service; and Alan L. Schneider, attorney of law.

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Rob Bonnichsen, 541-737-4596