"On the first day," he said, "I got the feeling that something here was not geological. This is what came into my mind: Could this be an archaeological site?"
The proposition, linking man to the site, became controversial when preliminary dating of the specimens challenged the conventional assumption that man arrived in North America no earlier than 14,000 years ago.
For five months, Cerutti oversaw a team of paleontologists who patiently unearthed 50 square meters and collected more than 400 specimens. In El Nino rains, he rearranged waterproof tarps or operated a pump from the museum, and when the sun came out, he took out his butter knife to probe and pick at the grains of sandstone encasing each object.
The specimens now reside at the San Diego Natural History Museum.
In 2017, the prestigious scientific journal Nature published the findings, giving credence to the claim that the Cerutti Mastodon site, where early man had processed the bones of a mastodon, was between 121,000 and 140,000 years old.
Since then, attacks on the findings have increased. Although disappointed by the dismissive tone of critics in the archaeological community, Cerutti remained confident that the site would one day speak for itself.
"We're not vacuum cleaner salesmen," he said. "This isn't something that needs to be pushed. We just want others to come out here to see what we have."
Cerutti is survived by his wife, Aida Amar, four children and four grandchildren.
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