Guest Post by David Middleton
From The Seattle Times
SEATTLE (AP) – It’s not unusual for an archaeologist to get stuck in the past, but Carl Gustafson may be the only one consumed by events on the Olympic Peninsula in 1977.
That summer, while sifting through earth in Sequim, the young Gustafson uncovered something extraordinary _ a mastodon bone with a shaft jammed in it. This appeared to be a weapon that had been thrust into the beast’s ribs, a sign that humans had been around and hunting far earlier than anyone suspected.
Unfortunately for Gustafson, few scientists agreed. He was challenging orthodoxy with less-than-perfect evidence. For almost 35 years, his find was ridiculed or ignored, the site dismissed as curious but not significant. But earlier this month, a team that re-examined his discovery using new technology concluded in the prestigious journal Science that Gustafson had been right all along.
The pierced bone was clear evidence that human beings were hunting large mammals in North America 13,800 years ago _ about 800 years before the so-called Clovis people were thought to have migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia.
The announcement came as sweet vindication for the now-retired Washington State University professor.
“I was pretty bitter about the whole thing for a long time,” Gustafson, 75, recalled last week. “I don’t like saying it. I never really admitted it except to my wife. It was so frustrating. But I’m very humbled and happy it turned out this way.”
20 October 2011
Old American theory is ‘speared’
By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News
An ancient bone with a projectile point lodged within it appears to up-end – once and for all – a long-held idea of how the Americas were first populated.
The rib, from a tusked beast known as a mastodon, has been dated precisely to 13,800 years ago.
This places it before the so-called Clovis hunters, who many academics had argued were the North American continent’s original inhabitants.
News of the dating results is reported in Science magazine.
In truth, the “Clovis first” model, which holds to the idea that America’s original human population swept across a land-bridge from Siberia some 13,000 years ago, has looked untenable for some time.
A succession of archaeological finds right across the United States and northern Mexico have indicated there was human activity much earlier than this – perhaps as early as 15-16,000 years ago.
The mastodon rib, however, really leaves the once cherished model with nowhere to go.
The timing of humanity’s presence in North America is important because it plays into the debate over why so many great beasts from the end of the last Ice Age in that quarter of the globe went extinct.
Not just mastodons, but woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, giant sloths, camels, and teratorns (predatory birds with a nearly four-metre wingspan) – all disappeared in short order a little over 12,700 years ago.
A rapidly changing climate in North America is assumed to have played a key role – as is the sophisticated stone-tool weaponry used by the Clovis hunters. But the fact that there are also humans with effective bone and antler killing technologies present in North America deeper in time suggests the hunting pressure on these animals may have been even greater than previously thought.
“Humans clearly had a role in these extinctions and by the time the Clovis technology turns up at 13,000 years ago – that’s the end. They finished them off,” said Prof Waters.
“You know, the Clovis-first model has been dying for some time,” he finished. “But there’s nothing harder to change than a paradigm, than long-standing thinking. When Clovis-First was first proposed, it was a very elegant model but it’s time to move on, and most of the archaeological community is doing just that.”
First things first… This “discovery” does not alter the fact that the original human inhabitants of the Americas most likely migrated into North America from Siberia across the Bering land bridge. It remains the only viable pathway. Pushing their migration back in time a few thousand years into the Pleistocene just means that the first wave arrived before the Bølling /Allerød interstadials during the Oldest Dryas instead of during the Younger Dryas.
The Real Clear Science link to this article was titled, “First Americans Not From Siberian Land-Bridge.” The BBC reporter seemed to draw a similar erroneous conclusion… “In truth, the ‘Clovis first’ model, which holds to the idea that America’s original human population swept across a land-bridge from Siberia some 13,000 years ago, has looked untenable for some time.” The paper in Science is behind a pay-wall; but the abstract doesn’t seem to cast any doubt on the Bering land bridge theory. The significance of this discovery is that the Anthropocene may have begun much earlier than previously thought… At least several thousand years before mankind discovered capitalism…
Science 21 October 2011:
Vol. 334 no. 6054 pp. 351-353
Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunting 13,800 Years Ago at the Manis Site, Washington
Michael R. Waters1,*, Thomas W. Stafford Jr.2,5, H. Gregory McDonald3, Carl Gustafson4, Morten Rasmussen5, Enrico Cappellini5, Jesper V. Olsen6, Damian Szklarczyk6, Lars Juhl Jensen6, M. Thomas P. Gilbert5, Eske Willerslev5
The tip of a projectile point made of mastodon bone is embedded in a rib of a single disarticulated mastodon at the Manis site in the state of Washington. Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis show that the rib is associated with the other remains and dates to 13,800 years ago. Thus, osseous projectile points, common to the Beringian Upper Paleolithic and Clovis, were made and used during pre-Clovis times in North America. The Manis site, combined with evidence of mammoth hunting at sites in Wisconsin, provides evidence that people were hunting proboscideans at least two millennia before Clovis.
A previous post of mine, Run Away!!! The Anthropocene is Coming!!!, drew some criticism about my assertion “that modern man migrated out of Africa and hunted the megafauna of Europe and North America into extinction.” My comment was at least somewhat sarcastic… And yes, I do know that the human migration out of Africa began long before the Holocene, but, it is a simple fact that mastodons, stegodons and mammoths had “weathered” all of the prior Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles just fine. The only major distinction between the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene and the previous glacial-interglacial transitions was the migration of humans out of Africa, across the world and the demise of most of the mega fauna that were in the path of that migration…
While I may profusely ridicule the notion that mankind’s industrial activities over the last 200 years have given rise to a unit of geological time, distinct from the Holocene… I fully believe that mankind’s conquest of Earth since the late Pleistocene is the only thing that truly distinguishes the Holocene from previous Quaternary interglacials.