LJWorld.com weblogs Spandrel

Peopling of North and South America


The antiquity of humans in the "New World" was something that perplexed prehistorians for much of the 19th century. During the early days of the United States, the going theory was that the natives (who many referred to as 'savages') were a population that came in and destroyed an earlier and greater civilization. The many eathworks and mounds that people were encountering as they explored further and further west were thought not to have been created by the current inhabitants. This earlier civilization that the natives were supposed to have destroyed was attributed, among other things, to the lost tribes of Israel. Finally, people realized, through archaeological and skeletal analyses, that the 'savages' and the Moundbuilders were one in the same.This realization led to further questions. The primary question was how long they had been here. Secondly, where they had come from? During the late 1800's, there was a concerted effort to determine the length of time that humans had been present in North and South America. The first site to suggest that humans did in fact exist alongside extinct Ice Age (Pleistocene) animals was the 12-Mile Creek site in Logan County, KS. The site was originally a paleontological excavation of extinct Bison antiquus (1/3 larger than modern buffalo). Within this bonebed, the investigators found what was undeniably a human-made projectile point. Realizing what they had, the investigator (Samuel Williston) returned to Lawrence and held a meeting to reveal what they had found. At the meeting, Williston passed the artifact around the room so that people could see for themselves. The point, however, never made it all the way around the room. The popular rumor is that a pharmacist's wife from Baldwin City, who was especially sensitive to the Biblical implications of the find, pocketed it. Paleontologist Larry Martin allegedly spotted the missing artifact at a garage sale sometime in the 1990's. He ran home to get some money, but the point was gone by the time he returned. Thus, the antiquity of humans in North America remained unsettled.Finally, in 1926 near the town of Folsom in NE New Mexico, a bison bone bed was excavated that settled the issue. An African American cowboy named George McJunkin had found the bones eroding from an arroyo after a flood in the early 1900's. Sadly, McJunkin was no longer around by the time his site was excavated. The excavators were recovering distinctively human-made stone tools in direct association with extinct bison. Ales Hrdlicka, a physical anthropologist who primarily studied skeletal traits, had issued a strict set of criteria that a site proving the antiquity of humans should meet. Many people visited the site just to see for themselves. It became the first unequivocal evidence that humans had existed alongside and had hunted extinct animals.Then, in the 1930's, another site in New Mexico, now known as Blackwater Draw, began producing these same artifacts--now known as Folsom points--in association with these same extinct bison. More importantly, however, human artifacts began turning up in layers below the Folsom materials--artifacts that were in direct association with extinct mammoths. These artifacts were name Clovis points, after the nearby town of Clovis, NM. Slightly prior to that, these same artifacts had been found with mammoth bones at the Dent site in eastern Colorado. Had the folks at Dent realized what they had, Clovis points, like Folsom and 12-Mile Creek, would have been named Dent points. Clovis and Folsom still stand as the names for both the distinctive projectile points and the people who made them.The Clovis and Folsom 'cultures' or 'complexes' has been dated at numerous sites through radiocarbon and accelerator mass-spectometer (AMS) dating of organic materials from archaeological sites. Clovis is generally thought to date between about 11,500-10,800 radiocarbon years before present. If one looks at it in terms of actual calendar years, this roughly equals about 13,400-12,800 actual calendar years ago. Clovis artifacts are found in every continental US state and from Canada southward to Mexico and Central America. Clovis-like artifacts have even been recoved from Venezuela at the Taima-Taima site. The Folsom people came immediately after the Clovis people, and lasted for about 500 years. Folsom points are found primarily on the High Plains from Canada south to Texas. Recently, researchers are beginning to realize that Paleoindians (the term archaeologists use for humans who were here during the Pleistocene or Ice Age) also utilized mountain environments.The debates surrounding how Clovis people first arrived here, or even whether they were actually the first to arrive, is a stinging debate within anthropology today. I will go into those various debates in later posts.For images of Clovis points (from a semi-scientific view) go here:http://lithiccastinglab.com/gallery-pages/2003novemberdrakecachepage1.htmFor a some images of Folsom points go here:http://www.smu.edu/anthro/QUEST/Projects/Folsom/FolsomPointsCAVO.htm


RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Sorry about the frame; it posted that way on its own. Kind of annoying.

Drew_Carey 10 years, 2 months ago

-12 pts to LJW for making us have to copy an article and paste it on a word processor to be able to read it.

Paul Decelles 10 years, 2 months ago

Great post and I like your blog name...shades of Gould. Look forward to the rest of the story. The frame issue is a problem. Two things:

First, If you are pasting text from another source-sometimes I cross post with my general blog from blogger for instance.

Breaking the lines at the ends by inserting an enter in ljworld's editor often gets rid of the problem. Not perfect, and there does seem to be dependence on the browser and resolution.

Second- the ljworld's blog software takes common html tags..so you can eliminate long url's by coding an html link. I even link to photos and videos on line and that works well.

One other tidbit. If you are editing a post and want to see what it looks like, try posting it publicly but not to a public index or any of your groups. That will let you get an idea of how the post is formatting. Be careful! If you need to go back and edit the post and want to see it again the software does not save your previous posting settings. I wish the post editor worked like the comment editor.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Thanks, Paul. Yes, I encountered the spandrel term while reading for a biological anthropology class. I looked it up in the dictionary, and one of the definitions was the triangular space created beneath a flight of stairs. It is a usable space created incidentally by the stairs. I guess it makes sense.

I'll have to look into the editing/formatting for next time.

Paul Decelles 10 years, 2 months ago

Of course my little on formatting didn't work for me on my last post. Also I a not sure you encountered spandrel in the context of evolution. Gould and Lewontin used the term spandrel as a metaphor in an argument against what they viewed as excessive use of natural slection/adaptation.

Gould, S. J. And Lewontin, R. C., "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique Of The Adaptationist Programme," Proceedings Of The Royal Society of London, Series B, Vol. 205, No. 1161 (1979), Pp. 581-598.

An example might be the pattern of hairs on the human body, say on the back. Does this pattern have some sort of adaptive signficance or is it simply a by product of the mammals develop? Fingerprints might be another example.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Paul, I concur. Now that I think about it, it may have actually been in my linguistics class that I encountered the term. We were discussing the evolution of language and the possibility that it may have been the result of a spandrel. Essentially, the author was discussing whether the human capacity for language developed as a discrete trait or was a capacity that developed out of extant traits (like making noise with one's larynx). Basically, was it inherently adaptive or a spandrel that became adaptive. Sort of like brachiation in apes and the ability to throw objects. Perhaps there is a more appropriate term for such traits.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

By the way, if anyone is interested, I believe they have one of the original bison skeletons from the 12-Mile Creek site in Dyche hall in the Natural History Museum.

aginglady 10 years, 2 months ago

Mariann..would that belong on the Sexuality:Sounds, Smells, or Visual blog? Ronda wants to know :)

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Oh man, max, it is good to see that you have such interest in the topic. I'm going to write more about the whole issue, so some of the things you addressed in your post should be clearer later on. Part of the reason I'm doing this is to educate folks about the human history of the continent.

With regard to Clovis and Europe: This theory is not well-liked by archaeologists, for a number of reasons. Dennis Stanford, who you mention, and Bruce Bradley introduced this theory, which most people call the Solutrean theory. They hypothesize that when the last ice age began around 20,000 years ago, European populations were pushed further and further south by the ice. The Solutreans, who lived in France and Spain at the time, are seen by them as technological precursors to Clovis. However, there is a slight inconvenience of a 4000 year gap and the Atlantic Ocean between the beginnings of Clovis and the end of the Solutrean period in Europe. Otherwise, the technological similarities are compelling and would be perfect if not for what many see as flaws in the argument.

There are a couple of sites in N. and S. America, most notably Meadowcroft Rockshelter in SE Pennsylvania, which produced artifacts in the layer below the Clovis layers. Dates on these lower layers range from 16,000-14,000 radiocarbon years ago. Monte Verde, a site near the Chilean coast, has an extremely impressive assemblage of everything from tent stakes with cordage wrapped around them to a human footprint. This site is dated to about 12,300 radiocarbon years ago, which puts it nearly a thousand years earlier than Clovis. So if people had to come through N. America first, then we should have the oldest dates in North America. This issue is extremely complex and I look forward to talking more about it in future posts. I could definitely go on and on and on, but I'll save it for the future.

doug1 10 years, 2 months ago

This is a fascinating subject and while I'm no scientist I have long held an interest in this fascinating time period.An observation I would make is that it seems to me that most archeologists are more comfortable for a number of reasons with the idea of people making migration across land and find water and the ice as barriers. People who have lived in ice-edge and marine environments see them as quite the opposite. Those who live with boats and who center their culture around harvesting sea mammals and fish would have found that the ice edge from Western Europe to the Northeaster US would have been an excellent environment for harvesting reliable sources of rich food, indeed the ice edge is typically an area where upwelling occurs and is typically dominated by a high pressure front affording favorable weather, and one in which long distance travel could be quite easily done. Again, historians and many archaeologists see human history from the perpspective of the land lubberly academecian.Another comment: I see no referrence to the speculations regarding the evidence for a significant climate changing impact from a comet or meteorite approximately 12.9KYA over the Laurentide Ice Plateau. The evidence presented at last year's AGU conference in Mexico City was pretty compelling and the arguments against it have so far been pretty weak, I think. Anyhow...excellent blog and hope to check back to read more. Thanks. Doug L.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 9 months ago

Doug L:I know this several months or even large fractions of a year late. Yes, archaeologists generally tend to give more credence to land-based colonization models than maritime models. I think this is unfortunate. We do have a number of archaeologists, especially on our western coast, who study maritime archaeology and very fervently believe that a maritime-based initial exploration likely preceded inland colonization, most notably, Jon Erlandson. Archaeologists, to my knowledge, have found fiber cordage on the Channel Islands of California that date to around 9000 radiocarbon years ago. Erlandson and other folks also wrote up a site along the Sacramento River in east-central California. The site was apparently a shell-midden (basically a prehistoric garbage pile) that dated to around 10,000 BP, if I remember correctly. No culturally-diagnostic artifacts were found, but this, as they argue, shows that a marine adaptation must have been in practice by at least as early as 10,000 BP. Man, I keep having the realization that this subject is extreeeemely complex, and I suspect that we may not reach a consensus anytime within the near future.As for the comet impact theory, for which Jon Erlandson was also a contributor, I would say that we are going to see that refuted here in the near future. If not refuted, then I would say strongly thrown into question. I know at least one researcher who is studying the 'high titano-magnetite microspherules' that the authors of the theory claim are in high concentration in soil strata dating to the beginning of the Younger Dryas climatic interval. This was a sudden jolt back into 'Ice Age' conditions lasting from about 10,500-9500 radiocarbon years ago. They argue that the microspherules come from extraterrestrial impacts (and maybe volcanism, but I think they rule that out), thus the high concentrations at the Younger Dryas lower boundary is indicative of an extraterrestrial impact. Stratigraphically, another common phenomenon is noted around that time period called the 'black mat.' This is another line of evidence the comet theorists use. What the researcher I talked to is finding in trying to replicate the microspherule results in the PNAS comet paper is that there really is no concentration at the lower Younger Dryas boundary. It is my perception that the comet theory for the Pleistocene extinctions is not being taken very seriously among most experts on the subject. I, myself, am extremely dubious of the extraterrestrial impact theory. The primary author had spent a good amount of time in the past trying to argue that supernovae caused the Pleistocene extinctions, which is even less likely.

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