Skip to comments.'First Americans' May Be Johnnies-Come-Lately (Topper Site)
Posted on 08/22/2004 8:17:24 AM PDT by blam
'First Americans' may be Johnnies-come-lately
By MIKE TONER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/20/04
Human history is being written and rewritten a shovelful at a time on a shaded hillside along the Savannah River.
Each summer Al Goodyear's team of archaeologists digs deeper into the riverbank in South Carolina's Allendale County. Each summer the story of the first Americans, the primitive hunters who first populated the continent, grows longer. And more complex. And more controversial.
David Tulis/AJC (ENLARGE) Archaeologist Al Goodyear holds a hand-made 'microblade,' one of the hundreds of artifacts unearthed during his team's seven years of excavations in South Carolina.
University of South Carolina (ENLARGE) A crude hearth found at the Topper archaeological site in Allendale County, S.C., could if confirmed be the oldest evidence of human activity in North America.
Chad Love/AP (ENLARGE) A Clovis spear point was found in 2002 at a bison kill site near Woodward, Okla. The nomadic Clovis people typically hunted woolly mammoths.
EVIDENCE OF EARLY AMERICANS
This is a selected list of locations at which excavators have found evidence of early peoples in the Americas.
Clovis, N.M.: Artifacts suggest that hunters lived here 13,000 years ago. For decades after the first discovery in 1932, archaeologists have believed that the "Clovis people" were the first human settlers of the Americas.
Allendale County, S.C.: University of South Carolina archaeologist is leading a team that claims to have found evidence of pre-Clovis humans living along the Savannah River at least 16,000 years ago. This summer the team found additional evidence that may go back 25,000 years.
Monte Verde, Chile: A campsite dated at 14,700 years old is so far the oldest known site of human habitation in the Americas. Researchers found stone artifacts, animal hides and an ancient footprint.
Lapa Vermelha, Brazil: The skull of a 13,500-year-old female nicknamed Luzia discovered here is the oldest known human skeleton found in the Americas.
Meadowcroft, Pa.: Remains of a basket dating to 16,000-17,000 years ago found at a rock shelter here.
Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia: 10,200-year-old artifact dredged from 100 feet of water near here.
Source: Scientific American
Hundreds of artifacts unearthed during the team's seven years of excavations beneath the moss-festooned trees suggest that people inhabited the Savannah River Valley at least 16,000 years ago, maybe earlier. Maybe, based on this summer's discoveries, a lot earlier.
To classical archaeology, which teaches that people first entered North America via a land bridge from Siberia around 13,500 years ago and fanned out across the continent, the notion of earlier migrations to the Americas borders on professional heresy.
Goodyear, an archeologist at the University of South Carolina, acknowledges that some colleagues view his claims as "a little like saying we've found life in outer space." He too once doubted that America could have been populated that early, before the end of the last Ice Age.
"But there must have been someone here because they left the signature of their presence in the soil," Goodyear says. "We now have hundreds of artifacts dated between 14,000 and 18,000 years ago."
The questions about who these people were, when they arrived and where they came from got more complicated this year. Previously, all of the artifacts had been found six to eight feet below the surface in soils deposited 18,000 years ago or later.
But last month, as the team dug deeper into older soils, they found more hints of human presence. At 11 feet, they found what Goodyear says may be a crude hearth a charcoal-tinged pit mingled with stone flakes like those associated with stone-making activities. If confirmed, it would be the oldest evidence of human activity in North America.
Radiocarbon dating of seven samples of the charcoal are in progress, but Goodyear says based on existing estimates of the age of the surrounding soil, the new features may be as much as 25,000 years old.
"I was shocked when we came across it," says Goodyear. "We had doubters before, but if the radiocarbon dates we're waiting for turn out to be in the mid-20s, we are really talking heresy."
Lab results are expected in September and Goodyear says if they confirm his suspicions, the implications will be far reaching. It defies logic to think that ancient people only came to this particular riverbank to quarry a flinty mineral called chert for stone tools. By inference, humans must have lived elsewhere in the Americas too.
Not all archaeologists are eager to discard the notion that the first Americans were nomadic Asiatic people who populated the continent only as the last Ice Age was ending, some 13,000 years ago.
The presence of those people preserved in the graceful, fluted stone points they fashioned for spears and other implements has been found throughout North America.
Their cultural calling card thousands of readily recognized "Clovis" points, a style named for the New Mexico site were they were first found in the 1930s all come from sites less than 13,000 years old.
Wealth of evidence
So numerous were the Clovis peoples and so skillful at hunting did their tools make them that some believe they hunted the woolly mammoth and other Ice Age creatures to the brink of extinction.
For more than a half century, they have also been recognized as the ancestors of contemporary present-day native Americans. Linguistic and genetic evidence as it is preserved in the speech and DNA of American Indians tends to support the theory.
"There are just too many well-dated Clovis sites and too little evidence of any earlier human presence to support another explanation," says Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group in Washington.
Fiedel is an avowed member of what critics deride as "the Clovis-first police," professionals who insist that the case for earlier settlement of the Americas is built on a flimsy foundation in fact.
Fiedel says he doesn't question the age of the soils the South Carolina team has been excavating, but he is skeptical that the crudely chipped flakes and points hand-made "microblades" to the archaeologists who see them as ancient tools were fashioned by humans.
"There are natural forces, like freezing and thawing, that can fracture rock too," says Michael Waters of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. "You have to applaud Al Goodyear for having the courage to dig below Clovis, but right now the jury is still out on whether these are tools or not."
Goodyear and other pre-Clovis advocates contend that traditional archaeologists, blinded by their own preconceptions, have failed to dig deep enough to find the ephemeral traces of the first Americans and refuse to recognize the signs of more primitive culture when they are found.
"Scientists tend to see what they expect to see," says Goodyear. "And when they see something they don't expect, they are sometimes slow to change their point of view."
"The upper sands at our site has Clovis material too," he says. "But underneath them were stone tools of much earlier peoples who camped in the Ice Age Savannah River floodplain."
For pre-Clovis theories, the turning point came in the late 1990s, when an exhaustive archaeological investigation near Monte Verde in southern Chile documented human artifacts that were at least 14,700 years old.
"If people could have reached the southern cone of South America by sometime prior to 14,000 years ago, they probably could just have easily reached the southeastern United States," says National Park Service archaeologist David Anderson.
Early migration sites
In addition to the Allendale County location officially known as "the Topper site" for the forester who first pointed it out to Goodyear a handful of other sites in the United States also offer some support for early migration theories, including:
A lakeside site near Oshkosh, Wis., where recently discovered woolly mammoth bones show signs of having been butchered with stone tools more than 15,000 years ago.
A sand dune along the Nottaway River in southeastern Virginia, where archaeologists have found stone tools and a hearth containing charcoal that appears to be more than 17,000 years old.
A cave known as the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, in southwestern Pennsylvania, that has yielded a variety of artifacts that appear to date to between 16,000 and 17,000 years ago.
Other possible first American sites have been found from Florida to Alaska. Most such sites are discovered accidentally. Goodyear stumbled across his site in the late 1990s, when heavy rains and flooding forced his team to seek a dig on higher ground.
Even with a handful of sites, and differing interpretations of what constitutes an artifact, the park service's Anderson says a pre-Clovis colonization of North America "must be considered possible." But he hastens to add that such theories are still unproven.
In an effort to find more of them, Texas A&M University's Center for the Study of the First Americans has begun a project designed to search more systematically for evidence of pre-Clovis cultures revisiting old archeological sites, re-examining artifact collections and reviewing earlier studies.
"These are exciting times," says center archaeologist Waters. "It's clear that the Clovis first model doesn't work any more, but we are going to need a lot of heavy duty analysis to find one that does."
Linguistic and genetic evidence as it is preserved in the speech and DNA of modern day Native Americans supports some of the traditional notions of the peopling of the Americas, but leaves room for doubters too.
Variety of theories
Even without additional evidence, however, theories have proliferated about where these first Americans came from and how they got here.
Some archaeologists contend that one perhaps two migrations of Asiatic people passed through Alaska, scattered across the continent, but died out, or at least failed to prosper, before the final migration.
Until about 15,000 years ago, however, massive ice sheets blocked access between Alaska and the continental United States, making any southward migration along the Pacific Coast unlikely and prompting pre-Clovis proponents to theorize that the first Americans used boats.
And if boats existed then, others say the people who left their mark in southern Chile may have migrated, over hundreds of years, all the way down the Pacific Coast. Or, if they had boats, some suggest that they might even have come across the open Pacific Ocean.
A few researchers say the first American may not have come from Asia at all. Similarities between Clovis stone tools and those of the Solutreans, a prehistoric culture on Spain's north coast, prompt some researchers to even suggest that Clovis predecessors in the Southeast may have come from Europe more than 20,000 years ago.
Absent definitive information, questions seem destined to intensify the past as prologue to an ongoing debate about coming to America.
Please go to the site to view the pictures.
The earliest immigrants to America may have been Caucasoids? Is that a permissible theory today? Isn't that racist? </sarcasm>
I wonder if that means that white people will be allowed to own casinos now?
Yes, but then as now, illegal immigration will kill them off.
Do you have a link, Blam? It asked me so many personal questions that I skipped looking.
I had to answer all the questions too. The pictures don't add anything to the article though.
It is permissible only if it can be conclusively shown that they were not Christian or Republicans.
The same people that think the complexity of humans doesn't indicate "design" are confident that some crudely chipped flakes on some rocks are a clear indicator of "design". Which is it?
Some Native Americans in the Eastern United States and Canada do have European Mitochondrial DNA, which is only inherited from the mother.
Luzia looks African
Arlington Springs Woman has now been dated as the oldest American. She was found on an island off the coast of California.
Yup. These 8,000 year old mummies found in Florida have DNA that compares to western Europeans. See article below.
"Make it so!"
Thanks, posted it here:
Another great post, Blam.
I always enjoy your posts. You are a credit to FR. I just clicked on your name. Shouldn't that be Blam!Blam! ?
"Audemus jura nostra defendere" indeed!
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Related question to my reply on a previous thread; what keeps these classical/pseudo(?) scientific types so tightly bound to their theories? I've asked this question several times before and was basically met with shrugs. Somebody knows. Seems to me that when unusual(pronounced irrational) stuff happens, a money trail might be a good place to look for answers. But, whadda I know?