Skip to comments.Area Sites Used To Dispute Clovis/Extinction Link
Posted on 03/29/2003 5:00:52 PM PST by blam
Area sites used to dispute Clovis/extinction link
By MIKE STARK
Gazette Wyoming Bureau
It's time to stop pointing an accusatory finger at some of the earliest people in North America, researchers say.
For decades, the Clovis people have been blamed for exterminating as many as 35 types of animals more than 11,000 years ago, including mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, camels and other mammals that roamed the continent during the Pleistocene era.
A study published this month in the Journal of World Prehistory says there's no evidence that the Clovis people hunted big-game animals into extinction.
"There's just absolutely no support for that argument," said Donald Grayson, an archaeology professor at the University of Washington. "Clovis people absolutely did not chase these now-extinct animals relentlessly across the North American landscape."
A more likely culprit for the extinctions is probably climate change, the researchers say.
Grayson and David Meltzer, of Southern Methodist University, studied records of every spot in the continent where Clovis people were linked to mammals, including two sites in Eastern Montana and six scattered across Wyoming.
Years of study
After two years of scrutinizing evidence collected at each of the 76 sites, Grayson and Meltzer said they couldn't find anything to support the longstanding theory that Clovis people hunted dozens of types of Pleistocene animals. In fact, they found that only 14 sites had credible evidence of hunting -- 12 with mammoth remains and two with remains of the mammoth's cousin, the mastodon.
Even in those cases, there weren't many signs that those animals were heavily hunted. As for the other animals that Clovis people have been blamed for exterminating, including sloths, tapirs, bears and saber tooth cats, the researchers couldn't find any solid evidence that they were hunted.
"Where's the spear point sticking out of a camel or a ground sloth? If you can kill a mammoth, you can kill a lumbering ground sloth," Grayson said.
The Paleoindian people called Clovis roamed large swaths of North America between 10,800 and 11,500 years ago and left behind distinctive fluted spear points, which were first found at Clovis, N.M., in the 1920s.
Most of the archaeological sites of the Clovis are clustered in the nation's midsection, stretching from southern Texas to Canada.
The notion that the Clovis people hunted animals to extinction arose in the late 1800s, when researchers began to realize that the Clovis co-existed with certain prehistoric animals.
But the theory really took hold in the 1960s, when it was proffered by archaeologist Paul Martin, according to Grayson.
The University of Arizona researcher's "blitzkrieg theory" suggested that prehistoric people moved across North America, mowing down some of the continent's largest mammals.
The idea, put forth in several publications and widely discussed, became a popular one for explaining extinctions at the end of the Ice Age.
Although it was met with skepticism from some, the idea lived on for decades without a full-scale challenge.
Martin has said a serious flaw in the climate-change argument is that animals that were wiped out in the Pleistocene age had survived several previous shifts in climate.
Grayson and Meltzer began digging through the evidence two years ago.
"It was the first attempt ever to go through every single site where there were Clovis people and mammals," Grayson said.
The pair used an electronic database documenting the distribution of mammals in North America during the last 40,000 years. They found 76 sites to evaluate.
Of those, most were excluded because they lacked "minimally acceptable evidence" linking Clovis artifacts with mammals. The list was eventually whittled to 14 after Grayson and Meltzer searched for published evidence of human hunting, butchering and processing.
Mammoth and mastodon bones were the most commonly found remains at the 14 sites, but horse, camel and bison bones also were identified. But Grayson said there's no evidence that the two horse bones and one camel bone, all from animals now extinct, were the result of hunting.
"The bottom line is that we need to stop wasting our time looking at people as the cause of these extinctions," Grayson said. "We suspect the extinctions were driven by climate change."
The end of the Pleistocene age, which lasted from 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago, was a turbulent time as climate shifted and vegetation changed across the landscape. Grayson said it's likely that many of the mammals went extinct because of "climate stress."
But research on extinct mammals in North America has yet to pin down when each species disappeared and what conditions were like when they died out. That's where the next stage of research should focus, Grayson said.
"Under periods of climate change, different animals react in their very own ways," he said.
In my 50+ years of looking, the only thing I found was a 60 million year old shark tooth, in Charleston, SC.
Yup, me too. The large animals were just to dangerous to hunt.
--Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks
Oops, wrong Clovis.
Am I reading this right? I think they are making several points:
Native Americans were too kind-hearted to have caused any animals to become extinct.
Native Americans really didn't hunt very much at all.
Native Americans were virtual vegetarians, supporting themselves through bucolic agricultural settlements.
While the rest of the world hunted and gathered, Native Americans were advanced enough to survive without the hunting.
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