[Homestead] Asiatic influx pedated Clovis culture, came by boat, not walking

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 23 00:30:07 EDT 2004

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from the September 23, 2004 edition

Signs of an earlier American
By Peter N. Spotts 
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Al Goodyear is holding his breath in anticipation. Within days, the 
affable archaeologist expects to read the results of lab tests 
indicating that stone tools he recently found in South Carolina are 
25,000 years old - or older.

Such results would be explosive. They would imply that humans lived on 
this continent before the last ice age, far earlier than previously 
believed. Even if the dates came in younger than 25,000 years old, 
researchers say, the find would add to the mounting body of evidence 
that humans trod North and South America at least 2,000 years before the 
earliest-known inhabitants, known as the Clovis culture.

	DIGGING DEEPER: At the Topper site in South Carolina, artifacts have 
been found more than six feet below the level of the Clovis, thought to 
be the first Americans.
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Dr. Goodyear's efforts are among the latest from a growing group of 
archaeologists and anthropologists who have become emboldened to buck 
conventional wisdom and probe far deeper into the hemisphere's past than 
many of their predecessors did. What they are finding not only could 
rewrite old chapters in the history of two continents, it could write 
new ones.

"With all these new discoveries, it's almost a rebirth of excitement in 
the field. All sorts of new ideas are coming forward about migration 
routes and timing of arrival," says Michael Waters, a geoarchaeologist 
at Texas A&M University who is involved in several pre-Clovis digs 
around the United States. "You still have to be careful. Every claim of 
pre-Clovis occupation needs to be looked at quite carefully."

And they are. When stunning discoveries surface in North America's 
paleolithic past, they can ignite debates conducted with all the 
gentility of the Stanley Cup finals - as Goodyear knows.

"When these dates come back, I'll be hiding in a coal mine. I've already 
got a little Groucho Marx disguise I'm going to put on," quips the 
University of South Carolina scientist, who along with colleagues is 
working what's called the Topper site in Allendale County, S.C., along 
the Savannah River.

For decades, the Clovis culture has held sway as the oldest in the New 
World. Evidence for this group's presence was first unearthed in 1936 
near Clovis, N.M. A second site that emerged in Arizona in 1959, and 
others since. A uniquely fluted spear point became the culture's icon. 
Radiocarbon dating at Clovis sites so far has bracketed their presence 
from roughly 11,200 to around 10,800 radiocarbon years ago. 
(Archaeologists prefer expressing dates in radiocarbon years because 
converting to modern calendar years becomes tricky beyond a certain age 

Searching for Big Foot

As evidence for the Clovis culture's presence cropped up throughout the 
continent and the sites became the subject of intense study, the notion 
that Clovis people were the oldest immigrants to the Western Hemisphere 
became firmly entrenched. Although some research teams periodically 
claimed to have found older sites, their evidence was shaky or later 
proved to have a less radical explanation. To claim a pre-Clovis find 
was akin to claiming to spot Big Foot.

Researchers often hesitated "to dig below the Clovis horizon for fear of 
ridicule," Dr. Waters says.

By many accounts, the turning point came seven years ago when 
anthropologist Tom Dillehay published the second of two encyclopedic 
volumes of results from a site in southern Chile known as Monte Verde. 
His team's evidence pointed to a human presence there 13,000 years ago. 
Other sites began to appear with evidence for pre-Clovis occupation that 
many saw as more credible than evidence from earlier efforts.

One of these sites, known as Mud Lake, sits near Kenosha, Wis. It was 
discovered by accident in January 1936, the same year as the first find 
of a Clovis point, when a Works Progress Administration crew was digging 
a drainage ditch and unearthed most of a foreleg from a juvenile 
mammoth. Turned over to the Kenosha Historical Society, it sat there 
until 1990, when an amateur archaeologist noted cut marks on the bones. 
Bones from nearby sites, known as the Fenske and Shaefer sites, showed 
similar markings. In 1992 and 1993, researchers excavated Shaefer and 
found bones with cut marks on them and stone tools underneath a pelvis 
bone. Radiocarbon dates on the bones and on plant material at the same 
level of the dig ranged from 12,500 to 12,300 years ago, nudging them 
beyond the Clovis time scale.

Dates from the Mud Lake bone were more stunning, says Dan Joyce, senior 
curator at the Kenosha Public Museum. Purported hunters slew the mammoth 
13,450 years ago. He remains cautious about the presence of hunters. Cut 
marks are suggestive, but not conclusive. This past August, he and his 
team searched for the rest of their mammoth. But so far it has remained 
elusive enough to earn the beast the sobriquet Waldo, after the 
children's "Where's Waldo?" series.

While Dr. Joyce and his colleagues were planning their hunt for Waldo, 
Goodyear was taking a deeper look at Topper, a site he had been studying 
for 20 years. An adherent to the Clovis-first idea, he began to rethink 
his position after reading a site report from Cactus Hill, a pre-Clovis 
site in Virginia, in 1998.

His subsequent work at Topper uncovered what looked to be 
industrial-scale toolmaking well below the level at which Clovis 
artifacts were found. With no organic material available to 
radiocarbon-date the level, the team had to use a different technique 
that stunned them with date estimates of 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.

In May, he took his crew back to Topper for another, deeper look. They 
found what they interpret as tools in a layer roughly two meters (6.5 
feet) below their earlier pre-Clovis finds. The soils and geology 
suggest that the artifacts are several thousand years older, he says. 
But nothing beats radiocarbon dates. Fortuitously, they found a sample 
of wood charcoal to derive three radiocarbon dates.

"I'd be very surprised if they're less than 25,000 years old, but I'm 
preparing myself mentally for the possibility that they could be a lot 
older," perhaps as old as 30,000 or 40,000 years, he says.

Such finds raise intriguing questions. Clovis groups were thought to 
have crossed a broad land bridge across the Bering Strait, hiking 
through breaks in the glaciers to what is now the lower 48. But if 
people lived on the continent at least 2,000 years earlier, they would 
have arrived at a time when the glaciers were impassable. This has led 
some to argue for a sea route along the land bridge and then the western 
coastline. Others suggest some may have come from Australia or the 
Iberian peninsula.

But is it civilization?

Not everyone is convinced by the evidence so far for pre-Clovis finds, 
although some doubters don't rule out the possibility that some groups 
where here earlier.

"The tools people find are not self-evidently hunting or butchering 
tools" in the way Clovis artifacts are, says Stuart Fiedel, an 
archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group in Washington, D.C.

Like Vikings making landfall in North America before any other modern 
European group, pre-Clovis sites don't seem to represent the first 
long-term colonization of the Western Hemisphere, he says. Interest in 
Clovis grew out of their apparent role as a continent-wide colonizing 
population and a key to the origins of the native Americans Europeans 
encountered after they arrived.

But others see potentially deeper insights coming from pre-Clovis finds.

"This could help us get a better handle on the amount of genetic 
variability we see in the descendants of these populations," says David 
Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It 
also could reset the clock for the development of civilizations in the 
New World.

The First Americans: By land or by sea? Researchers have put forth at 
least four explanations for how people first came to the Americas. 
Recent discoveries suggest humans came to the Americas at least 10,000 
years earlier than has been thought hitherto, researchers say. That 
means they must have come by sea rather than by land across the Bering 
Taken from map by Joe LeMonnier / Lynda D'Amico / SCOTT WALLACE - STAFF

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