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PORTSIDE  March 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE March 2011, Week 4

Subject:

New Archeology Find Buries Theory on First Americans, Re-Opening a Gaping Mystery

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Date:

Mon, 28 Mar 2011 00:34:35 -0400

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text/plain (110 lines)

New Archeology Find Buries Theory on First Americans, 
Re-Opening a Gaping Mystery
by Patrick Morgan
Discover Magazine
March 25, 2011
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/03/25/new-archeology-find-buries-theory-on-first-americans-re-opening-a-gaping-mystery/comment-page-1/

What's the News: Archeologists have discovered thousands
of stone tools in Texas that are over 15,000 years old.
The find is important because it is over 2,000 years
older than the so-called Clovis culture, which had
previously thought to be the first human culture in
North America. As Texas A&M University anthropologist
Michael Waters says, "This is almost like a baseball bat
to the side of the head of the archaeological community
to wake up and say, `hey, there are pre-Clovis people
here, that we have to stop quibbling and we need to
develop a new model for peopling of the Americas'."

How the Heck:

    * At a site on Buttermilk Creek in central Texas,
    Archeologists discovered 15,528 items, ranging from
    chert flakes to blades and chisels.

    * The first indication that the tools were older
    than anything previous seen on North America came
    from their stratigraphic horizon: The excavated
    layer was underneath a layer of classic Clovis
    tools. (The sediments showed no indication of mixing
    after the tools were dropped.)

    * The most conclusive evidence came from a dating
    technique called optically stimulated luminescence
    (OSL) dating, which indicates how long minerals have
    been underground. Over 60 OSL dates revealed the
    tools to be about 15,500 years old, much older than
    the up-to-13,500- year-old Clovis culture.

What's the Context:

    * For the past 80 years, some archeologists have
    argued that the Clovis culture represented the first
    human foray into North America, migrating across
    Siberia and into Alaska.

    * But over the past several years, a number of
    archeologists have challenged this idea based on
    sites that seem to have tools that are older than
    the Clovis migration. What's special about this
    particular find is that the sheer number of well-
    dated tools is thought to finally settle the debate.

    * 80beats has covered the history of the first
    Americans, from their migrations after crossing the
    Bering Land Bridge to their habit of eating dogs.

    * Some argue that the first American cultures came
    from Australia.

    * And that many might have been wiped out by an
    asteroid.

Not So Fast:

    * Some anthropologists say that the "Clovis first"
    theory went out of style years ago, and that this
    study only puts the nail in the Clovis coffin.

    * Others are skeptical about this present finding,
    noting that OSL dating is less reliable than
    radiocarbon dating and that the site's deposits are
    "potentially problematic" because they're located on
    an old floodplain and could have been transported by
    water.

The Future Holds: Now it's time for archeologists to
rethink the North American narrative of migration: How
did humans first populate the continent? As James
Adovasio, the executive director of the Mercyhurst
Archaeological Institute, told NPR, "Everything we're
learning now, from genetics, from linguistic data, from
geological data, from archaeological data, suggests that
the peopling process is infinitely more complicated than
we might have imagined 50 years ago, or even 20 years
ago."

Reference: The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins
of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin Site, Texas. By
Michael R. Waters et al. DOI:
10.1126/science.331.6024.1512

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