Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies


Dale E. Lycan

 Central States Archaeological Societies 2002 October Journal

Pendleton, Indiana

How early were the Americas inhabited by humans? As early as the 19th century, professional archaeologists were excavating American sites that yielded supposed discoveries from the early Pliocene era of eoliths. Eoliths are naturally broken stones with one or more edges "Intentionally" modified, worn by use or crudely worked flints, carved bone dating back from 1 to 2.5 million years ago. Most early scientists of that time were committed to the concept of evolution, and if evolution occurred elsewhere, it occurred here, too. Inevitably, these amazing discoveries were written off as the remnants of a being more or less resembling man, but no one was certain. They were more likely natural geo- facts, stones that resemble artifacts. Scientists of that day had open minds because anthropology and archaeology were in their infancy. This, however, leads us to the theory that a large number of modern archaeologists are starting to acknowledge today.

According to popular theory, Siberian hunters crossed over the Bering Strait into Alaska on a and bridge that existed when the glaciers lowered worldwide sea levels. During this glacial period, the Canadian ice sheet blocked all southward bound migration until roughly 12,000 years ago, when the first humans followed a suggested ice-free passage into what is now the United States. These people were the Clovis hunters, famous for their fluted spear points. Remains of their stone and bone tool technology were first recognized during the 1920s and 30s in the High Plains of the Southwest at sites near Folsom and Clovis in east central New Mexico. Their distinctive fluted spear points have since been found in Alaska, southern Canada, the contiguous 48 states, Mexico, and South America.

In due course, the Clovis people quickly multiplied and populated the habitable regions of both North and South America. One site located in the southernmost part of South America is dated to 10,500 years ago. These hunters must have gone from the Arctic, through the tropics, and on to the near Antarctic in little more than a thousand years! These same Clovis people have been blamed for the extermination of over seventy percent of all the large mammals that inhabited the Americas. Clovis sites have been excavated and have produced artifacts made by other cultures found above the Clovis stratum, but not below it. There have been no irrefutable human skeletal remains with irrefutable pre-Clovis dates found anywhere in the Americas south of the former Canadian ice sheet.

However, there are many claims of sites with pre-Clovis human evidence. All of these are marred by serious questions. Was the dating material used to carbon date contaminated by older carbon? Was the material really associated with human artifacts, or were they geofacts? The Clovis hunters, nevertheless, did leave us with undeniable evidence of their widely distributed culture. The Meadowcroft rock shelter in Pennsylvania, Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, the Butte Bluff Cave in Idaho, and others are wholeheartedly accepted by modern archaeologists. Dating Clovis points and sites, however, does not tell us who the first humans to inhabit the Americas were.

We should note that before World War II, anthropological authorities insisted that all human beings first entered the Americas about 4000 years ago. Their initial reaction to the Clovis hunter theory was that the mere mention of the possibility of a greater antiquity was likened to professional suicide.

It is not surprising that when further evidence of the antiquity of man in the Americas was finally documented at the Clovis and Folsom sites and other High Plains sites, it was rejected out of hand by the established authorities--despite the clear nature of the evidence at multiple locations uncovered by different researchers, seen and attested to by a large variety of professionals. The ideals of the conservatives of that day left no room for the acceptance of the evidence uncovered in the field.

The history of rejection of the Clovis and Folsom and other High Plains discoveries is now seemingly being repeated. Conservative archaeologists of the present day staunchly reject any form of evidence for a pre-Clovis culture in the Americas. There are now many cases of archaeological excavations using modern methods, which have yielded dates as great as 30,000 years or older for human inhabitation of the Americas. One example of a site older than 30,000 years involves a fire pit found on California's Santa Rosa Island, off Santa Barbara. It was investigated by archaeologist Rainer Berger of UCLA. Laboratory testing showed that charcoal samples taken from the pit contained no measurable carbon 14. This means they are older than the 40,000-year limit imposed by the conventional radiocarbon dating methods. This find is significant since the pit contained crude chopping tools, along with the bones of a bull-size species of mammoths.

Another example was found in northeastern Brazil at Pedra Furada rock shelter. A combined archaeological team from France and Brazil dug through a stratified 10-foot deposit of sediment that was found to contain debris from human occupation at all levels. The lowest level included big circular hearths with large quantities of charcoal and ash. There they also found pebble tools, denticulate (small tooth or tooth like parts), burins (a pointed chisel-like flint tool), retouched flakes and double edged flakes, all made from quartz and quartzite. Charcoal from the lowest hearth yielded carbon-14 dates of 31,700 +- 830 years, and 32,160 +- 1000 years old. This excavation is of particular interest because it involved a controlled study of stratified cave deposits yielding hearths, artifacts, and a series of radio carbon dates. This is just a portion of some of the criteria, often insisted upon by "defenders" of the mainstream conservative archaeological theories held by the established authorities. It should be noted, however, that no human skeletal remains were found at either of these ancient sites.

The present method of rendering final judgment on controversial ancient archaeological evidence by how well it fits with the currently established theories does not seem to be scientifically healthy. It could be argued that it may do irreparable damage, not only to the progress of scientific knowledge, but also to the professional reputations of persons who happen to find controversial evidence. These considerations appear to have played a major role in the negative treatment of evidence suggesting that man actively occupied the Americas long before the accepted 12,000 year limit, still favored by the majority of established paleontologists, and the 30,000 year limit, currently being accepted by a growing minority by today's field archaeologists.

Another theory gaining wide acceptance is the early habitation of the Americas by seafaring routes. People traveled along landmasses of the Pacific coast. The suggested open glacial passage at this time is questionable and hard to accept until late Clovis times. Still, there are sites in South America such as Monte Verde and, farther south, Tierra del Fuego. Sites on the eastern South American coast suggest early occupation by seafaring peoples. Further evidence suggests that some seafaring people crossed the Panama land mass and went back north along the Gulf Shore into eastern North America and Florida.

On the Pacific coast, the Columbia River would have given access to an inland movement into California, Oregon, Washington, and various points east. This theory simply states that the most rapid and feasible inhabitation process was by sea along the western coast of both North and South America, simultaneously spreading east until humans settled the interior and both shores of the Americas. We may never find much evidence of their inhabitation and may never know without some form of hard based scientific evidence. The small number of Paleo-American human skeletal remains found in North America belongs to a modern human species. Anatomically, the skeletal finds are widely diverse, but most resemble Mongoloid population groups of northeastern Asia. Without human skeletal remains to study, all we can do is watch site dates that are steadily being corrected in order to understand how early humans inhabited the Americas.

Of course, being an avocational archaeologist, these views and ideas are my own opinions as to how and when early man inhabited the Americas. My reading on the subject has convinced me that humans have occupied the Americas far longer and by different methods than the established professionals in archaeology and paleontology want us to believe or will professionally admit. One day, someone, possibly one of our growing number, will find the undeniable evidence that early humans inhabited and survived in the Americas far longer ago than anyone ever thought possible. On the other hand, given the political environment where important remains are regularly being repatriated without study, we may never have the opportunity to find out!
Kirk corner-notched point made from translucent Knife River chert Kirk corner-notched point made from translucent Knife River chert. The Kirk corner-notched point dates from 9,000 to 6,000 BP. It was reported to have been found in a cave in Kentucky. From the collection of Ben Brady. Photo by Tony Clinton.


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2001, July, Vol. 48, No. 3. Central States Archaeological Journal, Avocational Archaeology: Paleo-Geography and Migrations of the First Americans. p. 116-117.



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