Skip to comments.Texas Archaeological Dig Challenges Assumptions About First Americans
Posted on 07/03/2008 4:12:23 PM PDT by blam
Texas Archaeological Dig Challenges Assumptions about First Americans
Ancient stone artifacts reveal the day-to-day lives of Clovis people while offering tantalizing clues of an even earlier culture
By Elizabeth Lunday
Excavations at the Gault site in central Texas.
FLORENCE, TEX."Look at thatisn't it gorgeous?" Sandy Peck asks as she rinses dirt from a flaked stone about the length and width of a pinky finger. Peck runs a hose over soil on a fine-mesh screen, prodding at stubborn clods of clay with a muddy glove. "Look, there's another one."
Peck, sorting soil that had been disturbed by a recent thunderstorm, is a volunteer looking for artifacts in the Gault Valley in central Texas, some 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Austin. The valley hasn't changed much over the last several thousand years: A spring-fed creek still runs among live oaks and pecan trees, jackrabbits and deer still live on the nearby uplands, and cobbles of chert, ideal for making stone tools, still bulge from the valley's limestone walls. Today, however, instead of working hides and shaping stones as they did 13,000 years ago, humans painstakingly sift the soil in search of ancient artifacts that will overturn long-held assumptions about the earliest Americans.
Since the 1930s textbooks have taught that the New World's first inhabitants, known for the town in New Mexico where their spear points were discovered, walked from Siberia to Alaska about 13,300 years ago. The Clovis people were believed to be highly mobile nomadic hunters, never settling in one place, instead surviving on massive mammoths, mastodons and ancient bison.
But in excavations starting in 1998 Gault has revealed that Clovis people lived at the site for extended periods over a span of 300 years, says Michael Collins, a research associate with the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. The evidence? Scientists have found numerous tools manufactured from local stone, used until they were worn, then repaired repeatedly until they finally were discarded. In other words, Paleo-Indians were members of a settled community. "We're redefining Clovis," Collins says.
It's unusual to find a site that has both materials for stone tools and "enough resources that people could camp and live right there," says Dennis Stanford, head of theSmithsonian National Museum of Natural History anthropology department who has visited the Gault site several times. "Usually you don't get both, but at Gault you get the whole show. So it looks like people were living there for extended periods of time."
Gault also suggests previous assumptions about Clovis's diet were wrong. Sure, they ate mammoth and bison, but archaeologists are also finding bones from frogs, turtles, snakes and rabbits. "Coming home with three rabbits isn't as dramatic as the museum mural image of Clovis people sneaking up on a mammoth," says Collins's colleague, Andy Hemmings, but probably better reflects day-to-day life.
Not everyone is convinced that Clovis was such a homebody. "Gault is not completely rewriting what we know about Clovis," says Robert L. Kelly, head of the department of anthropology at the University of Wyoming. "[Collins] could be right that this particular population of Clovis was more settled than other peoples. But is Gault the pattern or is Gault an aberration? We don't know."
The Clovis finds would be dramatic enough, but Collins also claims to have found evidence of an earlier culture at Gault. In 2002 the team dug below Clovis layers and promptly found hundreds of stone flakes. The surrounding soil was dated to 350 years before Clovis. When they kept digging, the team dated other materials to even further back, although Collins used a technique that others have questioned, and that even he acknowledges is imprecise. If it holds up, Collins's claim would add Gault to the list of proposed pre-Clovis sites, including Monte Verde in Chile, Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania and Cactus Hill in Virginia. They're all controversial, however, based on charges of contamination and other problems.
Collins hopes to bolster his case by digging further at Gault. He'll also use another method to test the soil's age. And some 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from Gault, in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, members of his team will soon tackle the perplexing question of how Paleo-Indians got here in the first place. Until an ice-free corridor opened in northwestern Canada about 13,300 years ago, providing a route to the interior, a dome of ice divided Asia from North America. Some archaeologists have proposed an ice-free route along the northwestern coast; others suggest the first Americans, like the first Australians, had boats and used them either to travel east from Asia or, a few daring archaeologists propose, west from Europe. Hard evidence is unavailable because the coastline moved several hundreds of meters inland when the ice sheets melted.
"The archaeological record is out there underwater," says Hemmings, "so that's the next frontier in this search." Hemmings plans to spend two weeks this summer in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico looking for Clovis and pre-Clovis sites. In an expedition funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a team lead by Hemmings and James Adovasio of Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., will explore promising sites along ancient coastlines using remotely operated vehicles. They've identified prime targets by studying underwater maps for features Clovis people are known to have preferred, such as cliff faces near streams or rivers.
Back on dry land, Collins believes Gault has more to tell us about early Americans. "It's a special place," says Collins, "and it's been a special place for a long, long time."
Mon, June 30, 2008
A Valparaiso University professors research into the creation of Kankakee Sand Islands of Northwest Indiana is lending support to evidence that the first humans to settle the Americas came from Europe, a discovery that overturns decades of classroom lessons that nomadic tribes from Asia crossed a Bering Strait land-ice bridge.
Geography professor Dr. Ron Janke began studying the origins of the Kankakee Sand Islands a series of hundreds of small, moon-shaped dunes that stretch from the southern tips of Lake and Porter counties in Northwest Indiana into northeastern Illinois about 12 years ago.
Based upon the long-held belief that most of the upper Midwest was covered by a vast ice sheet up until about 10,000 years ago, Dr. Janke said he and other scientists surmised the Kankakee Sand Islands were created by sand in meltwater from the receding glacier.
That belief was challenged, however, when he discovered a year and a half ago that the islands were composed of sand that had come from Lake Michigan something that should have been impossible with the Valparaiso Moraine standing between the lake and the Kankakee Sand Islands.
That created a lot of problems with what we had previously believed about ice covering this entire area, Dr. Janke said. How could it get over the Valparaiso Moraine and be deposited there?
Figuring out that puzzle required taking core samples from some of the remaining islands and the development of a new test by one of Dr. Jankes colleagues to determine when sunlight last shone on the sand.
The answer that came back the Kankakee Sand Islands were born between 14,500 and 15,000 years ago from Lake Michigan sand was startling.
We thought the area was completely covered by ice at that time, Dr. Janke said. That was a really earth-shattering result for us.
Yet it also supports research showing that North American Clovis points a particular type of arrowhead that represents the oldest manmade object on the continent identically match arrowheads found in Europe and made by humans at approximately the same time. And just within the last year, new research has provided strong evidence that a large meteorite struck the ice sheet covering North American and melted much of the ice shortly before the formation of the Kankakee Sand Islands.
My research supports this other recent research because it indicates there wasnt a massive ice sheet covering North America that would have allowed tribes to cross over from Asia via a Bering Strait land-ice bridge, Dr. Janke said.
Dr. Jankes research on the formation of the Kankakee Sand Islands is continuing this summer, with a focus on determining whether the islands closest to Lake Michigan are younger than the southernmost islands.
At one time, approximately 1,200 of the islands stretched out in a series of curved bands north and south of the Kankakee River that are separated by a few miles and mirror the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Though many were destroyed by human settlement, about 700 still exist today.
Over the past few years, Dr. Janke said about a dozen Valparaiso students have assisted with his research on islands.
Hes also been active in the Woodland Savanna Land Conservancy, an organization working to protect the Kankakee Sand Islands. Landowners have donated a handful of islands to the trust for preservation, and Dr. Janke is hopeful that others will follow their lead and perhaps eventually build enough support for some of the islands to be incorporated into Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore or their own state park.
The Kankakee Sand Islands are archaeologically significant, with numerous Native American artifacts and burial grounds still present in the surviving islands, and they provide crucial habitat for native wildlife and plant species, Dr. Janke said. Im hopeful the sand islands can be protected so we can continue to learn about and appreciate them.
At least when I was watching westerns as a kid, that was the answer.
I was about to say....... It must be the Nephites.
“It’s unusual to find a site that has both materials for stone tools and “enough resources that people could camp and live right there...”
Funny. Not three miles up the road from my farm in Southern Wisconsin, my father-in-law has a farm.
On his farm he has a spring-fed pond. Around that pond, we’ve found hundreds of STONE arrowheads, clay pottery shards, animal bones, etc.
Why is it so fantastical for people to think that others have lived on the same land before them?
Liberalthink: History begins with ME. The ‘science’ is ‘settled,’ LOL!
(I’m not bitchin’ at you, Blam. I’m just bitchin’.)
Yeah...wonder if they found any ancient bicycles in the diggings...;)
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“Why is it so fantastical for people to think that others have lived on the same land before them?”
Beats me! I always thought science was something you never quit learning.
Must be like the global warmimng scientists. “We’ve come to a conclusion and we’re not changing our minds”
This site is in my county and only a few miles away. Wonder if they’d let me in?
I don't expect so.
Worth a trip, or a call, to find out? Some places are happy to let volunteers do various “fun” jobs.
Apparently they will for a price.
Hi guys! Hope you’re still checking in because I wanted to tell you that, yes, you can visit the Gault Site and, yes, you can even volunteer to work there. No, there is no cost though the number of volunteers we can handle at any one time is limited so we do take Gault School of Archaeological Research members first - check out our website at www.gaultschool.org for information on volunteering.
We have had more than 4,000 volunteers work at the site and in our lab and currently we have about 2,500 visitors a year ( a lot of shcool children). The site itself is now owned by the Archaeological Conservancy and administered and maintained by the GSAR. I’m the Director and you’ll find all our contact info on the website should you wish to come and see for yourself or visit us in the lab...
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