Yup. I've read that (the) Ukraine has a topsoil depth of 150 feet. It blew in there over the eons from other places.
In search of the earliest Americans
SEARCHING FOR CLUES
to human occupation of Cactus Hill are archaeologist Michael F. Johnson (above) and his helpers. Artifacts found there may be 14,000 years old.
On a scorching Saturday in late August in southern Virginia, at the end of a dirt track leading through fields of corn and soybeans, archaeologist Michael F. Johnson sits in the shade of oak and hickory trees eating his packed lunch. Nearby, bright-blue tarpaulins protect excavations that have brought Johnson here most weekends for the past several years.
The object of Johnson's passion is a dune of blown sand known as Cactus Hill. Between bites, Johnson is debating with visiting archaeologist Stuart J. Fiedel what the place was like 14,000 years ago. It must have been ideal for a summer camp, Johnson thinks. Facing north, it would have been cooled by winds coming off glaciers hundreds of miles distant. He offers me an inverted plastic bucket to sit on. The dune would have been dry, he continues, a welcome relief from the surrounding insect-infested bogs. The Nottoway River was at the time only a stone's throw away. There were lots of animals: mastodon, elk, bison, deer, perhaps moose and caribou.
And there were people, maintains Johnson (who is employed by the Fairfax County Park Authority), hunter-gatherers whose descendants may have given rise to Native American tribes. Johnson has found at Cactus Hill quartzite blades, blade fragments and both halves of a broken "point" suitable for a spear, fully nine inches below the well-defined Clovis horizon at the site. That level, recognized all over the country by its characteristic and abundant stone-tool technology, was created 13,000 years ago, according to Fiedel, who conducts surveys for John Milner Associates. (Several studies in the past few years indicate that the conventional date of 11,000 years, based on radiocarbon dating, is a significant underestimate.) Only in recent years has a long investigation at Monte Verde in Chile finally convinced most archaeologists that humans were in the Americas well before Clovis times, so a new potential pre-Clovis site is an important rarity.
In a separate, adjacent dig at Cactus Hill, Joseph M. McAvoy and Lynn D. McAvoy of the Nottoway River Survey have found numerous blade-type tools, some associated with charcoal fragments that tested at 15,000 and 16,000 years old by radiocarbon dating or 18,000 to 19,000 years old by Fiedel's recalibration. Johnson is excited that McAvoy's larger excavation and his own have found "fully comparable" artifacts from below the Clovis horizon. Cactus Hill is "one of the best candidate pre-Clovis sites to come down in a long time," says C. Vance Haynes, Jr., of the University of Arizona, a leading scholar of Paleo-Indian cultures.
On this day Fiedel is listening hard to Johnson's arguments in favor of pre-Clovis occupation, but he is frowning. Johnson says 14,000 years is a "conservative" estimate of the age of his oldest finds. Fiedel agrees that Johnson's fragments are clearly human artifacts, but he is not persuaded by his dates. "You can't be sure stuff hasn't moved around," he says later. Burrowing wasps and rodents, notoriously, can move objects through sand. McAvoy's published evidence of a pre-Clovis technology at Cactus Hill is "fairly convincing," Fiedel says, but the radiocarbon dates seem almost too old, suggesting evidence of fire 5,000 years before the Clovis culture exploded--a time when few other signs of humans have been documented. Haynes, too, notes that there could be unrecognized errors in the dating of the Cactus Hill layers.
Johnson is undeterred. The pieces of his prized ancient broken point came from the same level but were found several feet apart: because animals would hardly move the separated fragments vertically the same distance, they are probably in their original bed, he argues. Moreover, the stone and the style of workmanship differs from that of Clovis material. "I'm really confident it doesn't fit into Clovis," he says. Johnson's opinion on tool styles counts for something; he has taught himself how to make "Clovis" points that can fool most people.
Fiedel and the other visitors at Cactus Hill this day continue to spin scenarios about the earliest Americans as they take up tools and patiently skim successive half-inch layers of sand from a more recent horizon. Perhaps the inhabitants were members of a hypothetical proto-Clovis culture, Fiedel muses. He observes that some blades like Johnson's and the McAvoys' have recently come to light in South Carolina. But when did the makers arrive from Eurasia? The land bridge that connected it to Alaska was often covered by glaciers. The Cactus Hill archaeologists visiting Johnson's dig, all donating their time, ponder the conundrums as they patiently mark every visible fragment of stone and photograph each exposed level, then sift through the removed material for anything they might have missed the first time. The heat is daunting. As the afternoon wears on, the debate between Johnson and Fiedel moves first one way, then the other, like a tug-of-war.
The debate might never be resolved. The site's owner, Union Camp Corporation, has halted sand mining at Cactus Hill, provided some security and allowed the archaeologists complete access, but time presses. Johnson grimaces as he lifts a tarp to show a ruined trench where the Clovis horizon has been crudely dug out by looters in search of stone points, which can sell for thousands of dollars each. In the process, the pillagers have destroyed layers above and below Clovis. Cactus Hill may be among the earliest inhabited sites in the U.S. But if point rustlers continue to run ahead of the volunteers, science may forever be unable to prove it.
(I've read subsequent reports that state that the tools found there are similar to the technology present at the time on the Iberian peninsula. Early Basque?)
Such wind-deposited soils are called loess. There are sites in my home county in Oklahoma where the topsoil is 30-40' deep.