more evidence of early human settlement at the Paisley Caves in the dry uplands of central Oregon. Since excavations resumed at the caves in 2002, fascinating finds have been made every year. That humans settled here at the end of the Ice Age seems well established, given the discovery of extinct camel bones in the trash around a hearth. But how early, and what culture is represented here, has been fiercely disputed.
The site is certainly a very exciting one. But I dispute the "nyah-nyah to Clovis first" attitude of some of the pronouncements I have seen. This is probably the four thousandth time that some archaeologist has announced that his data conclusively refutes the Clovis first theory, and I still know lots of Clovis first believers. The reason the theory endures is that the extraordinarily rapid spread of Clovis -- across most of North America within 200 years, to Tierra del Fuego within 400 -- seems to demand a continent nearly empty of humans. How else could it have spread so far and so fast? Clovis seems to completely dominate wherever it appears, and all later cultures are descended from it; if there were earlier peoples, what happened to them? And, the genetic evidence points strongly to a single founder population for most Native Americans.
I can fit the Paisley Cave data into a narrative that makes some sense to me. People arrive from Asia around 14,000 years ago, using stone tools much like the western stemmed tradition. One group of them heads for the west coast. Another heads south, possibly to Texas (which has produced the oldest Clovis dates), where they develop the Clovis spear point and a culture that impels them to spread far and wide across the landscape. I'm no expert on the population genetics of this, so I am not sure how much time might have elapsed between the entry and the spread of Clovis. But I still believe that there can't have been many people in the continent when Clovis began its spread, and therefore that there is an upper limit to that time. Five thousand years, I think, is much too long, and even one thousand seems to me to be pushing it.
Then again, maybe the Paisley Cave data will go the way of so many other pre-Clovis claims. Time, I suppose, will tell.