Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The First Americans at Smithsonian

Pretty good article on the Clovis First vs. pre-Clovis debate by Guy Gugliota at Smithsonian, for the curious. It mentions several of the sites that have been dated to before the earliest Clovis sites, around 13,500 years ago, and reviews the controversies about a few. The skeptical case toward these early finds is best made by Ted Goebel. First he explains how the Clovis First model came to be accepted:
The idea that the Clovis people, as they came to be known, were the first Americans quickly won over the research community. “The evidence was unequivocal,” said Ted Goebel, a colleague of Waters at the Center for the Study of the First Americans. Clovis sites, it turned out, were spread all over the continent, and “there was a clear association of the fauna with hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts,” Goebel said. “Again and again it was the full picture.”

Furthermore, the earliest Clovis dates corresponded roughly to the right geological moment—after the ice age warming, before the great cold snap. The northern ice had receded far enough so incoming settlers could curl around to the eastern slope of North America’s coastal mountains and hike south along an ice-free corridor between the cordilleran mountain glaciers to the west and the huge Laurentide ice sheet that swaddled much of Canada to the east. “It was a very nice package, and that’s what sealed the deal,” Goebel said. “Clovis as the first Americans became the standard, and it’s really a high bar.”
Now, though,
Goebel characterizes his attitude toward pre-Clovis finds as “acceptance with reservation.” He said he’s disturbed by “nagging” shortcomings. Each of the older sites appears to be one-of-a-kind, he said, without a “demonstrated pattern across a region.” With Clovis, he adds, it is clear that the original sites were part of something bigger. The absence of a consistent pre-Clovis pattern “is one of the things that has hung up a lot of people, including myself.”
And including myself. Another thing you can pick up from reading the article is that pre-Clovis advocates disagree strongly among themselves about when the first people got here and from where, so it's not like they have any kind of unified notion of what sort of model should replace Clovis First.

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