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No. 63: May-Jun 1989

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Explaining the "artifact gaps"

Earthquake researchers speak of "seismic gaps," where earthquakes "should occur but don't. Well, "artifact gaps" exist, too, namely in North America and northern Australia. Both Australia and the Americas seem to have been peopled late; and both regions seem to have been invaded from the north - according to conventional thinking. Serious anomalies arise because some controversial dates of human occupation from South America and southern Australia are considerably older than those from North America and northern Australia* - at least if we dismiss those North American dates considered as "unreliable" by the archeological establishment. In the Americas, reliable dates older than 12,000 years are found in South America (Monte Verde, Chile); in Australia, all dates exceeding 24,000 years are found along the southern coast.* The "artifact gaps" are therefore clearly established!

R.G. Bednarik, in a recent paper in Antiquity, offers a related observation:

"It is generally agreed that both regions have been settled from the north, yet no trace has been found of the first settlers in either North America or northern Australia. In northern Australia one finds groundedge axes at up to 23,000 b.p., which have no counterparts in the probable catchment area of the first colonizers, Indonesia; while in North America the earlist human settlers used elaborate projectile points, which have no counterparts in the final Pleistocene of eastern Siberia. When and where did such innovations then evolve?"

Bodnarik's aolution to this double dilemma assumes that the first colonizers in both cases did indeed come from the north-- -some 40,000 years ago in both Australia and North America - but that their invasion paths were confined to the low coastal areas. Then, as the Pleistocene ended and the ice sheets melted, the sea level rose to obliterate the signs of earliest occupation. Therefore, if archeological digs could be conducted under a few hundred feet of water along the continental shelves, the artifact gap could be filled!

(Bodnarik, Robert G.; "On the Pleistocene Settlement of South America," Antiquity, 63:101, 1989.)

Comments. Dredges have brought up elephant teeth from the continental shelf of earthern North Ameriva, but we are not aware of any human artifacts. The continental shelf along North America's west coast is hardly a thoroughfare, for it is very narrow.

*Very old signs of human activity have now (1997) been found in northern Australia. (SF#110) Also in 1997, Clovistype projectile points were reported from eastern Siberia. The situation is still in a state of flux.

From Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss