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No. 65: Sep-Oct 1989

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Breaking the 12,000-bp barrier

Many times in SF we have reported evidence for humans occupying the Americas prior to 12,000 BP, in some cases long prior. The American archeological establishment has been very skeptical about such claims, but now the 12,000BP barrier seems to be collapsing.

The turning point may have occurred at a recent meeting at the University of Maine's Center for the Study of the First Americans. The skeptics were bombarded by radiocarbon dates, tools, hearths, and bones from the Monte Verde site in Chile. Some previouslyunbelieving archeologists are now ready to admit dates around 13,000 BP for Monte Verde.

(Lewin, Roger; "Skepticism Fades over Pre-Clovis Man," Science, 244:1140, 1989.)

Comment. It was only in 1987 that R. Lewin wrote an article for Science entitled: "The First Americans are Getting Younger." Quite a turnaround!! (See SF#55.)

Even so, the above Science article did not even mention some other presentations at the Maine conference. But the New York Times did.

"At a conference here this week at the University of Maine, Niede Guidon, an archeologist at the Institute of Advanced Social Science Studies in Paris, startled scientists by reporting new results that she said showed the Brazilian rock shelters were occupied by humans at least as long ago as 45,000 years. The 'quantity, diversity and preservation' of materials at the sites, she said, shoud lead to 'profound changes in the knowledge of prehistoric America.'"

The Brazilian rock shelters, particularly Pedra Furada, boast elaborate paintings, fireplaces, tools, and butchered-animal bones. (See SF#54 from 1987.)

Although some American archeologists have edged back to 13,000 BP, others are still stonewalling at 12,000 BP or less. Actually, the debate has become unscientific on occasion, as revealed by R. Bonnichson, of the University of Maine.

"'Numerous metritorious grant proposals have been rejected because their goals and objectives were incompatible with entrenched academic opinion,' he said. 'At least five South American archeologists admitted that they were suppressing pre12,000-year-old data out of the fear that their funds would be cut off by American colleagues who endorse the short-chronology school of thought.'"

(Wilford, John Noble; "Findings Plunge Archeology of the Americas into Turmoil," New York Times, May 30, 1989. Cr. J. Covey.)

From Science Frontiers #65, SEP-OCT 1989. � 1989-2000 William R. Corliss