A Reluctant, Long-overdue Paradigm Shift

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No. 70: Jul-Aug 1990

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How many times in SF have you read items about that 12,000-year barrier before which American archeologists would not permit serious consideration of human habitation in the Americas? Well, see SF#65, 59, and 57 for starters. In SF#55, written scarcely two years ago, establishment archeologist P.S. Martin wrote: "If humans lived in the New World more than 12,000 years ago, there'd be no secret about it."

But, in late March, 1990, at a conference in Boulder, Colorado, D. Stanford lef off with: "It's time to acknowledge that we do have a pre-Clovis culture in the New World." (Pre-Clovis -before 12,000 years ago.)

It's all true! A long-standing consensus has collapsed: the 12,000-year barrier, like the Berlin Wall, has disintegrated. The two most important demolition charges were the widely-accepted dates of 16,000 B.P. from the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pennsylvania, and 13,000 B.P. from the Monte Verde site in Chile. The Monte Verde date probably represents an American entry date of at least 20,000 years ago, if one accepts that the first Americans trekked all the way down from the Bering Strait to Chile.

Will there be a "domino effect" in American archeology? Radiocarbon dates of 33,000 B.P. have already been accepted by some non-American archeologists for the Monte Verde site. Add 7,000 years for the trip south from Alaska, and the entry date is pushed back to 40,000 B.P. There are even older dates - over 100,000 years - suggested by mavericks such as G.F. Carter. It appears that the American past is going to be exciting in the future.

(Morell, Virginia; "Confusion in Earliest America," Science, 248:439, 1990.)

Coming back to reality, the archeological picture is not changing as rapidly as we have suggested above. Paradigms don't collapse overnight. Rather, as Planck ventured, their proponents die off. To illustrate, in the latest issue of American Antiquity, T.F. Lynch cricially reviews the same data available to D. Stanford in the forefoing item. Lynch is unconvinced by the South American findings. As for the "best" South American date, Lynch says:

"I am not ready to reject Monte Verde as a pre-Clovis archaeological site, but I have strong doubts. One, or possibly two, of the 26 'modified stones' from the oldest deposits would be acceptable to me as an artifact, had these stones come from a more clearly cultural context - and I have handled only part of the collection. The picture of the 'hearthlike basins' do not convince me, however. Most of all I find it improbable that 13,000- and 33,000- year-old sites would be found, one nearly on top of the other."

(Lynch, Thmas F.; "Glacial-Age Man in South America? A Critical Review," American Antiquity, 55:12, 1990.)

From Science Frontiers #70, JUL-AUG 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss