The Arlington Springs Man/Woman/Man

I recently received the September issue of the Mammoth Trumpet – published by the Center for the Study of the First Americans. In addition to an excellent article on clovis artifacts at the Topper Site and paleoamericans in Peru, the issue contained a write up on the Arlington Springs find.


Discovered by Phil Orr in 1959, the Arlington Springs site was the subject, shortly thereafter, of a conference involving some of the biggest names in the field (Fay Cooper-Cle, Jesse Jennings, Emil Haury, James Griffin and Alex Krieger, among others, attended). One of the first uses of carbon dating occured at the site and Walter Libby mentioned it while accepting the Nobel Prize. Of interest are a the femora found at the site – which were jacketed in plaster much like in paleontology. At the time, the femora were believed to be that of a male. Then in 1999 the block was CAT scanned and the bones were measured. The measurments were compared to skeletons found elsewhere (why is another story) in the Channel Islands (Arlington Springs lies on Santa Rosa – one of the Channel Islands off the California coast) and it was determined that the femora belonged to a female – making the Arlington Springs find the oldest female remains found in the US. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. According to an article in the L. A. Times the gender of the Arlington Springs person has been switched again:

The latest rethinking of the Arlington Springs Person’s sex started when Johnson showed one of the partially intact femurs to a visiting anthropologist. The researcher was dubious, insisting that she was viewing the leg bone of a man.
Measurements were taken and retaken. Other ancient bones were used for comparison. Johnson delved into the notes of the late Phil C. Orr, the anthropologist who made the find.
It turned out that Orr had recorded the diameter of the femur’s head, which is now missing — and which was rather large, in a masculine kind of way.
That has tentatively — but not conclusively — persuaded Phillip Walker, the UC Santa Barbara anthropologist who initially made the female designation, to reverse himself.
“It’s a question of probabilities,” Walker said. “That’s the way science works.”

For more background on Arlington Springs you can go here.

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2 Responses

  1. John has a new field work program going on at Arlington Springs. Last year he conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey of the area. He got a couple of targets at the Arlington Man/Woman level (38 ft IIRC) that appear to be pygmy mammoths and a number of various cultural features at shallower (but still pretty deep – 25 ft) depths. He was out there this summer taking core samples and is still analyzing them. He has Tom Stafford from the Kennewick Man project working with him.

  2. The Mammoth Trumpet mentioned the ground-penetrating radar survey, but didn’t mention any results. Thanks for the update!

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