The Most Shafted: Anthropology Edition

Stochastic asks Which scientist (in your field or beyond) has been most seriously shafted? I had to scratch my head about this one for a bit, but here is what I came up with (in no particular order):
1) Raymond Dart – got totally hosed on Australopithecus africanus
2) Charles Oxnard – very controversial guy, frequently quote mined by creationists.
3) Any archaeologist working on pre-Clovis sites – seriously, these guys get shafted big time, although the situation is starting to change – a little.

6 Responses

  1. As a functional retard in all thing scientific/political I’m interested in why “pre-Clovis” theories are so controversial?
    I mean the science is arguable, but that depends on middens and the loonies who are willing to dig through them. And at some point a consensus develops and we know who was here first.
    I seem to recall that it has something to do with ownership “rights” of North America, but I could be straight off the cliff on that. I followed your link and googled a bit and still wonder why there should be heat around this issue other than fact-finding?

  2. It’s largely internal to the archaeological community. I can’t explain it, but something about pre-Clovis just really pisses people off…

  3. I suspect that there are a couple of reasons that pre-Clovis generates such controversy. First of all, there are a number of Native Americans who don’t accept the Clovis hypothesis on the grounds that it contradicts their traditional creation stories. Two years back, the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums featured a session on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). One of the panelists was a representative of the Seneca tribe, and he trumpeted the pre-Clovis work being done as evidence that the traditional creation accounts were correct and that Native American populations had always been in North America. As such, there may be a prejudice on the part of more traditional archaeologists that people working on pre-Clovis sites are, intentionally or not, playing into the hands of Native American creationists.
    Another factor, that’s somewhat related, is that there have been goofball “theories” circulating about the peopling of the Americas for years (Book of Mormon, space aliens did it, Atlantis, various “lost” Eurasian peoples). The Clovis hypothesis has a substantively more respectible pedigree, and has the virtue of being supported by at least some portions of the geological and archaeological record. Again, more mainstream archaeologists may see these newer hypotheses as a throwback to the bad old days of wishful thinking, wild speculation, and just-so-stories.

  4. I’m sure that plays into it, at least recently, but some of the antagonism against “early Man” in the Americas goes back to Hrdlicka. Gordon Willey’s Introduction to American Archaeology mentions pre-Clovis (somewhat favorably, I might add) so some of these sites and antagonisms go back to the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The point here is that pre-Clovis isn’t new – it’s been a minority view for quite a while. I should also point out that some pretty competent archaeologists have worked on them.

  5. Not that it’s worth anything, but beyond the obvious academic and other poltiical issues, I think the basic reason pre-clovis work has been so acrimonious is that the pre-clovis finds are still so spotty.
    The ideas about Clovis culture have such an appeal because they explain a pattern of ocucpation covering an extended area and a restricted range in time. Archeologists can therefore productively study patterns between different sites and make models to explain how material and people moved around.
    By contrast, until very recently, the pre-Clovis finds have been from individual sites and the relationship between the early dated material and material found at any other sites are not at all clear. Since there was not a clear pattern of early occupation, attention focuses on the reliability of the dates at these individual sites, which naturally causes problems. Archeologists aren’t all going to accept the findings of the excavators without question, and so critical analysis of the published information is natural. However, while the excavators are pretty much the only people who can answer the skeptics’ questions, they may not have the time, resources, material or inclination to answer all their crticisms. This almost unavoidably leads to personal conflicts.
    Ideally, the solution to this problem is for skeptical archeologists to dig their own sites to confirm or deny the early dates. However, since no-one can yet say where you might be likely to find pre-Clovis material (in at least North America) or how you would identify it as Pre-Clovis in a survey, suc investigations would be hard to do. I think if some group eventually figures out that, say, a certain type of site along the west coast with XYZ types of artifacts always appear to have pre-Clovis date, the arcimony in the field would largely disappear, because it would mean that different archeologists could test these findings. I believe part of the reason this debate has been getting more civil recently is that the South American finds may be starting to reveal these sorts of patterns.

  6. That makes a lot of sense…

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