Minnesota Pre-Clovis

Brian Hoffman has two interesting posts up about the recent find of pre-clovis artifacts at Walker Hill, Minnesota.

In Walker Hill a pre-Clovis site? MN State Archaeologist Says No he talks about the assessment of the Minnesota State Archaeologist. The assessment concludes (among other things) that:

In the end, the most convincing evidence that the site is not an early human occupation is the fact that a glacial geologist has suggested that a “high energy environment” (i.e., massive glacial outwash) produced the sediment layers that contain the “artifacts”. … Such environments have been shown to produce “naturefacts” that greatly resemble artifacts…

The second post, Talking Shop – Regional Analysis, Mapping Sites, and the Walker Hill Site is, in my opinion, the more interesting of the two. Brian talks about the presentation by Thor Olmanson, Mathew Mattson, and Colleen Wells at the 2007 Council for Minnesota Archaeology Symposium. At the symposium Brian and others were able to examine the artifacts found at Walker Hill (lucky dog!). What I found interesting about this post is this:

My final thought on the Walker Hill site is that despite the impression made by recent press accounts, Thor and colleagues are approaching their investigation with due caution and skepticism. They are inviting the critical review of professional archaeologists, geologists, and other specialists. And they are marshaling multiple lines of evidence (soils, phytoliths, micro remains, etc) so that the question of the Walker Hill finds will eventually be answered to the satisfaction of most of us.

Science is a struggle and we can see that being played out in the Walker Hill Story. We can also see that science is a “team sport”. Despite the skepticism, by the Minnesota State Archaeologist for example, the above quote paints an interesting picture of people trying to get the science right. Yesterday I did a post on Neanderthals and what may have caused their extinction. The authors of that paper said something that bears repeating here (although the context was different):

Neanderthal extinction is an especially difficult topic since it requires that relevant existing data from a multitude of disciplines be brought together and correlated with an appropriate methodological rigour on which consensus among researchers is highly problematic. The difficulties include: aspects of climatic influence on archaeological records, complex relationships between fossils and climatic conditions, incomplete nearby continental records, biased interpretations of climatic records, the sources of cultural features, an overemphasis on artefacts, rudimentary excavation techniques, dates obtained through a variety of methods and materials, dating and age models, and the coexistence of different underlying paradigms. The consequence of such a panorama is a highly fragile epistemology…

Substitute Pre-Clovis for Neanderthal in the above quote and it would still be true (although I would like to think the excavation techniques with pre-clovis are better than “rudimentary”). At any rate, give Brian’s post a read, they are definitely worth a read.
Update: In the meantime, dates for Clovis have been revised downwards:

“It was always argued that Clovis represented the first people who came to the Americas,” Waters says. “The new dating that we did indicates that the Clovis Complex ranges from 11,050 to 10,900 radiocarbon years before the present.”

The time span of Clovis has been shrunk:

Waters says those dates show that Clovis was no more than 200 to 400 calendar years long, making it almost impossible for the Clovis people to spread as far as previously thought in such a short time span. They would, at most, have had to be prehistoric jet-setters to cover the ground in this amount of time.

The research for redating Clovis is being reported in Science.

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