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K. Kris Hirst

Why 50,000 bp is a "Crazy Date" for Topper

By February 14, 2009

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Later this year, the first peer-reviewed report on the geostratigraphy of the Topper site in South Carolina will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. I got to look at the paper, and it allows a solid look at the site stratigraphy, and raises a bunch of questions.

The Topper site is a stratified deeply buried site on the Savannah River about fifty miles in from the Atlantic coast in South Carolina. Excavated for the past 20 years by Al Goodyear and the Allendale Paleoindian Expedition, Topper has confirmed archaic and paleoindian occupations, including a well-preserved Clovis. That in itself makes Topper remarkable—there are very few stratified Clovis sites in North America.

But, below the Clovis site are two additional strata, one dated (now firmly) 15,000 RCYBP, and a second (now firmly) at >50,000 RCYBP. Both layers have similar lithic tools, what excavator Al Goodyear calls a smashed core and microlithic industry.

I have said before here that 50,000 years is a "completely crazy" date for human occupation of the Americas. Recently I was called to task for it, because "completely crazy" isn't what you might call a professional way to characterize scientific archaeological research, which is what the Allendale Paleoindian Expedition is, absolutely. I must agree, my tone was wrong—but I stand by my basic meaning. If Topper turns out to be 50,000 years old, then everything we understand about the world and its population will have to be re-addressed. Let me explain.

Why 50,000 Years in North America is Unlikely

The major question posed by a human occupation in North America 50,000 years ago is—who made it?

Fifty thousand years ago there were two hominins who shared the planet— early modern humans and Neanderthals (and maybe Flores man, but that's a side issue). So far, there is no—and I mean absolutely no—evidence of Neanderthals in the Americas. So, what do we know of Homo sapiens 50,000 years ago?

Early modern humans evolved in Africa, or so the theory goes. The earliest Homo sapiens appearing in Europe mark the Upper Paleolithic, about 40,000 years ago.

The earliest humans appear in Australia about 45,000 years ago. Some of the oldest sites in Australia are closer to 60,000 years ago, and it is possible that that threshold will be pushed back--but there is currently no evidence of any Homo sapiens east of Australia until much later. In fact, the oldest site known in Siberia is the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site, some 27,000 years ago. This makes 50,000 years of human occupation in America very unlikely.

Other Skeptics

I'm not the only one who says this. In 2004, when the first news of 50,000 dates at Topper broke, CNN talked to archaeologist Theodore Schurr at University of Pennsylvania, who said "[Topper] poses some real problems trying to explain how you have people (arriving) in Central Asia almost at the same time as people in the Eastern United States. You almost have to hope for instantaneous expansion... We're talking about a very rapid movement of people around the globe."

Waters et al., the authors of the Topper paper appearing in the JAS later this year, also have their doubts about the preclovis occupations, but not on the basis of the dates, which they prove pretty substantially are correct—they don't think either of the stone tool assemblages from the preclovis levels were made by humans, but rather may have been created by freeze-thaw processes.

Topper clearly has a fabulous Clovis site; and it also may have a preclovis site, dated about 15,000 years ago. Excavations are still ongoing, and there certainly may be more to report and eventually I and the other skeptics may be proved wrong about the +50,000 year occupation. That would definitely be exciting, and lead to a complete cockup of what we understand today about the human population of the world.

But, hey. That's why people keep doing archaeology, because we just don't know everything there is to know.

Sources and More Info

Comments

February 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm
(1) Ed Swanzey says:

No evidence of Neanderthal or other early humans. Maybe not, but one of my anthro instructors at UCLA was fond of saying: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Further, there are other similar dates of “pre-clovis” sites in the Americas. These dates were generated by geologists, who have proven to be far better scientists than anthropologists have.

February 14, 2009 at 6:33 pm
(2) Charlie Hatchett says:

“…Later this year, the first peer-reviewed report on the geostratigraphy of the Topper site in South Carolina will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. I got to look at the paper, and it allows a solid look at the site stratigraphy, and raises a bunch of questions…”

You lucky dawg, Kris!! I’m chomping at the bit to read this report.

“…Fifty thousand years ago there were two hominins who shared the planet— early modern humans and Neanderthals (and maybe Flores man, but that’s a side issue). So far, there is no—and I mean absolutely no—evidence of Neanderthals in the Americas…”

We also don’t which sub-species created and utilized Clovis techs. We have absolutely no unambiguous Clovis tech-utilizing human remains. What we do know is that H.s.n. occupied the Altai region of southern Siberia at least ca. 37kya. This is the same region many Peopling of the Americas’ researchers postulate from where the original inhabitants
of the Americas are derived.

“…Waters et al., the authors of the Topper paper appearing in the JAS later this year, also have their doubts about the preclovis occupations, but not on the basis of the dates, which they prove pretty substantially are correct—they don’t think either of the stone tool assemblages from the preclovis levels were made by humans, but rather may have been created by freeze-thaw processes…”

Does the paper have images of the 50kya specimens? I’ve had a hard time tracking down images of the specimens from the 50kya strata. The 15kya specimens look pretty good, imo.

Here are images of the ca. 15kya specimens, courtesy of Mark McConaughy:

http://www.phpbb88.com/nohandaxesinus/viewtopic.php?mforum=nohandaxesinus&t=65&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=3&mforum=nohandaxesinus

Nice article, Kris.

Thanks for the update!

February 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm
(3) M.Keefer says:

Wow! Wish I could read that paper. The only reason it is surprising to mainstream archaeologists that there would be habitation evidence as early as 50,000 ybp is that the evidence of other homonids in North America has been dismissed. The findings in the 18th and 19th centuries in America were totally dismissed as hoaxes or as Indian. Sorry we don’t have that evidence now.

February 14, 2009 at 9:46 pm
(4) Jim Pratt says:

You speak in very broad strokes here but never mention that the 50,000 BP date stems from radiocarbon dating on charcoal found in association with the lithics. If you are going to dismiss Dr. Goodyear’s findings you need to address the actual evidence he is presenting.

February 14, 2009 at 9:54 pm
(5) Kevin says:

Charlie, the link you posted is to a rather bogus site that shows a single “hand axe” like decontextualized object from an undisclosed site in Central Texas, not Topper at all. While the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the existence of hand-axe like objects in North America is not evidence for pre-Homo sapiens sapiens. That having been said, I agree that the most worrisome thing about Topper is the lack of published documentation of the assemblage said variously to be either human or natural in origin.

February 14, 2009 at 10:07 pm
(6) Charlie Hatchett says:

Kevin,

Scroll down…sheez!

There you’ll find the Topper specimens.

The bogus site to which you refer has attracted researchers like Jim Bischoff from the USGS (U/Th analyses), Warren Sharp from Berkeley Geochronology Center (U/Th analyses), Steve Kissin from Lakehead University (SEM analyses), Mike Waters from the Center for the Study of the First Americans, etc… More than 5000 specimens have been recovered from the site.

Suggestion: read before you post.

February 14, 2009 at 10:14 pm
(7) Allan Shumaker says:

There is a growing body of evidence for some variety of tool using hominid in the Americas prior to last LGM. Steve Holen’s reports on La Sena and Lovewell indicate high plains scavengers stacking camel bones at 18kya. Pendejo Cave had worked bones dating to 51 kya and fingerprints in clay hearths that dated to 28kya. At Monte Verde I, Tom Dillehay recovered a stone tool with blood residue that dated 33kya. Neide Guidon has a series of hearths and stone tools with use wear striations that date back to 50kya at Pedra Furada in Brazil.

Possibly we need to push the OOA for Hss further back or allow the possibility that H. erectus crossed Beringia before Hss reached East Asia. We know that tool making hominids occupied the Nihewan Basin northwest of Bejing 1.6 million years ago.

February 14, 2009 at 10:33 pm
(8) Charlie Hatchett says:

“…Neide Guidon has a series of hearths and stone tools with use wear striations that date back to 50kya at Pedra Furada in Brazil…”

Interesting you should bring up Pedra Furada, Allan. I’ve looked at some of the use wear analyses performed on the older specimens from PF, and they’re definitely interesting:

http://www.phpbb88.com/nohandaxesinus/viewtopic.php?t=94&mforum=nohandaxesinus

February 15, 2009 at 12:53 am
(9) Bill McLean says:

“Fifty thousand years ago there were two hominins who shared the planet— early modern humans and Neanderthals…” What about Homo Erectus? This species began to spread out and populate the Eastern Hemisphere as early as 2 million years BCE. Is it possible that in the intervening 1,950,000 years, from the time of the beginning of the African exodus to the date of the Topper site, they might have managed to make it to the Americas–at least once? Twice? Three times? Considering the huge amount of time Erectus had to get to the Americas, and what we believe his social and technical skills to have been, perhaps a better question would be how could Erectus NOT have made it to the New World? With no competition from other Hominids, they likely continued to evolve independently of their Old World cousins. Perhaps they did not fare well in the New World or perhaps they did but became extinct after the arrival of modern humans. This seems like excellent material for a science fiction novel but I wonder if it has any basis in reality?

February 15, 2009 at 7:22 am
(10) Peter Waksman says:

You should make your logic explicit. Which of your assumptions is contradicted by modern man in the US 50K years ago? Filling in some of the blanks you left, one guesses that the fundamental problems are (a) rapid global migration is hard to accept; and/or (b) humans cannot have been in America before they were in Europe.

Since it only takes a few months to drift across the Atlantic from Africa, assumption (a) should be easy to discard. And since ocean travel is easier than land travel assumption (b) should be pretty easy to discard. Maybe your sense of cognitive dissonance comes from your being a landlubber.

February 15, 2009 at 11:22 am
(11) Christine says:

The unedited manuscript is available now at ScienceDirect.

February 15, 2009 at 12:51 pm
(12) Blair says:

As a regular Joe who has taken a casual ‘interest’ in the ‘pseudo-scientific’ theory of Cultural Diffusionism of the Americas, I have always wondered why there exists such an adament belief amongst the academic mainstream that “it is highly unlikely” or even…”crazy?” to suggest population of the American continents in extreme antiquity.

It seems to me as though it would be ‘highly unlikely’ if they didn’t!

Not that I am a card carrying member of the Ancient Alien Astronauts Club or anything, I just find it all rather silly!

I agree with the earlier post: Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence…however, I say – Let the testing of the evidence continue.

In any event. It’s been an interesting and fun debate to follow over the last ten years. And I have to say, as evidence mounts, and the ‘established’ date for occupation becomes pushed back a little further every year, I have to chuckle a little.

Well that’s all – Off to go dust my collection of Soper/Savage Tablets. JK

February 15, 2009 at 1:12 pm
(13) Allan Shumaker says:

There is limited fossil evidence for archaic humans in the Americas. Unfortunately these lack context and are so heavily mineralized that 14C dating is not possible.

Professor Frederico A. Solórzano has been collecting Pleistocene animal remains from the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico for many years. He found in his collection a cranial fragment of a supraorbital ridge that has scientists puzzled. http://remotecentral.blogspot.com/2007/02/furrowed-brows-over-lake-chapala-mexico_28.html
This brow fragment was studied at Texas A&M but a report was never published. However a brief article by Joel Irish, etal. was published in Current Research in the Pleistocene 17, 2000 pg. 95-96.
“One Chapala superciliary arch deserves specific mention due to its large size. Studies by Solórzano show the bone resembles that in archaic Homo sapiens at Arago, France. In an unpublished 1990 report, Texas A&M osteologists suggest the brow’s thickness and robustness are comparable to those of KNM-ER 3733 (African Homo erectus). Our measurements show the central torus thickness is 13.3, compared with 8.5 mm for KNM-ER 3733; the lateral torus thickness is 11.5 versus 9.0 mm (Rightmire 1998). Thus for the sake of comparison, the brow is more like that of Zhoukoudian Skull XI (Asian Homo erectus), with a central torus thickness of 13.2 +/- mm; lateral torus thickness was not measured (Rightmire 1998). Modern brows are too diminutive to allow these measurements. The brow also shows pneumatization (air pockets) along its length.”
Another specimin that deserves mention was found in a museum in Brazil by Alan Bryan back in the 1970s and a photograph was included in his 1978 book EARLY MAN IN AMERICA From a Circum-Pacific Perspective. Unfortunately that calotte was ‘misplaced’ in the museum for over 20 years. It was eventually rediscovered and CT scanned and determined to be a fake. However in that same book on page 320 is a sketch of a similar frontal (Poch 1938)from the ‘Lund collection’ in Cophenhagen, Denmark. The sketch shows the same heavy brow ridges and low forehead.

February 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm
(14) Charlie Hatchett says:

Thanks for the heads-up, Christine.

February 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm
(15) Peter John Vernon says:

We should never dismiss evidence with a wave of our hands because it does not agree with our current theories. The “freeze-thaw” explanation needs to be proven with the same level of scientific rigor as the made by human explanation. Alternate explanations should not be easily accepted because they allow us to keep our current theories.

February 15, 2009 at 3:17 pm
(16) Charles Dohogne says:

Some years ago, when the 110 freeway was extended to Terminal Island is South Los Angeles, San Pedro to us locals, a village was found, The midden piles contained shellfish remains almost exclusively. At the time UCLA reported (per the L A Times) that the shells were dated back to 40,000BC. The hill is still here, if anyone really wants proof of early habitation.. Chuck Dohogne

February 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm
(17) Hal Porter says:

I agree that the most conservative explanation would be a problem with the RC dating. The site seems too well preserved for the stratiography to be screwed up, and we have two pre-Clovis layers.

But if the dating is correct, the most parsimonious explanation would seem to be along the lines of Waksman’s suggestion. If ocean currents in the Pleistocene were anything like those currently present, then one could see a raft blown/drifting from, say Morocco, to the Bahamas or Florida. Of course for a population to form, you would need more than a single raft. And there wouldn’t seem to be much genetic relationship to later, native populations.

Parsimonious explanations without evidence might be totally incorrect, however.

February 15, 2009 at 7:11 pm
(18) Charlie Hatchett says:

I’ll preface this review of Waters et al. (2009) by saying there is not a lot new here. Much of this information has been released informally via various media outlets. But now at least we have a peer-reviewed paper acknowledging the info that has been released informally.

“…Two dates, >50,300 14C yr B.P. (UCIAMS-11682) and >51,700 14C yr B.P. (UCIAMS-11683) were obtained on reduced woody plant remains from a low-relief, thin, lenticular accumulation of physically well preserved plant material within the fluvial sands of unit 1. Goodyear defined this as feature 91 and suggested that this may represent a hearth-like feature (Goodyear, 2005b). Although the plant remains were black, there is no evidence the plant material had been combusted or that the plant fossils had been emplaced secondarily into the fluvial sands. The organic-carbon rich lens was lithologically conformable vertically and horizontally with enclosing stream channel sands, there was no evidence of heat-caused oxidation (hematite development) in sand immediately below the organic matter, and the plant remains were soft, retained excellent cellular structure, and reacted immediately and strongly with weak KOH used during the radiocarbon pretreatment process…”

So no hearth in the > 50kya strata according Waters et al.

“…The age of the deposition is unknown, but the infinite radiocarbon ages from this unit indicate that deposition occurred before 55,000 yr. B.P. A period of floodplain stability and soil formation followed the deposition of fine-grained overbank deposits (unit 1b). This was followed by a period of fluvial scouring when the soil developed on unit 1b was truncated. Sometime after this erosional period, colluvium (unit 2a) accumulated locally next to the channel edge and the alluvial sands were deposited (unit 2b) across most of the site. These sediments appear to have been deposited in arcuate channels, potentially part of a braided stream system. Swales at the top of this unit are filled with fine-grained overbank deposits (unit 2c) and represent the last episode of fluvial deposition at the site. Luminescence dating suggests that fluvial deposition ceased around 15,000 yr B.P. At this point, the river downcut and abandoned the floodplain, creating Terrace 2…”

This indicates that the proposed, younger preClovis artifacts can be no younger than 15kya.

“…Below the Clovis horizon, Goodyear (2005a) reports the presence of what he believes are pre-Clovis artifacts. This “Topper assemblage” is buried within units 2b and 1. The stratigraphic position of the “Topper assemblage” indicates an antiquity older than Clovis, but how much older remains unresolved…”

Except not younger than 15kya.

“…Stratigraphic relationships show that a moderately-well developed paleosol (Bw horizon) formed in colluvial deposits (unit 3a) that lie between the Clovis horizon and the “Topper assemblage” that reflect a few hundreds to a few thousands of years of deposition and pedogenesis. Two OSL ages, 14,400 + 1200 yr B.P. (UIC-763) and 15,200 + 1500 yr B.P. (UIC-764), are from the top of unit 2b and provide a provisional minimum age for the proposed pre-Clovis material. The base of this sand remains undated…”

‘…Even older “Topper assemblage” material has been reported in the older unit 1a and 1b sediments and are associated with dates of >50,000 14C yr B.P…”

“…The “Topper assemblage”, consisting of a smashed core and microlithic industry
(Goodyear 2005a), is typologically and technologically unique among New World
archaeological sites. Goodyear (2005a) believes that spalls and flakes were modified into small unifacial tools and bend-break tools that were used to work wood and other organic materials. The human origin of the “Topper assemblage” has not yet been unequivocally demonstrated. Alternatively, the pieces making up the “Topper assemblage” could have been produced naturally as a result of thermal fracturing (forest fires and freeze-thaw cycles) or physical fracturing during stream transport. Finally, the “Topper assemblage” is highly diachronous, occurring in sediments ranging in age from >50,000 to 15,000 yr B.P. It is unusual that there was no lithic technological change for ca. 35,000 years…”

Is it? Acheulean? Mousterian?

Also, it seems only one category of artifacts are being addressed by Waters et al. How about the proposed core tools, large flake tools and microblade cores:

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovis05tr.jpg

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovispaper27tr.jpg

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovispaper25tr.jpg

http://cayman.globat.com/~bandstexas.com/topper%202.jpg

http://cayman.globat.com/~bandstexas.com/topper%201.jpg

http://www.theclarkes.cc/images/microblade_cores_from_Topper_pre-clovis_2000.JPG

Permission has been granted to reproduce all images.

“…The timing of the first change from meandering to braided is unknown, with only dates in excess of 50,000 yr B.P. being reported from the upper portion of the deposits of the first meandering stream package. This study of the terraces at the Topper site yielded similar minimum limiting ages (>55,000 yr B.P.) for the initial meander period. Leigh and others (2004) have suggested that the shift from meandering to a braided stream regime occurred in other streams in the Southeast possibly as early as 70,000 yr B.P. and as late at 30,000 yr B.P., though this age span may reflect precision limits on radiocarbon dating…”

This discounts the proposed physical fracturing during stream transport:

“…The shortest distance; that is, a straight channel, results in the highest energy per unit of length, disrupting the banks more, creating more sediment and aggrading the stream. The presence of meanders allows the stream to adjust the length to an equilibrium energy per unit length in which the stream carries away all the sediment that it produces…”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meander#Equilibrium_theory

“…Meandering streams develop in relatively flat areas, such as a floodplain, and where sediment consists primarily of fine sands, silts, and muds…”

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/meandering+stream

Can somebody please show me specimens derived from thermal fracturing, or fracturing due to stream transport, that exhibit the characteristics of these specimens:

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovis05tr.jpg

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovispaper27tr.jpg

http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y178/McConaughy/TopperSite/topperpreclovispaper25tr.jpg

http://cayman.globat.com/~bandstexas.com/topper%202.jpg

http://cayman.globat.com/~bandstexas.com/topper%201.jpg

http://www.theclarkes.cc/images/microblade_cores_from_Topper_pre-clovis_2000.JPG

Lets be fair: the specimens should come from Piacenzian strata or older. ;) I’ve never once had someone demonstrate this to me, whether the control specimens be Topper or Calico. Special pleading?

“…A meandering pattern has characterized the Savannah River and other southeast streams from 14,000 – 16,000 B.P. to present…”

“…The period of downcutting and return to meandering conditions is linked with another
abrupt vegetation and climate change along the central Savannah River at about 16,000 yr B.P. (Leigh 2008). The previous boreal vegetation was rapidly replaced with a temperate-wet forest of mixed deciduous trees and a climate that was warmer and wetter than the previous climate and that of today (Watts, 1980; Jackson et al., 2000). This switch to mesic and warmer conditions and concomitant vegetation change resulted in lower sediment yields and lower, more uniform stream discharge that favored meandering stream environments (Leigh et al., 2004; Leigh, 2006, 2008)…”

February 15, 2009 at 8:44 pm
(19) Charlie Hatchett says:
February 15, 2009 at 11:28 pm
(20) Charlie Hatchett says:
February 16, 2009 at 12:09 am
(21) Kenniwick Man says:

Crazy?

What I find crazy is the old guard in archeology protecting their sacred cows (Clovis first and Columbus first) against all evidence that their cows are dead.
It’s time for change in archeology. It’s time for OLD egos to pass away and let the young folks get in there and dig, (and the more open minded old guard.) Stop saying “crazy” and start saying “what if”. Instead of saying “IMPOSSIBLE”, say, “WHY NOT?” Charlie Hatchet, you have evidence Clovis first is dead, and that iron smelting was happening in “Texas” far earlier than the so called “experts” agree…now, if you can only find an archeologist with enough guts to go against the “Clovis First Club” and publish about the site. If archeologists stopped thinking they were the Gods of the ground, the lords of history, and the creators of the past, and instead worked with OPEN MINDS and WHAT IF mentalities, we’d know a whole lot more than we do now about where we came from, how, and when. I can just about bet that the real story contains little to nothing resembling what the old guard archeology club tells us is true.

February 16, 2009 at 2:48 am
(22) Jason M. says:

1st off I’m an archaeologist, 2nd I would say that while the latter dates of 15500 years is entirely plausible I am far less certain about the earlier 50,000 date. The clovis barrier has long since been shattered- well documented sites down in Chile prove this. However it seems to me that one of the great problems with Why Not as a standard for archaeology is that _anything_ is possible. However we only have evidence for some things. Furthermore archaeologists are human too and mistakes are made both in the handling and processing of artifacts and related finds. So any claims must be placed into that framework of understanding. (I would argue in favor of an evolutionary model based on the paradigmatic classification of continuous traits, but thats a bit technical for here.)
Also, in archaeology we have a very important saying, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. We need multiple examples of clear tools in datable contexts. There are lots of reasons for this. Tools move. out here in california we have these little bastards called the callifornia Ground squirrel. They burrow underneath larger objects and when it rains and their tunnels are saturated those artifacts sink to a lower strata. smaller artifacts- especially those that are sharp tend to get moved up. In really old sites in spite of all the burrowing things still sort themselves out into strata- usually due to clay or silt barriers that tend to form. Gophers, squirrels, rabbits, badgers all of these creatures burrow and move artifacts around. This has been true on every continent I’ve worked on and I’ve worked on three.

In the case of this 50,000 year date we need to ask the question, Is the tool in question just a piece of flint with a couple of flakes taken off of it or is it a tool with multiple retouches and wear patterns. If it really is a tool (and the author should publish high resolution pictures and sketches to verify this) then we’re in business. Second when it comes to dating its very important not to contaminate the specimines gathered and to use well gathered samples for _multiple_ dating techniques. If there was an active surface exposed to the sun just above or below the artifact then collect a sample in the dark and do luminescence dating on it. If the dates agree then we have something that needs to be explained and we need to look for more, if they don’t then perhaps this super early date is just a case of sampling error or some form of contamination due to coal dust or petroleum.
So is it possible that this 50,000 year date is correct? yes, anything is possible. Has the author demonstrated that this is the case? no. or at least not yet and the folks at this site have had plenty of time to do so.

Oh and one more thing- with respect to the shell middens at San Paedro- Shells – particularly off the coast of California tend to read as much much earlier than they actually are on C14 dating due to the upwelling along our coast that occurs and its effect on the Carbon cycle. These days we can compensate for this most of the time because its been studied more, but back when those mounds were bulldozed and buried that was not the case.

Let me know what you think,
Jason

February 16, 2009 at 10:03 am
(23) Tom Pertierra says:

Geoscience, geochronology and radiocarbon dating are best done by experts in those fields, which is what has certainly been the case for those disciplines at Topper. In my opinion the same holds true of lithic analysis and morphological interpretation; leave it to the experts who have been practicing it throughout their careers. I for one try to keep in mind that the tool technology and debitage being found at Topper are readily accepted in the old world. The archaeological rules of evidence call for good stratigraphy, good dates and real artifacts, but in the America’s the latter all too often equates to having a florescent biface technology and the dogma associated with it.

Sites like Topper, Meadowcroft, Cactus Hill, and half a dozen others need fresh interpretive study by scientists who are not held captive by old textbooks. I recommend that we get prepared; there are lots of new Topper sites on the horizon . . . and there’s nothing at all crazy about that!

February 16, 2009 at 10:18 am
(24) Kris Hirst says:

Now a reanalysis of all those sites, especially now that we’ve cleared the “Clovis first” hurdle, I definitely subscribe to, with a hearty AMEN!

Kris

February 16, 2009 at 10:36 am
(25) loran says:

iit doesn’t matter what the evidence proves . if it doesn’t go with the party line archeologists will mock, deny and suppress it.

February 16, 2009 at 1:20 pm
(26) Tom Baldwin says:

The dates for the Topper assemblage are not staggering in light of the even older artifacts found in California at the Calico Early Man Site, a site picked and funded by none other than Lewis Leakey. Doubters are invited to take a look at the Calico website at http://www.calicodig.org/ Follow the WPG2 link to view some remarkable finds that defy being classified as geofacts.

February 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm
(27) Ultan says:

From:Science Frontiers No. 87: May-Jun 1993 (This site has hundreds of archaeological and other apparent anomalies selected from scientific journals)
quote:
The 50,000-year-old Americans of Pedra Furada

French archeologists (not American) have established to the satisfaction of most European archeologists (not American) that humans were present in Brazil at least 50,000 years ago. F. Parenti, with N. Guidon, presented their data at a recent Paris meeting. The main site studied was the sandstone rock shelter of Pedra Furada, which is one of several hundred painted rock shelters discovered in northeastern Brazil. Guidon began her work in 1978; Parenti, in 1984. The fourvolume, 7-kilogram report (actually Parenti’s doctoral thesis) concentrates on three lines of evidence:

* A coherent series of 54 radiocarbon dates ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 years.

* Crudely flaked stones, some 6,000 of which are deemed of human manufacture, even when the most stringent criteria are applied. Many of these came from Pleistocene strata 50,000 years old or older.

* Some 50 Pleistocene “structures” consisting of artificial arrangements of stones, some burned, some accompanied by charcoal. These are likely ancient hearths.

(Bahn, Paul G.; “50,000-Year-Old Americans of Pedra Furada,” Nature, 362:114, 1993.)
/endquote
Data which falsifies current theories is not accepted easily.

February 16, 2009 at 10:10 pm
(28) Tay says:

Settle down guys; you’re getting all wrought up by the comments of a simple grave robber.

She has to protect her religion the same as the believer of any other religion. It’s just that with the science bunch it’s a case of “Your statement is a lie until you prove it to me”.

The truth is the truth; if it winds up being 50k years ago, well OK. If it winds up being 15k years ago, well OK there too.

It’s too bad she hasn’t thought of asking the descendants of the people who arrived here first. They could answer her questions.

February 16, 2009 at 10:51 pm
(29) jrhester says:

In Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he talks about how changes in our understanding of the world work: not through a gradual coming to light and acceptance of new data; Instead, scientists, having invested so much in conventional wisdom, stubbornly cling to old paradigms until these scientist in effect “die out” and are replaced by a new group of people, with new understandings.

It wasn’t so long ago that acknowledging human occupation of the Americas before 12,000 or 13,000 years ago was considered “crazy” – it just didn’t fit with the accepted models of how humans populated our continent. Now, it’s commonly accepted that the old model was – well, wrong.

No one can say right now if humans were in the Americas 50,000 years ago, but beyond off-handedly referring to such a notion as crazy (which in and of itself is no big deal), this reaction reflects the very cultural blinders of scientists that Kuhn tipped us off to. We’ve learned a lot about human migrations in the Americas over the past decade, but so soon after learning the hard lessons of Clovis-first, how can we be so quick to brush aside the notion that maybe there still is much to learn?

So instead of rejecting a 50,000 year old American population out of hand, or only looking to poke holes, maybe some time would also be well spent considering how people might’ve gotten here much earlier than we’d expect.

February 17, 2009 at 12:04 am
(30) rick doninger says:

Kris, surely by now you would have to agree that there have been enough neanderthal occupations discovered that their tool industries are some of the best documented to date. Regardless of the miles that separate, the tool industries of the neanderthals are basically the same and unique to this culture. Tool style is one of the identifiers of possible neanderthal presence in a site. There is enough known about Levallois and mousterian lithics that they are rarely confused with anything else and certainly never confused with anything found thus far in North America, as there is no known paleoindian tech that even remotely resembles the middle paleolithic tools found in association with neanderthals. So if someone presented you with a coherent set of mousterian style artifacts, wouldn’t it at least peak your curiosity. If you were standing before a display of say, 200 levallois points, 200 levallois cores, 50 exhausted levallois core tools, 50 mousterian hand axes, along with burins and tools made on levallois flakes, and dozens of mousterian points, all unique historically to neanderthals, woudn’t the archaeologist in you rise up and say “where did these come from”? When the answer comes back,”middle U.S.A”. Would that provoke encouragement for analyses of said tools even though there was no stratigraphy to examine? Would a thousand stone tools of a clearly identifiable neanderthal related technology cause you to want to take a closer look? What if they were pristine and unambiguous in the fact that they were man made? If usewear and retouch were clearly present along with undeniable percussion bulbs and impact marks.Just no skeletal remains to associate them with. Fifty thousand years may not be that crazy.

February 17, 2009 at 11:36 am
(31) Howard J. Blodgett says:

We’ve had much the same situation here in Traverse City, Michigan. A couple years ago, a local archaeologist found a boulder in 40′ of water with an unmistakable image of a mastodon carved on it, as well as a criss-cross pattern carved on the back. Utilizing a study of water depths down through the centuries, he found that the last time the water level in Grand Traverse Bay was 40′ lower than it is now was 10,000 years ago, so he dated the site as 10,000 years old. There’s been a “hue and cry” about it ever since, mainly because the established tradition is that no mastodons ever existed north of Cadillac, Michigan, some sixty miles south. I doubt there was ever a “no mastodons allowed” fence stretching across the state 10,000 years ago, and 60 miles really isn’t a lot. The absence of mastodon remains north of that line is primarily a function of the type of soil we have up here, as opposed to 60 miles south. Mastodon remains don’t preserve well up here, but, in fact, two hunters in the last twenty years have found mastodon molars in this area. So early hunters could very well have been carving the boulder 10,000BP.

It is very difficult (probably for reasons of prestige and reputation) to get past established guidelines in archaeology. Thirty years ago, a professor from Michigan State University excavated a site on Skegemog Lake,10 miles west of where I sit typing this. He dated it (accurately, as it turns out) to be 10,000 years old–at the time, the earliest known Amerindian site in the northern hemisphere. He refused to publish it or even publicize it, because he was afraid of the controversy and what it might do to him–mainly, loss of tenure at MSU. There’s a reason why dates of 50,000 years are hard for most archaeologists to swallow–established dogma is hard to overcome, and dangerous as well.

February 17, 2009 at 3:48 pm
(32) mark a corbitt says:

im not sure these “bend -break” tools are even artifacts, based on published photos, this would be a unique industry to say the least. IMO,Homo has been making stone tools the same way for tens of thousands of years, so pre-clovis in the americas should resemble one or more of these well recognizable industries,should it not?levallois or “epi-levallois”artifacts in the southeast recently described by Drs barbara purdy and blaine ensor in fla and alabama, as well as cuba by Dr gerd elvers seem to represent the most logical candidates…

February 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm
(33) CRHope says:

And there it is…the entire problem with ‘theory’. It has to be ‘one size fits all’ or it’s therefore invalid. Astronomy suffers from the same problem.

February 17, 2009 at 8:48 pm
(34) undrgrndgirl says:

“If Topper turns out to be 50,000 years old, then everything we understand about the world and its population will have to be re-addressed.” um…duh! why did you think you were right in the first place?? the idea that you will have to re-think your “afro/euro-centric ideas is a really, really GOOD thing…the Americas have NEVER ever BEEN the “new world”…as to your assertion that there was “never any evidence of neanderthal in the americas” – well, guess there is now…and f.y.i. floris man is not a side issue, he’s just inconvenient to the current paradigm…so i guess it must be time for a paradigm shift…

February 18, 2009 at 12:36 am
(35) SJ Reidhead says:

I am inclined to think if the site were located in a more glamorous location like New Mexico, Arizona, California, or even in Mexico, the old guards of archaeology might be more inclined to take it seriously. Having spent most of my life in South Carolina, I was in a position to hear about the discovery immediately. In fact, arrowhead hunters have been finding Clovis points in throughout the region for years. One of the problems in the area now is the fact that so many lakes have been built, some of the more promising sites are now under water.

Then again, old school archaeology is still holding on to the Columbus myth and ignoring a wealth of information. I keep hoping things will change, but after 20 years of waiting, I doubt it.

So, we will be told there is a “mistake” at Topper. That’s fine, but what about Pedra Furada?

SJR
The Pink Flamingo

February 18, 2009 at 10:59 am
(36) kawkawpa says:

Thanks to the scientists who have contributed thoughtful, grounded comments here, and have included links for others to make their own assessments.

After having read the discussion, I only want to offer what seems clear to me… When a scientist says “crazy date”, it’s in reference to current scientific consensus of a reasonable theory – a theory based on (1) available evidence – and that evidence has also been assessed by peer review using the scientific method; and (2) the accumulated assumptions of the scientific community that can be applied to the evidence. A “crazy date” remark may be considered a challenge, more than anything else, for someone to provide more to back up the proposed theory with evidence and arguments solidly based in evidence and accumulated assumptions (knowledge that has been built through years by careful peer review) that can measure up to the criteria of the field that the proposer’s peers have to adhere to as well. That’s the crux of it. Nothing would delight us more than to have evidence that stands up to scientific criteria. Scientific criteria are absolutely essential in order for any science to be science. Without such criteria, it’s not science. If you argue against the importance of science, than that’s another debate.

The best scientists have no lack of imagination. They’re not stuck in accepted theories and that’s that. It’s only about convincing them within the framework of rigorous application of the scientific method. Evidence that does not have what it takes to conclusively qualify will have to have a footnote saying “possible” or “probable” with a long string of references attached for other scientists to scrutinize and make up their own minds on the validity of the evidence. That’s how it works in order for it to be science. Anything less is great for imagination and discussion, but is not eligible to be added to the pool of “what we know” (physical evidence) or “what we can conclude based on evidence” (our theories that are always subject to change – if verifiable evidence can be found and/or a new way of interpreting it can be successfully argued).

More importantly, such footnoted “possible” evidence is also vital to proposing what we should keep in mind or be on the look-out for when doing research from that point forward- something out of the paradigm – like an archaeologist of 50 years ago deciding to dig deeper than a Clovis layer instead of stopping at Clovis because “since Clovis was the first, there’s no point to digging deeper”. That’s the way the best scientists operate. Even if someone’s evidence doesn’t make the grade conclusively according to the required criteria applied, if there’s enough about it that sparks a possibility in a scientist’s critical evaluation, s/he will have that in the back of his/her mind. If there’s validity to the possibility, history has shown that other evidence will turn up. Some of it may not make the grade either. Some might. And there’s something to be said for the preponderance of evidence even if none of it stands up to scientific criteria that indicates something conclusive.

Ok, I’ve said enough. Just wanted to weigh in on the matter. Thanks for listening…

Keith

February 18, 2009 at 9:26 pm
(37) Tay says:

kawkawpa,

There’s a little issue with your comments.

A fact is a fact. It isn’t open to discussion. A person’s relative ability and willingness to confront the fact is what regulates their perception of truth.

If you allow “possible evidence” and other grades of evaluation into the picture you muddy it. You are then protecting your theory.

The correct approach is to present the facts. At what level was the artifact found? By what method was it’s age determined? What is the artifact? Are you sure it is an artifact?

When you answer these kind of questions and leave your ideas out of it, then you can step back and look at what the sum of the facts tell you.

Most any person, given the facts like this, can come to reasonable conclusions. You don’t need any “education” to think like this.

Of course, this approach doesn’t sell textbooks or keep the college professor teaching.

“But, below the Clovis site are two additional strata, one dated (now firmly) 15,000 RCYBP, and a second (now firmly) at >50,000 RCYBP. Both layers have similar lithic tools, what excavator Al Goodyear calls a smashed core and microlithic industry.”

Per this quote, there were tools found at depths that are determined to be at least 50,000 years ago.

Fact.

No other creature save Man makes this kind of tool, so I am told by the establishment.

Fact.

Conclusion: There were people here at that time to make these tools. I have not seen tools make themselves.

New fact: People were here 50,000 years ago.

So how hard is that?

Tay

February 19, 2009 at 2:26 am
(38) Charlie Hatchett says:

“But, below the Clovis site are two additional strata, one dated (now firmly) 15,000 RCYBP, and a second (now firmly) at >50,000 RCYBP. Both layers have similar lithic tools, what excavator Al Goodyear calls a smashed core and microlithic industry.”

Yeah, but that’s just a New York Times journalist’s opinion.

I’d like to see some of the 50kya specimen images.

February 19, 2009 at 10:29 am
(39) rick doninger says:

Having been an exhibitor at the Clovis in the Southeast Conferrence where Dr.Goodyear first introduced the topper bend-break tools, I had the opportunity to see and handle the proposed tools. My display was set up right beside the Topper site exhibit so for a couple days I was able to hear hundreds of comments by those who were in attendance. I have to say that most of the opinions that I personally heard were negative in/re to whether they thought they were actual tools. I also had to really stretch to accept some of the specimens as actual tools. The ones that were displayed at that time were were not unambiguous. You could not pick a tool from topper and lay it beside most known middle paleolithic styles and say ” I can see the resemblance”. If the Topper tools are in fact tools then they sort of stand alone in their technology. At least the earliest ones that were displayed. Maybe there have been more definable tools found since then that I have not seen. When Dr. Goodyear stopped by my exhibit for a very quick look he scratched his head and said “Rick, I don’t know who may have made these tools.” Scholar after scholar inspected my display of lithics from Tennessee and most said They had never seen anything like it in the states. The man that sponsored my trip to the conferrence said “rick wear your football helmet because the clovis first club are going to butt heads with you. They simply do not want to change the paradigms yet.” Since then There has been yet another assemblage found that are even more unambiguous in their style. My earlier comment in regard to “what if” about the possible mousterian presence in N. America if a coherent set of artifacts were found still begs for an answer. I guess I could challenge the “club” to inspect the assemblage in question, Lay the specimens side by side with accepted mousterian/ acheulean tools from abroad and let my collection speak for its self. This assemblage will stand up to the scrutiny of usewear, obvious retouch, presence of red ochre on some, unknown residues on points and blades. This is an unambiguous set of task specific tools that were made over and over again for their intended purposes. All the “what if ” criteria I proposed in my earlier comment can be seen and handled by anyone who wishes to invest the time. I have seen the oldest collections in the states and this midwest collection stands alone in its completeness as an example of possible middle paleo lithic industry. I invite the scrutiny.

February 19, 2009 at 11:23 am
(40) kawkawpa says:

“If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” (attributed to Voltaire)

Tay, I’ve found that most arguments (of the round and round kind, not the making of cases) are ignited and fueled by imprecise & ineffectual communication – communication between individuals where a word is understood/conceptualized differently enough between them that everything that follows is out of sync with agreement – the basis of the argument was a flawed mutual understanding of what each alone never doubted was mutually understood.

That takes me to a primary point of my comment – one touched on by Charlie Hackett’s comment after yours. You start with the ground rules – science. If we can agree on using the scientific method (a big “if”), we can move on. The scientific method is defined – it has rules. It’s dependent upon a logical sequence of steps, each building on the previous one. If at any point in the step process the rules of the scientific method are not precisely following, then everything that follows and that depends on that step being accurately done is flawed as far as the whole process is concerned – I mean the accuracy of the final conclusion derived from the whole process, although any following step itself may have scientific merit within its own component part if it was done according to the scientific method.

But let’s get back to that – the scientific method. If you don’t agree to the rules of the scientific method, strictly defined, then you aren’t agreeing to the scientific method. Every step builds to a conclusion in a logical sequence. Each step must be precisely completed according to the agreed-upon rules of the scientific method. Any one that doesn’t flaws the whole. Charlie Hatchett pointed out something (that I didn’t know, btw) that calls the conclusions of the Topper issue into question. My point is, according to the scientific method, there is insufficient agreement among peers (a vital part of the process) that the oldest stones were made by intelligent beings (which covers humans and other species in human evolution). Without that consensus agreement, which is based upon each peer applying his/her own reasoning resources while using the mutually agreed-upon scientific method, then every step that follows – while obviously intriguing, and that as a subset of steps may be without flaw in logic and application of the agreed-to rules – is necessarily logically “false” in regard to the whole argument (the “making a case for” kind, not the round and round sort). (Look up deductive reasoning on Wikipedia.) Classic examples of this happening are many in the history of the world. And in those tests we had in grade school that demonstrate with gusto just how imprecise a kid (or adult) can be in applying the rules for getting from point A to point Z (the very first instruction says: “Read all the instructions carefully before you begin” and the last reads: “Put your name on the paper and turn in without answering any of the previous questions.”

Nothing less than the accuracy of what we tend to refer to as “knowledge of our universe” is at stake – that is, knowledge accrued through science (there are many ways of “knowing”, “faith” being the first one that comes to mind). One error accepted as accurate and repeated ever after, others building upon it, can skew whole worlds of what we can be said to “know”. We base our mutually acknowledged understanding of reality on accumulated and culturally-transferred knowledge. The empirical and deductive nature that’s the basis of the process must be of utmost importance, the inherent principles followed to the letter. Wanting something to be a certain way is entirely human, however when it’s something to which science is applicable, and applying science to it – and all the ramifications of that… the scientific world-view – is something you value, then it must be done in accordance with the rules of that valued system.

Science isn’t Truth. It’s a sometimes painful, sometimes plodding, often elegant way to build a body of information capable of being gotten by a process by which we can all agree, and by which anyone – if they choose to repeat the process – can arrive at the same results. Done right, it’s always approached with focus and thoroughness… Hard science is closer to the basis of this than soft science. Precision in applying the rules of the scientific method, including practically accounting for all factors influencing the result, ensuring that each step of the way is done accurately, and vetting the whole thing in an accredited publication for your peers to assess its validity, is the key.

“Facts” are not “facts” unless we first agree on the definition. Lets start there…

Thanks for your thought-intensive comment, Tay; and thanks, Charlie, for adding your point to what I was trying to get at. All this stuff I’ve written isn’t a demonstration that I am infallible in following it myself. I likely used incorrect terms for things in this comment, and made other mistakes. I’ve consciously chosen not to refine this piece – it’s not a high priority. I’ve taken short cuts. What gets across has to be enough for me. Oh, and what I’ve written here will even sound pedantic to somebody, I figure. From my perspective, it’s a necessary self-refresher of these principles. I have to continually reinforce them (and other concepts I feel are of value).

I write these things regarding the scientific method because I value clarity in purpose and (to the best of a chosen level of systematic exactitude, time being a big factor) communication. I’m not a scientist not a logician. I admire those who have the wherewithal to maintain precision of focus over long periods, with no appreciable error as to follow-through on purpose and method. My concentration isn’t what it used to be. Well… it never was, I suppose… I was one of those kids tooling away at that first-read-all-the-directions test till the class bell rang.

Lastly, I’m not looking for an argument – of any kind. No time to follow through. I’ve said what I intended to say. A significant motivation for my saying any of this at all is a fascination for the peopling of the Americas, as it’s often known. Another is my valuing of the usefulness of knowledge of the universe honed through science and logic. The results of other people’s diligence in those methods is a body of knowledge I can rely on. (Because it’s too often not the case that such knowledge was added to the pool with thoroughness, I must also rely on my own critical thing to verify “knowledge” – that’s just the way the universe is. Scientifically speaking.) If what I’ve written here helps in any way to add to a refinement in scientific thoroughness in relation to Topper, and to others’ critical assessment of the findings from Topper, then I’ll have helped myself as well.

Nuff said. Some might say more than enough… :)

Keith

February 19, 2009 at 2:59 pm
(41) Anthropologist says:

Kris has a BS in Education from Illinois State University; and an MA in Anthropology from the University of Iowa. She is a member in good standing of the Society for American Archaeology, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the National Association of Science Writers

Any one with a MA can pay a small fee to join all these groups. I have learned from five years in field work in North America that these are social groups, operated and maintained by those entrenched in an academic western colonialist bias.

Flores was impossible also, and the new world monkeys drifted here on a log but no other hominid could have ever gotten to the New World so early. There are now hundreds of pre Clovis sites with scientifically documented dates, and Tom Dillehay published on squash seeds, in a container, dated back was it 10,000 ybp in South America. Wake up and read the compiled evidence, the possibilities for early occupation of the New World are overwhelming and even ancient DNA research is now espousing a well documented 40,000 year time frame.

February 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm
(42) Kris Hirst says:

I’m going to repeat the last paragraphs of my blog, because clearly no-one is actually reading what I have to say. Big surprise there.

“Topper clearly has a fabulous Clovis site; and it also may have a preclovis site, dated about 15,000 years ago. Excavations are still ongoing, and there certainly may be more to report and eventually I and the other skeptics may be proved wrong about the +50,000 year occupation. That would definitely be exciting, and lead to a complete cockup of what we understand today about the human population of the world.

But, hey. That’s why people keep doing archaeology, because we just don’t know everything there is to know.”

50,000 years in the Americas doesn’t fit the current paradigm. Paradigms change, I totally admit it, but for the moment, there simply isn’t concrete defensible evidence for 50,000 years in America. It DOESN’T FIT THE CURRENT PARADIGM. You can call it “pro-western”, you can call it “Afro-centric”, you can call it whatever pejorative you choose, but science doesn’t work on “wouldn’t that be cool” it works on what evidence has been accumulated to date.

50,000 years in the Americas doesn’t fit the current paradigm, based on current scientific archaeological research. There may come a day when it does; certainly preclovis took a long time to be pulled into the scientific discourse because–it didn’t fit the paradigm, and it takes hard evidence and time for that to change. It could very well change. On the other hand, “the world is flat”, “aliens built the Nasca lines”, ad “there is no global warming” don’t fit the current paradigm either, and I don’t expect any of those to be turned over any time soon.

Why am I bothering to say this again? You won’t read this either.

February 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm
(43) Charlie Hatchett says:

Hi Kris

Hang in there.

You’ve got some idiots along with a few rational minds posting.

Though me and you don’t see eye to eye on all issues (imagine that ;) ), I agree with you that we have not been presented evidence that secures 50kya cultural deposits at Topper. The hypothesized hearth apparently isn’t a a hearth (I don’t discredit Goodyear for this- it was just a hypothesis) and we haven’t been shown any of the lithic specimens from the same stratum. No rational mind would claim that we have even close to proof of an occupation in the lower strata. Now if some unambiguous tools from the lower strata are presented to us, that might change things.

The ca. 15kya stuff looks pretty good, IMO. And the geology and geochronology seems to be pointing towards this material being preClovis.

I look forward to further reports, and I appreciate you bringing this one to our attention.

Charlie

February 21, 2009 at 1:12 pm
(44) Tay says:

Interesting discussion so far!

Some more points in all of this.

“Waters et al., the authors of the Topper paper appearing in the JAS later this year, also have their doubts about the preclovis occupations, but not on the basis of the dates, which they prove pretty substantially are correct—they don’t think either of the stone tool assemblages from the preclovis levels were made by humans, but rather may have been created by freeze-thaw processes.”

And where is the experimental results that they are basing their opinion on as per step 4 below? Or they simply spouting off?

“50,000 years in the Americas doesn’t fit the current paradigm. Paradigms change, I totally admit it, but for the moment, there simply isn’t concrete defensible evidence for 50,000 years in America. It DOESN’T FIT THE CURRENT PARADIGM. You can call it “pro-western”, you can call it “Afro-centric”, you can call it whatever pejorative you choose, but science doesn’t work on “wouldn’t that be cool” it works on what evidence has been accumulated to date.”

Here’s the fundamental; either Man made or altered what is being dug up at Topper or he didn’t.

A fact is something that can be proven to exist by visible evidence. An opinion is something that may or may not be based on fact. Seems to me the scientific method is intended to figure out which is which.

“50,000 years in the Americas doesn’t fit the current paradigm.” Who cares about the paradigm? Where is “paradigm” in the scientific method as defined below?

If you use the paradigm (a point of view) to evaluate what you look at, then of course you are going to get lost. Look at the first step of the scientific method below.

I pulled this set of steps to the scientific method off of a school website.

http://teacher.pas.rochester.edu/phy_labs/appendixe/appendixe.html

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.

2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.

3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.

4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

What do you do to apply steps 3 and 4 in Archeology, as long as we are going to drag the method into this?

“My point is, according to the scientific method, there is insufficient agreement among peers (a vital part of the process) that the oldest stones were made by intelligent beings (which covers humans and other species in human evolution). Without that consensus agreement, which is based upon each peer applying his/her own reasoning resources while using the mutually agreed-upon scientific method, then every step that follows – while obviously intriguing, and that as a subset of steps may be without flaw in logic and application of the agreed-to rules – is necessarily logically “false” in regard to the whole argument.”

So the whole thing is an argument of opinion as to whether the stones were altered by Man or not.

So what experiments were performed that the peers are arguing about? Someone either lied about the original results or some of the later attempts to duplicate the result were flawed in their execution. Or was there even experimentation? :0

Anyone can argue opinions. If you argue facts, you are not agreeing about reality, a frowned upon activity.

Seems to me the whole intent of the scientific method is a means to validate the hypothesis formulated in step 2 and thus determine whether it is a fact or not. So how can there be any argument if the method is applied? Or is the argument over the interpretation of the experimental results, in which case the experiment was flawed?

Again, the items in question were either the result of human activity, or they weren’t. If you can’t perform an experiment to prove it as in step 4 above, then whatever you are doing isn’t science.

Not that I’m defending science here. There are other less cumbersome ways to go about one’s existence.

Tay

February 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm
(45) Charlie Hatchett says:

Tay Said:

> Interesting discussion so far!
> Some more points in all of this.
> “Waters et al., the authors of the Topper > paper appearing in the JAS later this year, > also have their doubts about the preclovis > occupations, but not on the basis of the > dates, which they prove pretty > substantially are correct—they don’t think > either of the stone tool assemblages from > the preclovis levels were made by humans, > but rather may have been created by freeze-> thaw processes.”

> And where is the experimental results that > they are basing their opinion on as per > step 4 below? Or they simply spouting off?

Kris, though a seasoned archeologist, is playing the role of journalist in this situation. And that’s cool: she’s the one that brought this paper to our attention.
Now Kris says:”… they don’t think either of the stone tool assemblages from the preclovis levels were made by humans, but rather may have been created by freeze-thaw processes…”

What the authors of the report (Waters et al.) actually say is: “…However, the anthropogenic origin of the “Topper assemblage” has yet to be adequately demonstrated and it may be natural in origin. Unlike the changing cultural assemblages of the late Pleistocene and Holocene components of the Topper site, the “Topper assemblage” is highly diachronous, spanning between >50,000 to 15,000 yr B.P. with no change in technology. Further studies are needed to resolve the origin of the ‘Topper assemblage’…”

Note : “… it may be natural in origin…” is not the same as saying, “they don’t think either of the stone tool assemblages from the preclovis levels were made by humans, but rather may have been created by freeze-thaw processes…”.

Waters et al. conclude: “…Further studies are needed to resolve the origin of the ‘Topper assemblage’…”

IMO, the ca. 15kya preClovis cultural deposits appear to be valid: The artifacts look good; the dating looks good; the stratigraphy looks good; and the preClovis deposits underlie well documented Clovis deposits.

As far as the > 50kya deposits go: the dating looks good; the stratigraphy looks good; and the preClovis deposits underlie well documented Clovis deposits. The critical missing link is the artifacts. It’s impossible for us to form an opinion of the whole 50kya bit without being able to view the proposed artifacts. Waters et al. have remained neutral on this issue (perhaps at Goodyear’s request- the excavation is still underway).

Tay Said:

> Here’s the fundamental; either Man made or > altered what is being dug up at Topper or > he didn’t.

That seems to be the core of the debate/ investigation. A similar situation is The Calico Site:

http://www.archaeologyfieldwork.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=807&start=0

I’ve never personally heard a researcher doubt the antiquity of Calico: the stratigraphy is secure, at least to the vast majority that has reviewed the geological studies. The core issue is whether nature or man is responsible for the specimens recovered. IMO, many of the Calico specimens look man made. However I’m among a minority opinion. That doesn’t mean my opinion is wrong: just that the majority of researchers disagree.

Tay Said:

> A fact is something that can be proven to > exist by visible evidence. An opinion is > something that may or may not be based on > fact. Seems to me the scientific method is > intended to figure out which is which.

> So what experiments were performed that the > peers are arguing about? Someone either > lied about the original results or some of > the later attempts to duplicate the result > were flawed in their execution. Or was > there even experimentation?

I don’t think anyone is “lying”, Tay. I just think researchers disagree because there are no agreed upon set of objective attributes that indicate a specimen is man made. If there are no objective criteria agreed upon then it basically becomes a bunch of opinions. The community, as a whole, needs to address this issue, IMO.

Tay Said:

> Again, the items in question were either > the result of human activity, or they > weren’t. If you can’t perform an experiment > to prove it as in step 4 above, then > whatever you are doing isn’t science.

Agreed. The community, as a whole, needs to address this issue, IMO. One way I propose the community go about this is a lithic analyst kick the process off by writing an initial report proposing what they think are vital attributes indicating artificiality. Some attributes that might be included are: platform preparation; unifacial versus bifacial flaking; differential weathering between the unaltered and altered portions of the specimen; a bulb of percussion; percentage of remaining cortex; flake scar alignment; arrises; number of flake removals; indications use wear, etc… After the initial report, other lithic analysts could: criticize the proposed attributes; recommend other attributes; recommend how much weight should be allocated to each attribute, etc…

Charlie

February 22, 2009 at 3:13 pm
(46) Charlie Hatchett says:

Please excuse the formatting problems in my post above. It looked good when I hit send, and there isn’t an edit option.

Charlie

February 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm
(47) kawkawpa says:
February 23, 2009 at 10:57 pm
(48) kawkawpa says:

Hm. My original comment seems to have gotten lost.

Charlie, thanks for posting suggested criteria to improve current lithic analysis. Your posting prompted me to look up what the current generally-accepted criteria are among archaeologists for determining artifact from geofact.

Four relevant links:

- Systematic Flaking – What Identifies Broken Rocks as Man-Made? (K. Kris Hirst) – http://archaeology.about.com/od/sterms/a/systematic_flak.htm

- Geofacts – When is a Broken Rock NOT an Artifact? (K. Kris Hirst) – http://archaeology.about.com/od/gterms/a/geofact.htm

- Distinguishing between naturally and culturally flaked cobbles: A test case from Alberta, Canada (Jason David Gillespie, et al) – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/109627449/abstract

- Distinguishing between Artifacts and Geofacts: A Test Case from Eastern. England (Evan Peacock) – http://docs.ksu.edu.sa/KSU_AFCs/archaeology/Distinguishing%20between%20Artifacts%20and%20Geofacts.pdf

February 24, 2009 at 9:57 pm
(49) Charlie Hatchett says:

Hi Keith.

Thanks for the references.

I think the attributes addressed are a very good starting point for a robust discussion of what objectively determines if a specimen is natural or cultural:

1. Logical reduction strategies.

2. Cores with more than five flake scars.

3. Intentional platform creation.

4. Bifacial reduction.

5. Retouch.

6. Differential Weathering.

7. Patterned flake scars.

8. Bulb of percussion.

9. Percussion ripples.

10. Percentage of remaining cortex.

11. Arrises.

12. Indications use wear.

13. Radial lines.

I like the quote by Patterson in the last reference you posted:

“…Even the personal opinion of a lithic expert is of little value if explicit technological reasons cannot be given to explain an opinion, either positive or negative…”. AKA a pissing contest.

Thanks for the reference.

Charlie

February 27, 2009 at 10:06 am
(50) kawkawpa says:

Charlie, here is the Patterson sentence in its original context. I quote from “Criteria for Determining the Attributes of Man-Made Lithics” by Leland W. Patterson, published in the Journal of Field Archaeology Vol10, 1983, 297-307. The following, from page 298, is the paragraph in which the sentence occurs, plus the paragraph after that.

“The author has previously urged that study of lithic collections proposed to have been created by very early man in the New World be done on an explicit, objective basis, rather than conducting subjective voting contests by investigators. Even the personal opinion of a lithic expert is of little value if explicit technological reasons cannot be given to explain an opinion, either positive or negative. [citation omitted] For example, MacNeish [in a 1979 article] states that several lithic experts had no doubts that the earliest specimens (Pacaicasa phase) at Pikimachay Cave were all tools, instead of naturally formed objects. [citation omitted] This type of statement means little without a rigorous technical discussion of significant lithic attributes. The published reports to date [1983] on proposed sites in the New World occupied by very early man generally fall short of complete technological explanation. The body of published criticism on these sites [as of 1983] is not any better, consisting mainly of completely subjective opinions. As will be discussed here, even natural damage to flake edges can be discussed in explicit terms, instead of subjectively saying ‘I see no pattern.’

“The comments by Haynes [in a 1973 article - citation omitted] on the Calico site lithic collection are a good example of subjective comments, without consideration of specific lithic attributes that could distinguish man-made manufacturing patterns. A list is given of ways that stone could [italics in original text, not mine - kawkawpa] fracture from natural causes, and then an opinion is given that the Calico lithics are a result of natural fractures, without presenting any detailed specific qualitative and quantitative studies of the attributes of the lithic materials in question. This type of subjective discussion should be avoided, as it unduly influences general opinion without any real basis.”

That ends the passage I’ve quoted from Patterson. If other areas of the US are anything like Pennsylvania, you may access “Criteria for Determining the Attributes of Man-Made Lithics” through JSTOR. Access to JSTOR is available online from your home Internet connection through your local library or state library website. You simply go to the library website, find the online databases offered by the library, enter your library card bar code number in the appropriate box (which you may have to do again to access JSTOR itself), locate JSTOR in the databases, then just do a search on the article name. The full text of that – and thousands of other archaeology articles, studies & reviews – are accessible through JSTOR. Amazing resource.

Keith

March 17, 2009 at 9:21 am
(51) Vinnie Vescio says:

Hi Kris,
Why are you so hung up about having to do a re-write on what we thought the history of the Americas is(was). Isn’t that counter productive…the world isn’t flat, the planets revolve around the sun…sure there have always been people immigrating to North America but not all indigenous people believe their people migrated here from another continent.

Thanks for listening,
Vinnie

March 17, 2009 at 9:34 am
(52) Kris Hirst says:

I’m not hung up on it at all. Just saying, this is what we have to look at before we can accept the 50,000 date. The data we have are what they are, like it or not, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t as simple as “oops! I guess we were wrong”. It took quite a while (~20 years) for us to reconcile what we understood about the colonization of the Americas when Monte Verde forced the issue. And that was only a few thousand years more than 12,900 bp.

You have to give the establishment new hard data and time to reconcile all the pieces. Right now the preponderance of data shows the 50,000 date is not reconcilable with what we understand, but as I (and you) say–you never know. We’ve been wrong before.

Kris

March 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm
(53) Tay says:

Vinnie,

You’ll note that she states directly the fundamental flaw in the establishment’s approach, without realizing it.

“You have to give the establishment new hard data and time to reconcile all the pieces. Right now the preponderance of data shows the 50,000 date is not reconcilable with what we understand, but as I (and you) say–you never know.”

She’s putting the understanding as superior to the data, when in fact the understanding should be inferior to but based on ALL the data, not a preponderance. So obviously the understanding is flawed.

But since the establishment believes in evolution, it has to apply that to the understanding, in order to be consistent. It has to SLOWLY change over time.

Sad.

Tay

April 16, 2009 at 3:54 pm
(54) rick doninger says:

Kris, i just tracked back to read the latest on the preclovis stuff and was surprised a bit at the latest comments. Still no comments in/re to my and mark corbitts what if. Once again, neandertal lithic tech is now very well established. Mousterian tools are very recognizable when found in context with neandertal remains. Lavellois tech is unique and the tools that result are very unambiguous when cores are present with the flake and blade tools, even the cores are clearly identifiable and unique to the makers. Mousterian points are never mistaken for any known paleoindian makers in north america just as clovis points are not confused with any other type. We know about the clovis tool INDUSTRY because sites such as Gault have provided enough tools for and assemblage large enough to identify an obvious INDUSTRY. When a clovis point is found on the surface of the ground, do we doubt it’s age because there is no stratigraphic date to accompany the find? When a clovis site is revealed due to erosion or construction excavation, aren’t the archaeologists quick to stop said construction to preserve any prehistoric artifacts and data the clovis lithics may provide. Why? Because clovis is a technology that is now unambiguous and easily identified as are the tools of the neandertal. So, once again Kris, IF an assemblage of stone tools large enough to clearly see an industry should be found, and said industry consisted of hundreds or thousands of unambiguous tools in a style unique to neandertals, would you not think that they would at least merit an honest look by those who claim to be so interested in our earliest inhabitants? Now to constitute an industry you have to have enough tools to see that there was a predetermined process to produce like tools repeatedly, obviously designed for specific purposes such as the case with clovis points. This has not been the case with Topper or some of the other proposed preclovis sites. As has been previously stated they lack a “coherent set of artifacts”. I don’t know about the artifacts found in the sites such as Calico, or Lake Mannix, as I have not seen but a few photos, But if there are lithics being found that are clearly of a known technique such as lavellois, then those who pride themselves on their scholarly diciplines should be eager to investigate and those who claim to have such artifacts should be eager to provide them for examination and analysis. Kris, let’s hear your take on such a history changing possibility.

April 23, 2009 at 11:45 am
(55) mark corbitt says:

anyone interested in seeing levallois technology from the deep south go to the website Artifactsguide.com,look under the heading “learning center”and go to the sub-heading “For charles ray and other paleo-fanatics-edgefield”. Levallois points and cores are clearly displayed.email me at md74@bellsouth.net if you need more info.Mark

August 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm
(56) dan says:

Archeologists need to look at things from the mormon perspective. They say Adam and Eve were created and lived in Missouri. Maybe there you will find your answer. If the Americas were populated first and the Mormons were right all along, then you should probably know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.

October 4, 2010 at 1:28 pm
(57) Charles says:

People like Rick need to gain more knowledge and increased exposure to artifacts from all cultures, regions and time periods. A lot of “mousterian” artifacts are very similar if not identical to those found in other cultures, regions and time periods.

October 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm
(58) Charles says:

“When a clovis point is found on the surface of the ground, do we doubt it’s age because there is no stratigraphic date to accompany the find?:

If it’s a bona-fide, fluted Clovis or some other very distinctive form, no…because nothing in any other time period looks like a 5″ fluted to the tip Cumberland or a 3″ enterline fluted Folsom. However, there are many later lanceolate points that are misidentified as Clovis because they’re “close enough”. Non-notched lanceolate points made a ‘come-back’ in the Woodland period in North America, several thousand years after paleo times. Same with Levalloisian. It appeared in several places at different times because it was a technology, a methodology and it was NOT indivisible from Mousterian culture. That’s the plain hard facts that you “Way Before Clovis” adherents can’t or won’t seem to wrap your minds around.

February 11, 2011 at 8:37 pm
(59) Archaeologist says:

The fact is that a reputable geoarchaeologist has examined, in person, the supposed “hearth” from which the 50K radiocarbon date came.

Her conclusion: *not* a hearth, but is likely the remains of a tree burn.

The issue at Topper is that as yet there has been no systematic study of the supposed pre-Clovis tools and virtually nothing has been published. Instead a select few examples are carried around and showed off at meetings.

Most actual lithicists who’ve looked at Goodyear’s materials doubt that the majority of them are tools. The very few examples that do appear to be tools are practically lost in the noise of “bend break” tools and other fanciful “tools”. Artifacts can move up and down in a column, folks, and when you have one or two definitive tools out of dozens or hundreds of unlikely prospects, it’s logical to consider the possibility that they derived from movement from above, from a distinctly cultural stratum.

What is done at Topper is not science. In science, you don’t pick your reviewers, selectively choose your evidence, or bury the findings of those who disagree with you or who come to conclusions different from what you wanted to hear. These non-science things are all being done actively by those who are “in charge” at Topper.

Of course “pre-Clovis” exists. We already have definitive evidence that Clovis was not the first lithic tool type in the Americas. But these ridiculous conspiracy theories about “vested interests” are the biggest load of hogwash. None of us has any vested interest in burying (no pun intended) the possibility of pre-Clovis. See, in real science, we welcome the evidence. And to date, that evidence from Topper is scant at best.

And the behavior of those who are running the site has contributed to the second of two superlatives that describe it:

1) Best Clovis site in the eastern US
2) Biggest joke

March 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm
(60) Forrest Loftis says:

Two points: One: Conventional wisdom is nearly always proven wrong by new data which was unaccepted when discovered. Two: I was told by a professor of acheology that,” It is absolutely certain there were no humans in North America before 13,00 BP.” I can’t conceive of such arrogance. I guess is my entire life study and career were based on such an assumption, I would resist anything proving me wrong. I suggest that what we think we know is miniscule compared to what will surface.

April 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm
(61) ALWilkins says:

Perhaps it just means what we Indians have been attempting to tell you all along. Human Beings originated on these continents first,then moved along over into Europe much later,and your cherrie picking which evidence you like best because you dont want to admit it.

April 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm
(62) ALWikins says:

Oh,and thank you all for the mabny excellent comments on this site ,i read through many of them and quite a few links of much interest,soagian thank you all. http://www.humanoriginsolved.com/book/Holocene%20Back%20Migration.pdf

March 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm
(63) Chrystal Powers, M.D, Ph.D, Ed.D. says:

Why are all the afrocentric people who speak freely of Clovis culture so reluctant to speak of Sandia?

Where the world headquarters of Burger King Corporation now stands on the Cutler Ridge formation south of Miami, pot shards and human remains were uncovered in the early 1970′s; the human remains, a partial femur and pelvis fragment, were carbon 14 dated by the American Archeological Association at 20,000+ b.p, which is admittedly far shy of the 50k b.p. being claimed for the site in question. Tierra del Fuego dates to c. 28,000 b.p.

Is it more presumptuously assumptions to imagine a small clan clinging to a log and being transported transoceanic distances in the Neolithic era or to arbitrarily rule out any such possibility?

July 29, 2012 at 9:57 am
(64) Kris Hirst says:

It is with considerable irritation that I have to close off comments to this post: some idiot spammer has persisted in putting their stinking advert every night here for the past week.

If you wish to really comment on this issue, please send me an email at archaeology.guide@about.com and I’ll be happy to turn the comment field back on.

As as for you, you troublemaker, take your idiotic payday loans sales pitches elsewhere!

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