Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Examination Confirms Pre-Clovis Dating for Washington Site

From Popular Archaeology
Mastodon Kill Site Shows Human Presence in North America Before 13,000 Years Ago
By Dan McLerran Thu, Oct 20, 2011

[Excerpted]Based on new dating results, the tip of a bone point lodged within the rib bone of a mastodon excavated in the 1970's near Manis, Washington, turns out to be about 13,800 years old, say scientists. The finding suggests that hunters who killed the mastodon likely lived in North America before the traditionally accepted dawn of the "Clovis" culture, thought previously by many scientists to be the earliest human culture established on the continent.

Dr. Carl Gustafson of Washington State University, the initial excavator of the mastodon remains more than three decades ago, concluded from radiocarbon dating of charcoal deposits around the remains that it was about 14,000 years old, a conclusion that has been a subject of considerable debate among scholarly critics.  Also controversial was his suggestion that the bone point found embedded in the rib bone was an early projectile point, similar to other bone projectile points found at other Paleo-indian sites.

The case was revisited recently when Dr. Michael Waters of Texas A and M University, along with a team of colleagues, used mass spectrometry to date carbon in samples of bone from the rib, a pair of tusks found at the same site, and the embedded point. Results indicated that all of the fossils tested were about 13,800 years old. They also used high-resolution X-ray CT scanning of the embedded bone point to produce a three-dimensional visual study or image. Based on this, they determined that the point was likely at least 27 centimeters long, similar in length to those of later, Clovis-age projectile points that were used in throwing or thrusting weapons made by Paleolithic hunters of North America. Moreover, the team examined the specimen using DNA protein analysis of material from the bone point and the rib in which it was embedded. They concluded that the point itself was fashioned from mastodon bone.

"What that told us", says Waters, "was that these people [who] killed this particular (Manis) mastodon must have killed at least one other mastodon to harvest the bone to make a tool, or at least scavenged some bone from another mastodon to make a tool."

Most significantly, the findings constitute more evidence that Paleo-Indians settled the americas before 13,000 B.P.E., the earliest date that has traditionally been assigned to the emergence of the "Clovis" cultural horizon. The "Clovis" culture is originally derived from archaeological discoveries in the late 1930's at a site near Clovis, New Mexico, where a distinct bifacial, fluted stone projectile point artifact type (pictured left) was found and which became a common find among numerous archaeological sites throughout the American continent. Clovis marked the first presence of humans in North America and was considered ancestral to all Native Americans. Additionally, it has been suggested by some scientists that the hunting practices of the Clovis people may have played a salient role in the extinction of the mastodon, along with other large mammals that roamed North America.

But that theory, popularly known in the scientific world as "Clovis First", has been challenged in recent years by new finds. Among the new discoveries were those of Eske Willerslev, a key lead researcher with Waters on the Manis mastodon study. He conducted Carbon-14 dating and DNA analysis on human remains found in caves in the state of Oregon and concluded that these traces of humans in North America were approximately 14,340 years old. Maintains Willerslev, "our research now shows that other hunters were present at least 1,000 years prior to the Clovis culture. Therefore, it was not a sudden war or a quick slaughtering of the mastodons by the Clovis culture, which made the species disappear. We can now conclude that the hunt for the animals stretched out over a much longer period of time. At this time, however, we do not know if it was the man-made hunt for the mastodons, mammoths and other large animals from the so-called mega-fauna, which caused them to become extinct and disappear. Maybe the reason was something complete different, for instance the climate."

Whether or not the Oregon finds and those at Manis, Washington can be correlated in terms of a new theory on early Paleo-Indians in North America and the extinction of the mastodon, the latest research on the Manis mastodon does open an additional window of consideration on the presence of humans on the American continent.

Says Waters, "We're looking at another pre-Clovis locality in North America where, in this case, bone weaponry was used to hunt mastodons 800 years before Clovis stone weaponry show up on the landscape."

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