Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chesapeake Bay Spear Point Poses Puzzle

A 22,000-year-old mastodon skull and tool (a stone blade or spear point) dredged from the seafloor of the Chesapeake Bay by fishermen in 1974 is only now coming to light. The bottom of Chesapeake Bay hasn’t been dry since 14,000 years ago. The relics were found in a net, brought up from 230 feet down and 60 miles off Chesapeake Bay by a small wooden scallop trawler. The crew cut the tusk and teeth off and dropped the rest of the mastodon skull back into the Bay as it was too heavy to bring in. They split up the pieces as souvenirs and ended up donating some to the Gwynn’s Island Museum in Virginia. That’s where they were discovered by Darrin Lowery, a geologist at the University of Delaware, while he was doing his doctoral paper.
Solutream maid slays mammoth?
So it's not really the Chesapeake Bay, it's on the Atlantic Continental Shelf, through which once ran the Susquehanna River on it's way to the sea, during one of the glacial periods in which the Chesapeake Bay itself was high and dry.
Experts who back an East Coast habitation of North America by Solutreans say the time frame of the discovery backs their theories. The Solutrean culture was known to occupy a piece of Europe between present-day France and Spain. This theory says they came over and along the ice from Europe to America before the Bering Strait time frame. Their spear points were called “laurel leaf” and these experts say they pre-date the Clovis Culture and theorize the Solutreans could’ve become the Clovis Culture by creating the better hunting tools due to the large population of animals they encountered in North America. The Bering Strait theorists will have nothing to do with this, of course. They say there is no context for the discovery, as the only acceptable proof is if they were found in the same geological layer.

Clovis is one of those theories like the Sasquatch which seems to thrive on a smattering of vaguely favorable evidence every few years. It's a theory that would put Europeans in the New World before the ancestors of today's Indians. Unfortunately the only evidence for it is some stone tools which bear a resemblance to Solutrean tool culture of Europe. There's not a speck of genetic evidence that I've heard of.
The Solutrean backers point to other East Coast discoveries, such as those at Cactus Hill in Virginia and Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania. These sites may have been inhabited from 16,000 to 18,000 years ago, but of course that evidence has its own issues, say the Bering Straiters. The Monte Verde, Chile find dated at 14,800 years is the one that started off most of the debate and successive finds continue to push back dates and ignite professional arguments.
I think the evidence for pre-Clovis is pretty strong, but the evidence that they came from Europe via the sea or sea ice is non-existent. See the second story below:
The tusk was dated to 22,000 years old. The blade (a flaked blade made of a volcanic rock called rhyolite) was harder to test, but its Solutrean appearance put it at 17,000 to 22,000 years old. Glacial melting submerged the area 14,000 years ago, so the blade is at least that old. The weathered appearance of both shows open air, saltwater, then seawater exposure and matches the idea that they were on land and then submerged. Of course there’s no evidence tying the two relics together aside from being pulled up together. They could’ve come from hunting in a marsh area near the coast, or from different time frames as the sediment could’ve been mixed. Thousands of years of ocean currents means they could’ve come from anywhere.
Yes, and lightening could have struck in the middle of 8.5 Richter Scale earthquake, but it's not very probable. It's reasonable to assume that the spear point is somehow associated with the mastodon skull.

You know, with enough work, you should be able to find out where in the world that piece of rhyolite came from, using exact elemental composition.  If it was in the Old World, that would be a dynamite result. If it was New World, it would still be long way from home, as there are no volcanic rocks anywhere near the Chesapeake Bay.

And in more paleo-anthropological news, the Kennewick Man has been freed to help science:
. . .The mysterious Kennewick Man, who died 9,000 years ago in the Columbia River Valley, was a seal hunter who rambled far and wide with a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that never healed properly, two small dents in his skull and a bum shoulder from the repetitive stress of throwing spears. He came from somewhere far away, far up the Pacific Northwest coast, possibly Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. He might even have come to North America all the way from Asia. That’s the argument of the editors of a new, 688-page, peer-reviewed book, “Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton,” that will be published this fall by Texas A&M University Press.
Either he wasn't a popular man at home, or he was a hell of a wanderer.
“Kennewick Man could not have been a longtime resident of the area where he was found, but instead lived most of his adult life somewhere along the Northwest and North Pacific coast where marine mammals were readily available,” the concluding chapter of the book states.  “He could have been an Asian,” said co-editor Richard Jantz, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee. “One of the things we always tend to do is underestimate the mobility of early people.”
One of the things to remember is that the people who came before us were hunter/gatherers for the most part. Following animal migrations over long distances was just part of the niche. It was only after agriculture that people could afford to set in one place and watch the grass grow.
The chemical analysis of the molecular isotopes in the bones and the clues they provide to Kennewick Man’s origin are likely to be among the most heavily debated findings. The analysis suggests that Kennewick Man lived off a diet of seals and other large marine mammals and drank glacier-melt water. His wide-set body is akin to what is generally seen in cold-adapted human populations. The book includes a vintage photograph of an Inuit seal hunter on an ice floe in Alaska — a suggested analog to Kennewick Man’s lifestyle.

The dimensions of Kennewick Man’s skull most closely match those of Polynesians, specifically the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand, the scientists say. He wasn’t himself a Polynesian, however. Rather, according to the scientists, Kennewick Man and today’s Polynesians, as well as the prehistoric Jomon people and contemporary Ainu people of northern Japan, have a common ancestry among a coastal Asian population.

These were hunters of marine creatures and could have followed the edge of the ice around the northern rim of the Pacific Ocean, harvesting seals and using primitive watercraft to travel long distances, Owsley said.  “This is like a highway,” Owsley said of the coastal route of migration. “People are going from the Old World to the New World and back and forth.”

He said of Kennewick Man, “His morphology is what people look like in the Upper Paleolithic period along that whole circum-Pacific expanse.”
Just a regular guy who may have paddled from Siberia to Washington State.

When I read stories like this, I laugh a little about the worry that humanity might be at threat from warming that might (worst case) make Maryland as warm as Georgia. with a few feet of added sea level rise (it's already rising).  The people who came before us not only survived, but evolved to adapt to a world that went from heavily glaciated to the modern world with 300 ft sea level rise.

If another couple of degrees C and a few feet of sea level rise are going to make us extinct despite our new technological abilities, maybe we deserve it.

Wombat-socho has the grand "Rule 5 Sunday: Labor Day Weekend Lovelies", up at The Other McCain.

1 comment:

  1. The Clovis theory has showed up a couple this week.

    I have to go with the DNA stuff over chipped rocks...