Sometimes a small archaeological discovery can tell us more than we first realize. We’re digging into the dirt of South Bristol, Ontario County, where just such a discovery is a window into our history. It’s a preview of the ongoing “Science on the Edge” lecture series at the Rochester Museum and Science Center with Ann Morton of Morton Archeological Research Services.
An in depth conversation with Chris Webster and Dr. Steven Holen, we would love to hear your thoughts regarding this topic
Dr. Steven Holen, the primary author on a letter in Nature at the end of April, 2017 detailing a site from San Diego, CA with an apparent 130,000 year old archaeological site. It’s a controversial find and we try to get into the science and figure out what’s going on and where we go from here.
Archaeologists are taking aim at a controversial study that claimed to rewrite theories about when humans first reached the Americas, one of the biggest questions in palaeoanthropology.
When researchers made the astonishing suggestion last year that early humans settled the Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought, they asked doubters to keep an open mind and consider the evidence backing their claim. But their study1, which proposed that mastodon bones from California were broken by an as-yet-unidentified group of early humans 130,000 years ago, was instantly questioned by archaeologists. Most researchers agree that humans settled the Americas around 15,000 years ago.
Nearly a year later, the sceptics are still not convinced. In a rebuttal to the work, published on 7 February in Nature2, archaeologists say that modern construction equipment better explains the mastodon bone damage than does the handiwork of ancient hominins. They present an analysis of mammoth bones from Texas that, they say, have similar-looking damage, which was caused by natural wear and tear and heavy equipment.
“It calls into question the basis for their paper,” says Joseph Ferraro at Baylor University’s Institute of Archaeology in Waco, Texas. He says his team began their critique soon after the original claims were published in Nature in April 2017.
In the original study, a team co-led by Tom Deméré, a palaeontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum in California, examined bone fragments of a mastodon (Mammut americanum), an extinct relative of elephants, that had been found during roadworks in suburban San Diego in the 1990s. Deméré and archaeologist Steven Holen at the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, contended that the remains bore telltale fractures seen in bones struck by the stone tools of early humans. No obvious stone tools or human remains were found at the site.
To rebut the mastodon claim, Ferraro’s team examined a site in Waco containing the remains of at least 26 mammoths that died about 60,000 years ago. Archaeologists have previously looked for evidence of humans at the site and found none. According to Ferraro, some of the mammoth bones were battered and broken in the same way as the bones from the San Diego site.
Ferraro thinks that construction work — some of the Waco mammoth bones were found during a building project — and natural wear can explain the similarities. One type of bone break found at both sites, a spiral fracture, has been seen as far back as the Triassic period. “A dinosaur would break a leg. It happens. There are natural processes that could reasonably explain spiral fractures,” says Ferraro.
In a response published3 alongside the critique, Deméré and his colleagues stand by their assertion, and say the resemblance between the bones from the sites is merely superficial, and that comparing the sites is not appropriate. “We’re really quite familiar with what kind of damage is caused by heavy equipment,” Deméré adds. He asks doubters to come to San Diego to look at the material in person before making a judgement.
David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, who co-wrote an earlier critique4 of the 2017 study, is glad to see other groups questioning the strength of the evidence. Meltzer says that he is open to the idea that humans reached the Americas more than 100,000 years before he thought — just not on the basis of such equivocal data.
“Given everything we know, it makes no sense,” he says. “You’re not going to flip people’s opinion 180 degrees unless you’ve got absolutely unimpeachable evidence, and this ain’t it.”
The assignment wasn’t as easy as he’d anticipated, the telegenic chef confesses before whipping up a lovely brown miche that appears far more mouth watering than the carbonized round found in the Herculaneum oven.
Sarah Parcak, ‘space archaeologist’ and winner of the 2016 TED Prize, announced on Tuesday her plan to create a citizen science platform, so users can help map antiquities sites in the Middle East and stop looting.
Global Xplorer sounds like a video game. Users log on, watch a quick tutorial, then receive a digital card with a satellite image of 400 to 2,500 square meters of ground. “Players” then scan for tombs and list what they find, earning score points as they go.
Scientists know a lot about Neandertals these days, from their hair color to their mating habits. Still, a basic mystery remains: Did they know how to start a fire? Archaeologists have long known that Neandertals, like the family pictured in this artist’s representation, used fire, but they could have merely taken advantage of naturally occurring lightning strikes and forest fires to supply the flames.