Photo By Wolfgang Sauber (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Years ago when I started looking into mis-placed artifacts in America, things like the Chief Joseph Tablet, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be weird if modern humans and civilization started in America and spread across the globe from here?”
The Hopis do, after all, have an historical account of the Four Worlds. After human’s emergence into the fourth world, they went out to all four directions in search of a homeland. According to the Native American elder who first told me this story, some never returned the Four Corners area, but went instead to settle other lands, other continents. This is not the only Native American story placing human origins in the Americas.
Of course I immediately dismissed the whole idea as crazy, as worthy of a good novel plot perhaps, but crazy. Why? Because the theory that humans could only have crossed the Bering Land Bridge into America between 13,000 and 16,000 years ago is a solidly established “fact.”
But is it?
For years I was intrigued by “finds” of people like Virginia Steen-McIntyre. In the 1960s she excavated the site at Hueyatlaco where she found human tools at a presumed “kill site.” The stone tools could not be dated, but the strata in which they were found was “Uranium dated” to 260,000 +/- 60,000 years ago.
Humans making and using tools in America 200,000 years ago? One discovery does not make a full-fledged theory. The tools and bone fragments could have eroded into that layer of the earth. (Think about it. A flood comes along and erodes the dirt into a deep gorge. Among the debris washed into the gorge are the remnants of a “kill site” so the tools fall into the gorge before it is covered over again.)
Still, the find does make you question…..
My interest was renewed a few months ago when Graham Hancock put out a call for information that might support his new theory about modern human origination in America. I started researching my old interest again. Maybe my crazy thought had merit after all.
That brings me to the out-of-print book I was reading last night: American Genesis: The startling new theory that the first fully modern men made their world debut in North America, by Jeffrey Goodman, Ph.D..
It is one thing to find human formed tools—it is another to find the remains of fully-modern humans.
In his book, Goodman presents not one but many finds supporting human habitation in America long before the Bering land bridge.
The Santa-Rosa fire-pit:
Did you know that radio-carbon dating only takes one back back 40,000 years because, if it is older than 40,000 years there is no more carbon-14 to measure? I didn’t.
It seems a fire-pit with a roasted wooly mammoth has been excavated in the island of Santa Rosa and the coals have no carbon-14 to date. That means the fire was over 40,000 years old. Was it an accidental fire roasting the animal? Unlikely as the pachyderm was found in a fully formed “oven” of layered wood planks and rocks. Beside the pit were flaked tools used to butcher the animal. (Goodman, 1981, pp72-73.)
Unless Bigfoot did that, I think we can safely say humans did.
So we know habitation in the Americas went back at least 40,000 years. But how much further back?
Enter Racemization dating (the technical stuff you can skip)
Amino acid racemization dating was developed by Dr. Jeffrey Bada of Scripps Institute to date very old fossils. It fell out of favor because so many factors affect the results, most of them accelerating the process of amino acid decay and, therefore give older dates.
However, when Bada applied the technique to skulls found in America, he first tested a sample of the strata near the skull and then tested the skull. When the strata, which has a known date, agrees with the skull, one can be confident in the results.
Bada also used the technique with skulls dated by Carbon-14 and got the same results as the carbon-14.
So how old are skulls In America?
And then there is the Sunnyvale Girl dated to 70,000 years ago by racemization. (Bada does say there was little material to test so the dates are not as firm as for the Del Mar and La Jolla skulls.) Sunnyvale Girl was excavated in San Jose in 1972.
But hold onto your hats there
Uranium dating by Bischoff and Rosenbauer (1981) give a date for the Sunnyvale Girl of 8300 to 9000 years ago, well within the Bering land bridge hypothesis.
Disappointed? Don’t be. It seems bones can pick-up uranium after they are buried (Bada and Finkel, 1982). So that is not conclusive, either.
Unfortunately, this is where the matter rests. Search as I did, I could find no further analysis of either the Del Mar Skull nor the Sunnyvale Girl.
But I did find this picture:
Is it my imagination—or is that the skull of a giant? Giants in America–that is another blog post altogether!
And so is Goodman’s theory that modern humans migrated out of America, not into it. Hint: the Del Mar skull maybe 70,000 years old and, according to Goodman, the oldest Old World remains of Homo Sapiens are 35,000 years old. I still have to Google that one.
Full Disclosure: Opening photo is not an American skeleton
Goodman, Jeffrey (1981). American Genesis: The startling new theory that the first fully modern men made their world debut in North America. New York: Summit Books.
Also see web addresses imbedded in the blog.