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First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice…
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First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America (original 2009; edição 2010)

por David J. Meltzer

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More than 12,000 years ago, in one of the greatest triumphs of prehistory, humans colonized North America, a continent that was then truly a new world. Just when and how they did so has been one of the most perplexing and controversial questions in archaeology. This dazzling, cutting-edge synthesis, written for a wide audience by an archaeologist who has long been at the center of these debates, tells the scientific story of the first Americans: where they came from, when they arrived, and how they met the challenges of moving across the vast, unknown landscapes of Ice Age North America. David J. Meltzer pulls together the latest ideas from archaeology, geology, linguistics, skeletal biology, genetics, and other fields to trace the breakthroughs that have revolutionized our understanding in recent years. Among many other topics, he explores disputes over the hemisphere's oldest and most controversial sites and considers how the first Americans coped with changing global climates. He also confronts some radical claims: that the Americas were colonized from Europe or that a crashing comet obliterated the Pleistocene megafauna. Full of entertaining descriptions of on-site encounters, personalities, and controversies, this is a compelling behind-the-scenes account of how science is illuminating our past.… (mais)
Membro:cfelton
Título:First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America
Autores:David J. Meltzer
Informação:University of California Press (2010), Edition: 0, Paperback, 464 pages
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Etiquetas:Archaeology

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First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America por David J. Meltzer (2009)

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Excellent synthesis of what’s known about the peopling of the Americas (as of the book’s 2009 publication date, at least; the field changes rapidly). Author David Meltzer, an archaeologist at SMU, is a talented explainer and is good at covering topics outside his field but vital to understanding how the Pleistocene worked out in the New World (topics like mitochondrial DNA and major histocompatibility complexes, for example). I’ve reviewed some other books on the topic but I haven’t figured out how to make links in LibraryThing; I seem to be following the directions but nothing shows up. When I figure it out I’ll come back and insert them.
Some definitions. “Clovis” is:
* A town in New Mexico, and
* A particular style of stone projectile point (“Clovis point”), and
* The people who used that point and associated tools (“Clovis culture” or “Clovis people”), and
* An archaeological site where Clovis tools are found (“Clovis site”), and
* The time when the Clovis culture predominated (“Clovis time”)

All of these can be abbreviated as just “Clovis”; archaeologists can easily decipher what is meant but it might require a little more context for laypeople (for example, “pre-Clovis” means before the Clovis culture got established in North America, and it’s even applied to sites in South American, where there was never a Clovis culture. Thus the Monte Verde site in Chile is “pre-Clovis”, even though cultures found in Chile that are younger than Monte Verde are not “Clovis”). More or less the same is true for “Folsom”, right down to a town in New Mexico.


Meltzer starts out with a general discussion of the Late Pleistocene, including an explanation of radiocarbon dating (he does something a little different here; all the dates he uses are uncalibrated radiocarbon dates, not calibrated dates; this is documented in an endnote. His reasons are understandable; radiocarbon calibration still isn’t nailed down for the time period under consideration, and by not using calibrated dates future users of the book can convert them using whatever calibration method is current at the time. However you might have to remind yourself – especially if you are cross referencing to another work that’s using calibrated dates – the current best carbon calibration data makes Metzler’s dates for the Clovis and Folsom periods about 2000 years too young.


The next chapter discusses the climate and ecology of North America during the Late Pleistocene. Metzler is a proponent of the “ice free corridor” theory of colonization; right around 11500 BP the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets had melted back far enough to allow a land passage from ice-free Beringia to the interior of North America, but sea level hadn’t risen enough to form the Bering Strait. Thus, for about 1000 years it was possible to walk from Asia to the interior of North American without getting your feet wet in ocean water. (I note there are some very recent papers, published after this book, that argue that the “ice free corridor” wasn’t as convenient as proposed). What I hadn’t fully realized is how different the climate was. You automatically think of “Ice Age” as being cold all over, but actually the climate south of the ice sheets proper seems to have been fairly equitable. The ice was thick – miles thick at the center – and basically acted like an enormous barrier that kept true Arctic air from moving south. Thus climate models suggest colder summers and warmer winters. There was a lot more precipitation – Texas, not Minnesota, was the land of 10000 lakes (better than 25000, in fact). No Great Lakes; no Mississippi River; but an enormous lake in what’s now the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada. The flora tended to be patchy, rather than latitudinal strips like now. Finally, of course, the fauna was dramatically different. Meltzer doesn’t buy Pleistocene Overkill, but doesn’t offer a real alternative hypothesis; he does provide a list of all the mammals that went extinct (see below).


Meltzer then discusses the history of scientific ideas on how old Native Americans were. A lot of this was new to me; I’d picked up the incorrect idea that it was all smooth scientific progress. The original idea, of course, was that the Indians had disembarked from the Ark around 2500 BCE or so and got to the Western Hemisphere by undocumented means. Once the antiquity of the Earth and of humans got established – i.e., once Europeans became aware of a “Stone Age” – it was generally assumed that there would be Paleolithic artifacts and remains in the New World as well. Since there was no absolute dating method available age was inferred by the general appearance of stone tools, proximity to Pleistocene fossils, or burial beneath glacial deposits. There were a number of finds that seemed to confirm a Pleistocene human presence but all were debunked eventually (Meltzer includes an illustration of an Ohio find that would be unhesitatingly called a Paleolithic hand axe if it had been found in isolation, but which was in fact a “reject” core from a quarry used by much more recent Indians, as demonstrated by numerous other quarry discards ranging from untouched lumps of flint all the way to the pseudo-biface). This changed in 1928 when a Bison antiquus skeleton with an unequivocal stone point in situ between the ribs was excavated in Folsom, New Mexico; and when a similar site, this time with mammoth instead of extinct bison, was discovered near Clovis, New Mexico in 1933.


And there things stuck. Stratigraphy demonstrated that Clovis was older than Folsom, but both tool suites with their characteristic fluted points were found all over North America, east to west and north to south. When radiocarbon dating came along in the 1950s, all the Clovis sites fell within a fairly narrow range – 11.5 to 11 Kya. At the same time, glacial geology suggested the “ice free corridor” had opened at roughly the same time. This set up the standard scenario; big game hunters standing around in Beringia waiting impatiently for the last patch of ice to melt in Alberta, then sprinting through the gap to occupy the vacant continents; sort of a Pleistocene equivalent of the Oklahoma Land Rush. They left a characteristic tool set dominated by the “Clovis point”, which is apparently identical everywhere it is found from Alberta to Costa Rica (Meltzer recognizes the possibility that it was just the idea of Clovis points that spread – i.e. that preClovis people already spread across the continent quickly adopted the Clovis point rather than Clovis people quickly moving across the continent – but there’s practically no evidence for the putative preClovis (see below Monte Verde and Meadowcroft below)). The Clovis didn’t have any permanent settlements; there are a couple of Clovis sites where there are faint traces of structures – post hole molds, etc. – but they didn’t seem to stay at these very long – no more than a season. They didn’t seem to use rock shelters (see Meadowcroft below for a possible exception). They were familiar with good sources for stone – some of the sites have stone that has been traced to outcrops 400 km away; thus they either traded for it or went on long trips to collect it. Possibly as a result there are a number of caches of Clovis tools found here and there. There are two Clovis burials, a child at Anzick, Montana, and a woman at Buhl, Idaho (It’s not clear if the Buhl woman was “buried”; her remains were discovered during rock quarrying). There’s one site where they definitely killed mammoth – a whole family of them, in fact; and a couple other sites where mammoth were found with numerous Clovis points in them but no sign of butchery. There are a lot of sites where they butchered mammoth and mastodon, and a few where they butchered a now extinct bison species, without enough evidence to decide if they killed the animals or found them already dead. There are no Clovis kill or butchery sites for any other extinct Pleistocene animal – ground sloth, camel, etc.; there are a few sites when bones of still extant animals seem to be involved – turtles, big horn sheep.


There were claims for older sites here and there. I had to unlearn one of them – the Sandia Cave site in New Mexico. I’d run across this one years ago in one of my reading binges and accepted it uncritically – including the description of “Sandia Points” and a supposed “Sandia Culture”. It then dropped off my radar with no further references in anything I read, but I still had sort of a back-of-the-mind belief that there was some sort of pre-Clovis “Sandia Period”. Meltzer discusses the site in one of his sidebars; the stratigraphy had been hopelessly muddled during a very poorly conducted excavation, and some of the “Sandia Points” seem to have been altered with a bench grinder to make them look more like Solutrean points from Europe. In any event, the other supposed pre-Clovis sites didn’t seem to be outright fraud like Sandia, but they all had something questionable about them; the material used for radiocarbon dating could have been contaminated by older carbon, or the tools found with fossil bones could have somehow worked their way down through animal burrowing, or excavation practices weren’t quite right, or something.


But then one site turned up with meticulous excavation techniques by a large multidisciplinary team of acknowledged experts that nobody except cranks could deny was pre-Clovis. The problem was that site, Monte Verde, was in extreme southern Chile and it was 12.5 Kya, before the putative “ice-free” corridor had opened. This, of course, gave renewed life to the “coastal migration” theory – the pre-Clovis people had paddled down the Pacific coast in skin boats long before the ice-free corridor opened. The idea had been proposed before but dismissed; the counterargument was that the Pleistocene Pacific Coast of North America was full of calving tidewater glaciers that nobody could have bypassed. That leaves Monte Verde in limbo; everybody agrees it’s a pre-Clovis site but nobody has any good explanation for why it’s there. Monte Verde has unusual anoxic characteristics that preserved a lot of stuff that’s normally long gone at archaeological sites – flesh of mastodon and paleollama; wood, bone, and antler tools; rope; and lots of plant material (no human remains, though).


This led to another speculation about the possible pre-Clovis people; perhaps they didn’t use stone tools so most of the evidence for them has decayed? There are a few stool tools at Monte Verde; if these had been scattered on the surface rather than buried with all the other stuff, the site would have never attracted any attention. There’s a site in Alaska – Old Crow – that has lots of bone and ivory that’s been broken and “shaped” in a fashion that the site discoverers argued could only be the result of human activity, but subsequent research suggests there are plenty of natural processes that could break bone that way.


There’s another putative pre-Clovis site that’s reasonably well established – the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania, which has apparent occupation layers dated to 14.5 Kya. It’s not quite as well accepted as Monte Verde – if 99% of archaeologists accept the pre-Clovis date for Monte Verde, perhaps 75% accept Meadowcroft (that’s my own SWAG; Meltzer doesn’t hazard an estimate beyond Meadowcroft being “controversial”). The particular problems are (1) there are no other Clovis rock shelter sites. Plenty of post-Clovis ones, but none of Clovis date or with Clovis tools. (2) if the oldest radiocarbon dates for occupation are correct, the site was almost in sight of the ice edge; yet the associated faunal and flora remains indicate a temperate climate; in fact, more temperate than current climate at the location. (3) Although the site has been excavated according to accepted archaeological standards, it wasn’t dug to the extraordinary standards used at Monte Verde, and some archaeologists consider that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.


After the Clovis people, you get Folsom, who used similar if somewhat more refined tools, and which, like Clovis, occupies the entire North American continent. The mammoths were gone by then, so the Folsom people hunted Bison antiquus and other game. Then after the Folsom you suddenly – well, archaeologically suddenly – get all sorts of people. The uniform, continent-wide pattern breaks down into many localized tool sets.


Meltzer addresses ideas on where the New World population came from and how often they came. Original ideas – based on Biblical and other texts – suggested they were the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel or descendants of Prince Madoc of Wales, among others. However, based on general resemblance and proximity people quickly settled on Asia, and then Siberia by way of Beringia as more data came in. There was always a fringe that argued for Europe, based on some purported resemblance between the Solutrean tool set and some New World finds; the idea is that the Solutreans came along the North Atlantic pack ice fringe. The idea was accidently given some legs by Kennewick Man. It was originally thought the bones were a murder victim and local archaeologist who had done forensic work was allowed to examine the skull for a few hours. He decided it had “Caucasoid” features – I.e., characteristic shape of the zygomatic arch, chin and nasal cavity – but the press changed “Caucasoid” to “Caucasian”. That lead to a series of unfortunate encounters between archaeologists, Native Americans, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal courts, and Asatru pagans. Meltzer is on the side of the Native Americans for ethnicity of Kennewick Man, although he tiptoes around the repatriation issue; he was writing before DNA sequencing was done and the Kennewick bones. He’s skeptical to the point of sarcasm on the supposed ice-margin Solutrean theory.


The Greenberg language classification scheme gets discussed at length; there were, again, things I had to unlearn here. Joseph Greenberg was a high respected linguist who had worked out language “family trees” for various places; he tackled the notoriously complex American languages and concluded there were three groups – Amerind, Na-Dené, and Eskimo-Aleut – and that the ancestral speakers of those languages got to the New World in that order. I remember seeing this presented in various publications and it seemed pretty convincing at the time. The idea was eventually demolished by genetic studies; mtDNA and SRY DNA groups among Native Americans show no relation to Greenberg’s language groupings. Meltzer notes this doesn’t necessarily mean Greenberg’s language groups are incorrect – i.e., (for example) Na-Dené languages may be related, but Na-Dené language group speakers are no more genetically related than any other random pairing of Native Americans.


That brings Meltzer to the genetic data. At the time he was writing, all the work had been done (as mentioned) with mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA; he repeatedly calls for more autosomal DNA work. The data presented – I haven’t read anything contradictory more recently – is that Native American genetics are most consistent with an origin in Siberia. There is some mitochondrial DNA connected with Europe, but that’s best explained by the deep ancestral population being somewhere in Central Asia with branches that spread in both directions – some members moving toward Europe and some moving toward Siberia and eventually the New World.

There are asides on two issues peripheral to the population of the New World; Pleistocene overkill and Native American disease susceptibility. As mentioned above, Meltzer doesn’t buy Pleistocene overkill, noting that it doesn’t explain the data but doesn’t really offer an alternative explanation. The disease susceptibility discussion is interesting; Native Americans have fewer Major Histocompatibilty Complex types than Old World populations, possibly due to a “founder bottleneck” effect – i.e., the founding group of Native Americans was small and had low genetic diversity. This lack of immune system diversity made Native Americans extremely susceptible to European diseases; Meltzer concedes that data on pre-Columbian population is vague and suspect, but notes that whatever figure is correct there’s no doubt that European diseases wiped out a large fraction of the population after contact. He ties this in with something else that has been commented on in Debunkers – the first English settlers in Massachusetts and Virginia saw a landscape that they assumed was primeval and Edenic, but which in fact had a dramatically lower human population and corresponding faunal and floral changes from what had been there 100 years or so earlier when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. Meltzer had already discussed, at the very beginning of the book, how the Late Pleistocene New World geography and ecosystems were very different from what they are now.


So the whole thing, based on archaeological evidence, is still pretty mysterious:


* There were some people here in preClovis time, but the only solid evidence is at the southern tip of South America. How did they get here, where did they come from, and why isn’t there more evidence for them?

* Clovis people arrived from Beringia and in a short time had a uniform presence all over North America. Why and how did they move so fast and why was the culture apparently so uniform?


Meltzer is a talented and engaging writer; his material is well organized and well presented, with quite adequate maps, tables, and diagrams. The material is well referenced and the “Further Reading” list and bibliography are both extensive. I particularly like his willingness to show that scientific progress is full of controversy, side tracks, wrong ideas, and self-corrections; I also like his willingness to “name names” and to give both credit and criticism when it’s due (for example, he’s very critical of Paul Martin, the major proponent of the Pleistocene Overkill hypothesis, but recommends his book for further reading. Overall, I can’t find any faults with First Peoples In A New World; I only regret that it will soon be out of date in a field that changes so fast. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
Meltzer presents, discusses the reliability of, and deliberates research across numerous disciplines concerning the initial peopling of the Americas (how/when/who) - published in 2009. From constraints&benefits the landscape would have imposed/provided via glaciers (climate both macro and micro), the availability of flora/fauna/resources, and the absence of predators/competing human populations to grasping the difficulty of discovering traces of this initial (and early subsequent) habitations and accurately determining their significance.

How: taking advantage of the land bridge, Beringia, then either through an inland glacial corridor or down the Pacific coast (geography isn't terribly fluid when you zoom in).

When: accepting Beringia as the pathway narrows to 12,500ish years before present (+/- a few thousand because technology has potential), but improved accuracy could alter timelines significantly.

Who: reviewing possible links through language grouping, dental characteristics, tracing single nucleotide polymorphism (DNA mutations), and cranial variation to try and determine where/what population the early colonizers ventured from. With the exception of some of the gene work, these avenues are largely paved with shit scientists, but reinforces the absurdity of this task -- it's just too fucking long ago for current technology to assist with anything beyond speculation, hopefully the logical variety.

Largely interesting - especially the lesson on why the Native Americans lacked their own biological weapons (disease): their relatively limited domestication of animals.

"… a lineage might see the Northern Lights, note the transit of the Equatorial sun, and feel the chill winds of the southern oceans in the space of ten or fewer generations. This is its own form of success." (Beaton) ( )
  dandelionroots | Aug 5, 2017 |
A compelling and comprehensive account of current scientific knowledge about the first people to colonize the Americas that provides answers to the key questions (who, when, where, how, etc.) and reviews the evidence from archaeology, genetics, linguistics, and paleoecology. The most complete report of what is known and not known of America's discovery.
  zenosbooks | Sep 9, 2012 |
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To Florence Garner Meltzer

who arranged fro her fifteen-year-old son to

spend the summer excavating at a Paleoindian site,

and thereby started him on a career
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Wikipédia em inglês (4)

More than 12,000 years ago, in one of the greatest triumphs of prehistory, humans colonized North America, a continent that was then truly a new world. Just when and how they did so has been one of the most perplexing and controversial questions in archaeology. This dazzling, cutting-edge synthesis, written for a wide audience by an archaeologist who has long been at the center of these debates, tells the scientific story of the first Americans: where they came from, when they arrived, and how they met the challenges of moving across the vast, unknown landscapes of Ice Age North America. David J. Meltzer pulls together the latest ideas from archaeology, geology, linguistics, skeletal biology, genetics, and other fields to trace the breakthroughs that have revolutionized our understanding in recent years. Among many other topics, he explores disputes over the hemisphere's oldest and most controversial sites and considers how the first Americans coped with changing global climates. He also confronts some radical claims: that the Americas were colonized from Europe or that a crashing comet obliterated the Pleistocene megafauna. Full of entertaining descriptions of on-site encounters, personalities, and controversies, this is a compelling behind-the-scenes account of how science is illuminating our past.

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