Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 4: The Indisputable Facts in the Artifacts
In Part 3 of our exclusive series we looked at how the new science of paleoanthropology was being used in Europe while infighting paralyzed it in America when Aleš Hrdlička, stepped forward to end the disputations and promote professionalism and respectability.
By the 1920s, the Bering Strait Theory, and in particular the idea that American Indians had settled in the New World less than 5,000 years ago, had become a rigid dogma that no scientist who valued their career would dare to challenge.
In the end, it was a group of amateurs who exposed the charade. In 1908 George McJunkin, an African-American cowboy born the son of former slaves, was tending cattle at the Crowfoot Ranch near Folsom, New Mexico, when he discovered the remains of an animal that had been uncovered after a recent flood. He recognized the bones as a bison, and surmised that it was of some ancient type.
McJunkin informed a local blacksmith and amateur naturalist, Carl Schachheim, who then informed his friend and fossil hunting companion, Fred Howarth, a banker. After visiting the site, they tried repeatedly to interest paleontologists into excavating it without success. Finally, their persistence paid off in 1926, when Harold J. Cook and Jesse Dade Figgins of the Denver Museum of Natural History agreed to take a look. They quickly found, not only extinct bison, but spear points. This was a “kill site,” the results of a hunt. Since the established dogma insisted that kill sites of extinct animals did not exist, they worked very, very carefully, hoping to find something–anything–that might be conclusive.
On August 29, 1927, an ancient stone spear point was found embedded between the ribs of an extinct bison. This was clearly no accident. Recognizing the importance of the discovery, the find was left intact in the ground to be witnessed by as many eminent archaeologists as they could muster. Although he tried, Hrdlička could not reject this. The indisputable evidence had surfaced, and one glass floor had been shattered.
With the acceptance of the Folsom point, it became clear that humans were in the Americas more than 5,000 years ago. No longer hamstrung by the need to overturn dogma, a flurry of sites were discovered in the next few years which began to change the picture of ancient America. In 1932, near Clovis, New Mexico, a site was uncovered that featured the same type of spear point found at Folsom, and then digging deeper, a different and older set of spear points were found. Humans had been in America at least 10,000 years or more. It had been 68 years since the Europeans accepted the antiquity of humans, but finally, the American paleoanthropologists had joined the club.
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