22,000-Year-Old Mastodon and Tool Discovery Raise Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
The find doesn’t change any minds in the debate between the West Coast-Bering Strait experts or the East Coast-Solutrean experts, as they argue over discoveries and evidence. Discoveries along either coast are bound to push back dates, as these were the favored migration routes but they are hard to find and test. These sites encounter many other modern issues like development and rising waters.
At one point all the experts were adamant that the Bering Strait theory meant habitation could’ve only occurred at around 13,000 years. Now the date of 15,000 yeas is used often and it keeps going back. As you have read here, recent studies in linguistics and blood have been more credible at pushing back the time frame of the peopling of the Americas. No matter which camp of experts expounds on their discoveries, the original inhabitants of America know that the date will continue to keep being pushed back.
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