Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 2: Racism, Eugenics and When Natives Came to America
With Whitney’s death in 1896 the gloves came off and the Calaveras skull was systematically debunked and pronounced a hoax. Unfortunately it would be another 70 years before the skull could be dated independently of the stratum it might have come from. Because it was almost completely fossilized, the skull could not be radiocarbon dated, but a fluorine test conducted by the archaeologist Kenneth Oakley of the British Museum (Natural History) found it to be approximately 5,000 years old, ancient yes, but by no means 10 million years old.
The Paleolithic War
The highly publicized battle over the Calaveras skull was just the opening salvo of a rancorous war among American paleoanthropologists that raged across the hemisphere over the next half-century. The battle lines became drawn between those who believed, or were willing to accept, that Indians in America were ancient, that is present in this hemisphere at least 10,000 years ago or even 100,000 years ago (the Paleolithic era), and those who insisted that Indians had migrated here only within the past 5,000 years.
As Anthony T. Boldurian and John L. Cotter observed in their history of the early excavations in the Southwest, Clovis Revisited, the conflict was due “in part to heated arguments over what exactly constituted acceptable evidence.” The new science was still working out its methodology for determining how old artifacts might be. But a larger problem was that, “a few of anthropology’s influential elite seemed firmly opposed to an American Paleolithic.”
Thus any archaeological site that might betray a hint of antiquity became a bloody battleground fought between competing camps of scientists. From the suburbs in New Jersey to beaches in Florida, the wilderness of Canada to the Mississippi Delta, from the Pampas of Argentina to the valleys of Mexico, the war raged without mercy. To make things worse, amateurs and dilettantes scoured the land looking for fossils, often making outlandish claims. Among the professionals there were dozens of theories as to how old Indians were and where they came from, with some even proposing an American genesis.
In Europe, spectacular finds piled up one after another: the discovery of Cro-Magnon man in southern France in 1868; the cave art of Altamira, Spain, discovered in 1879; the discovery of extensive Neanderthal tools in 1880. But in America, paleoanthropology was completely paralyzed by the infighting. By 1900, the new science did not have a single discovery that had any consensus among its members.
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