Rather than write about it, I made a video to demonstrate my point:
Yesterday on my walk home I listened to another chunk of Graham Hancock's appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast. Most of what I listened to was about the new discoveries in the Amazon, which Hancock claims include large geometric earthworks (aka geoglyphs) produced by "squaring the circle." Hancock misuses/misunderstands the term (which refers to constructing a square the same area as a given circle, not just drawing a square around a circle), and consequently concludes that the societies who made the structures had advanced geometrical knowledge.
Rather than write about it, I made a video to demonstrate my point:
If you're interested in pseudoarchaeology, you probably know that Graham Hancock's new book America Before is now out. I haven't read it yet. I will probably take at stab at it at some point over the summer, but I have to face the reality that I'm just not excited.
My lack of enthusiasm stems mostly, I think, from a gut feeling that there is not a whole lot in the book that is particularly new, thought-provoking, or even interesting. The summary reviews I have read so far bear that out (you can read Jason Colavito's review here, and Carl Feagan's take here). I already knew Hancock was going to going to claim that a comet wiped out some kind of fantastical "advanced civilization" that existed during the Ice Age, and I already knew that he would try to connect his claim to the archaeology of North America in whatever ways possible. I predict anyone who has any legitimate expertise in this region of the world can see through Hancock's game in two seconds. I guess if you're blissfully ignorant maybe it all sounds very exciting . . . I wouldn't know: as someone who has been doing real archaeology in North America for 25 years now I can hear the sound of this book ringing hollow before I even crack the cover.
I listened to the first half hour of Hancock's recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience this morning on my walk to work. After opening with a book-selling pitch, Hancock discusses the Cerutti Mastodon (the 130,000-year-old remains of a mastodon near San Diego, CA, that Steven Holen and colleagues claim were modified by humans using stone tools) as an example of both the great age of the human occupation of North America and the "dogmatic" (take a drink!) approach of archaeologists to their beloved Clovis-first model. Hancock's willingness to misunderstand and/or misrepresent reality is on full display with statements like this one (about 23:30 in):
"Suddenly we have to consider that humans have been in America for 130,000 years; we already know that a dogmatic approach to archaeology has rather refused to look at anything older than 13,000 years ago. And what it does it generates an engine of demand that we need to be looking at those missing 100,000+ years. We need to be looking at it hard. Of course the immediate reaction has not been to go looking for stuff in the other hundred thousand years. Most archaeologists have responded by saying 'this is impossible -- it can't be so!'"
What a bunch of nonsense.
I'm not sure exactly how to interpret the modifier "rather," but I can tell you that there has been no "refusal" to investigate the pre-Clovis occupations of North America for decades now. But don't take my word for it, have a look at published papers on the pre-Clovis lithics from Gault site and the Debra L Friedkin site (Texas) or the pre-Clovis occupations at Page-Ladson (Florida). Or look at the landmark 1997 declaration on the antiquity of Monte Verde in Chile. Or the many other sites that have been put forward as candidates for pre-Clovis sites in the Americas.
It is my impression that there is now neither a stigma attached to nor a "dogma" (take a drink!) preventing archaeologists from looking for and investigating possible pre-Clovis sites.
Just because pre-Clovis is a legitimate thing to investigate, however, does not mean that every site that is claimed to predate Clovis has been interpreted correctly. Figuring out which ones pass the smell test and which do not is important if you want to get the story right. As I tell my students: adding more weak coffee to already weak coffee does not make strong coffee (I stole that from someone and I can't remember who -- I apologize).
So it matters what evidence you accept and use to build your narrative. I wonder, does Graham Hancock include the Calico Early Man Site (California) in his analysis of the human occupation of the Americas? The purported "artifacts" from the site have been said to date to 200,000-135,000 years ago. The materials from Calico were vetted by none other than Louis Leakey himself. If Jeffrey Goodman is correct, humans might have been at Calico as early as 500,000 years ago.
If there were people here half a million years ago, the Cerutti Mastodon is young like Tupperware. If Hancock is not aware of Calico, he really missed something. If he is aware of it, however, he presumably had some reason for not focusing on it. Perhaps he wasn't convinced by the analysis (does he know more about Paleolithic stone tools than Louis Leakey?) or maybe he was suspicious that the people doing the work misinterpreted the archaeological/geological context of the materials.
I would guess that Hancock has heard of Calico and simply chose not to focus on it (like I said, I don't have the book yet and am just going by the reviews). So . . . he's open to the idea of pre-Clovis (obviously) but doesn't automatically accept all claimed pre-Clovis sites as legitimate, even if competent people were involved?
Guess what? That's what all the rest of us do, also. When the Cerutti paper first dropped, my response was not "oh crap, does the dogma say I have to reject this?" (take a drink). No, it was this blog post. I'm just going to quote myself at length:
The 130,000 year-old date is way, way, way out there in terms of the accepted timeline for humans in the Americas. Does that mean the conclusions of the study are wrong? Of course not. And, honestly, I don't even necessarily subscribe to the often-invoked axiom that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I think ordinary, sound evidence works just fine most of the time when you're operating within a scientific framework. Small facts can kill mighty theories if you phrase your questions in the right way.
It's the evidence, stupid.
Should archaeologists shift gears and start spending their time looking at those "missing" 100,000 years? I think many of us have our eyes wide open all the time. We understand the geological and sedimentological histories of the regions where we work. We know where there are deposits that are Holocene in age, Pleistocene in age, etc. We also communicate with those in other disciplines and members of the public who are out there scouring the earth all the time. Contrary to the "total destruction" hypothesis, there are many many places where sediments that are pre-Clovis in age remain intact. Some of those sediments have been shown to contain cultural materials that presumably relate to human occupations that pre-date Clovis. Many of those sites are places of active and ongoing investigation. If successful human societies were present in this hemisphere 100,000, 50,000, or 30,000 years ago, they would have left a pattern of sites from which we could learn about them. While I think it is unlikely that such a pattern exists, I don't think it is impossible. It is going to take evidence, however, to convince me that we have really failed to recognize such large pieces missing from the puzzle as 100,000-years-worth of human occupation or the fingerprints of an advanced, telekinesis-wielding, earth-girding super civilization.
Words words words. Blah blah blah.
I didn't write a single blog post in February or March. That's probably the longest I've ever gone without writing since I started blogging. As usual, it isn't because I haven't been doing stuff. If/when my blog dies it won't be because I don't have things to talk about. It will be because I don't have time to talk about them.
Here's a taste of what's been going on over the last couple of months.
Rabbits and a Snake
Our family got bigger this spring. We now live with three German Angora Rabbits (Eileen, Dolly, and Bruce) and a corn snake (Okie Junior). There are backstories, but those will have to wait for another time. Now I need to pack up some art for a display downtown, look over my lectures for next week, siphon the gasoline out of our old 4Runner before it heads to the junkyard, and maybe take a chainsaw to what remains of our rotted deck. And, oh yeah, Happy Holi!
And now you are up-to-date.
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