"Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast"
I've loaded a pdf version of my 2016 SEAC presentation "Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast" onto my Academia.edu page (you can also access a copy here). Other than a few minor alterations to complete the citations and adjust the slides to get rid of the animations, it's what I presented at the meetings last Friday. I tend to use slides as prompts for speaking, so some of the information that I tried to convey isn't directly represented on the slides. There's enough there that you can get a pretty good idea, I hope, of what I was going for.
I've spent the last several hours doing my prep for Monday's Forbidden Archaeology class. Following an introduction to the topic of pre-Columbian transoceanic contact last week (mostly an overview of the historic, political, social, and scientific debate about the "mound builders"), we'll be jumping in by discussing two classic cases of inscribed stones: the Newark Holy Stones (1860) and the Bat Creek Stone (1889).
It's been fun reviewing these two cases. In my opinion, neither is strong evidence for anything "real" other than late 1800's hoaxery. Their historic contexts are interesting, as are the differences in the motivations of the hoaxers. Both the Newark Holy Stones and the Bat Creek Stone still have their share of fans, but apparently there's some tension over what exactly the stones mean.
Brad Lepper and Jeff Gill have written extensively about the Newark Holy Stones, a pair of stone artifacts inscribed with Hebrew lettering purportedly "discovered" in southern Ohio earthen mounds. Lepper argues that the stones were created in attempt to show that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were related to Old World peoples as known in the Bible, thereby undermining the polygenist framework that was being used to justify slavery. After the first stone (the Keystone) "found" by David Wyrick didn't pass the sniff test of those who examined it, he miraculously found another soon after (the Decalogue Stone).Thousands of person-hours of careful excavation on Ohio Mound by people other than Wyrick has failed to produce any more ancient Hebrew artifacts. Brad Lepper, however, did succeed in finding an illustration that may have been the source of design that Wyrick used for the Decalogue Stone.
To me, the most interesting thing about the Newark case is that the hoaxer (presumably Wyrick) was apparently attempted to "humanize" Native American populations by bringing them into a Biblical framework, rather than de-legitimize them by providing evidence that others built the mounds.
The tale of the Bat Creek Stone is, in some ways, even stranger. The Tennessee stone, described as engraved with "letters of the Cherokee alphabet) appeared in the famed Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1894). Cyrus Thomas argued that the Cherokee were responsible for building the mounds of Tennessee and North Carolina, and Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas argue in this 2004 paper that the man who "found" the stone was probably trying to make his boss happy. Mainfort and Kwas suggest that Thomas realized the stone was a fake after it had been published, explaining why no-one really talked about it for the next 70 years. The Bat Creek Stone was resurrected from obscurity when Henriette Mertz realized the engraving looked like a Semetic alphabet if you turned it over. In the early 1970's, Cyrus Gordon confirmed that the engraving was Paleo-Hebrew, and the Bat Creek Stone was back. Mainfort and Kwas found an 1870 illustration that likely served as a source for the inscription, but, of course, that hasn't convinced everyone.
The original contexts of these two cases appear to be quite different. In one, the artifacts were apparently planted to produce evidence that Native Americans were tied to the history of the Old World. In the other, the artifact was apparently produced to attempt to tie the construction of mounds to a specific Native American group.
Both cases were discussed in the (2010) documentary Lost Civilizations of North America (you can watch the tralier here and read a 2011 critique by Brad Lepper et al. here). Conservative political commentator, conspiracy theorist, and Mormon Glenn Beck took up the cause of the Newark Holy Stones and the Bat Creek Stone in this 2010 rant. The stones were taken up on America Unearthed in 2013 and 2014 and, not surprisingly, accepted as authentic with no reservations. That garnered some high fives in 2012 from various Mormon organizations searching for evidence of ancient Israelite migrations to the New World. Apparently, however, America Unearthed left the Mormons hanging by not embracing the authority of The Book of Mormon or even acknowledging it exists. This 2015 "America Revealed" spoof video is worth watching for several reasons.
It's been a long day, mostly spent driving. This time I'm en route from Detroit, MI, to Columbia, SC. The main goal is to get me and the truck back home, but (again thanks to my wife) there's some extra time built into the journey. I was on I-75 for most of the day and am now in an Econo Lodge in an undisclosed location in eastern Tennessee with some KFC and beer. I'll skip over my stories about the new Against Me! song and sob story hustlers at a rest stop in Kentucky and get to the most interesting part of the day: an awesome technological artifact on display at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The XB-70A Valkyrie
If you're interested in military aviation history but you've never been to the USAF museum in Dayton, Ohio, you owe to yourself to get there at some point. As the official museum of the Air Force, they have access to a lot of unique aircraft that you just can't see anywhere else. I made my second visit today, specifically to visit the newly-opened fourth building housing the only XB-70 in the world. The "X" designation is given to aircraft that are experimental.
The XB-70 is a captivating aircraft: graceful, powerful, and unlike anything else that was every built (well, with the exception of the Soviet's attempt to copy the design). It was the result of a perceived need in the 1950's for a long range heavy bomber to deliver nuclear weapons from an altitude and with a speed that would make it immune to being intercepted. The B-70 program was killed by the double whammy of the development of ICBMs (inter-continental missles could deliver nuclear warheads more efficiently than manned aircraft) and the development of increasingly effective surface-to-air missle technology that could bring down even high altitude aircraft. Although the bomber program was killed, two XB-70's were built as research aircraft. They flew from 1964 to 1969, one being destroyed in an accident in 1966. You can read about the development and history of the XB-70 on Wikipedia. This video also tells the story.
I've been fascinated by photos of the XB-70 since I was a little kid and it was a thrill to see it in person (I was delighted to find that many other unique experimental aircraft that I'd only ever seen in pictures were also on display in the new building -- really amazing). As a technological artifact, this vehicle marks the endpoint of the evolutionary trend of bombers going faster and higher. It was designed to fly at Mach 3 with a ceiling of 70,000-80,000 feet (depending on the source). Just over sixty years after the Wright brothers first flew their aircraft a total of distance of 120 feet at about 6.8 mph, humans had produced a flying machine that could surf through the stratosphere on its own shockwave at three times the speed of sound.
The chess game of military aviation took design in new directions after the 1950's, leaving the B-70 as a design that was strangely both ahead of its time but also obsolete. The B-52 (which the B-70 was supposed to replace) is still in service, and emphasis is on producing bombers that can fly low (such as the B-1B) and/or use stealth technology (such as the B-2) to avoid radar detection. The newly announced B-21 is a stealthy, sub-sonic design that aims to evade detection rather than outfly it.
I think the phenomenon of advanced "orphan" designs like the XB-70, produced at the very edges of technology but also not terribly useful, may be more common than we might guess. Technologies change, and once common ways of doing things often persist in niche roles. The "survivors" however, are not the most developed expression of a technology. I had a 1987 Dodge Colt, for example, that had a very complicated feedback carburetor. Fuel injection has replaced carburetors in automobiles, but carburetors are still used in numerous other applications. But neither my chainsaw nor my lawnmower has a feedback carburetor like the one on a 1987 Dodge Colt. I can think of other examples. The most "advanced" examples of technology occur not at the end of a technological tradition, perhaps, but at the "peak" of its use. Just a thought.
Tomorrow I'm hoping to see a perpetual motion machine from the Civil War. It's going to be hard to top finally getting to see the XB-70.
Here are a few additional photos I took of experimental aircraft on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Here is a map of building four showing the locations of the aircraft. Many of the "X planes" on this list are present.
The XF-85, a small jet aircraft that was used to explore the practicality of "parasite fighters" that could be carried to defend large bombers such as the B-36. The plane would be dropped from the bomber to fend off enemy fighters then recovered back into the bomber via the large hook on the front. Once mid-air refueling became possible, the "parasite fighter" idea was scrapped.
Lockheed YF-12. The well-known SR-71 was developed from this aircraft, originally designed as a Mach 3 interceptor that would be used to protect the continental U.S. from Russian nuclear bombers. As that perceived need diminished in the late 1960's, the interceptor program was cancelled. The derived SR-71 continued to be used as a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
If you’re like me, there’s always some part of your brain that is thinking about hunter-gatherers. Sometimes when I’m at work the percentage can get as high as 95 percent. Most of the time it’s lower, of course, but it never gets down to zero. I’m always on duty.
Yes, I just said that with a straight face. And yet I'm a surprisingly poor poker player.
One of the interesting things about the hunter-gatherer archaeology of the Eastern Woodlands is that, for some chunks of early Holocene prehistory, some aspects of material culture appear to be amazingly uniform across vast regions of space. An Early Archaic “Kirk Horizon” (dating to about 8,800-6,600 BC) is marked by a distribution of Kirk Corner Notched points that extends north-south from the southern Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and east-west from the Mississippi corridor to the Atlantic. That's a big area.
And not only does this initial "horizon" emerge in the context of what by all appearances are very thinly distributed, highly mobile hunter-gatherer populations, but projectile points styles seem to change in lockstep across this same region of North America for at least some time after. How can we explain this? Although lithic raw material data suggest that Kirk groups were highly mobile (e.g., see this paper) the area of the "horizon" is much too large for it to be the product of a single group of people: the hunter-gatherers discarding Kirk points in Ontario are not the same individuals as those discarding Kirk points in Florida.
But that doesn't mean they weren't part of the same society. We can define a "society" as a population defined by the existence of social ties among and between groups and individuals. Ethnographic hunter-gatherers have numerous mechanisms for creating and maintaining social ties (e.g., marriage, exchange, group flux, periodic aggregation), and there is no reason to suspect that all of those same behaviors were not utilized to knit together the social fabric of early Holocene hunter-gatherers in the Eastern Woodlands. Maintaining social ties that extend beyond "over the horizon" may be especially important to high mobility hunter-gatherers operating at low population densities, as such ties allow local populations to gather information about large areas of the landscape.
So maybe the apparent uniformity of lithic style that we recognize as the Kirk "horizon" emerged as simply the unintentional product of the presence of a continuous, "open" social network that stretched across the Eastern Woodlands. That's a logical possibility. Demonstrating that such an explanation is plausible, however, is a multi-faceted problem.
First, you need data that actually let you characterize the degree of variability in the Kirk Corner Notched cluster and how that variability breaks down with regard to space (and raw material use). Given how widespread Kirk is, that's a big job. But it's a doable job with the right commitment: Kirk points are common and fairly easy to recognize (they really are remarkably similar in different parts of the east, at least the ones I've looked at). I started working on assembling a Kirk dataset from the Midwest as part of my dissertation work and grant work while I was at IPFW. I'm going to continue that work down south: I've applied for some grant money to start working on inventorying and collecting data from a large collection of points from Allendale County, South Carolina, and there are numerous other existing collections available. My plan is to create 3D models of the points as I analyze them, which will aid in both morphometric analysis and data sharing. I don't think I'll have to create the whole Kirk database myself (see this post about 3D modeling of points from the Hardaway site in North Carolina).
Second, it's a modeling problem. How much interaction across a social landscape the size of the eastern United States would be required to produce and maintain the degree of stylistic uniformity that we see? You can't answer that without a model that lets you understand how patterns of social interaction might affect patterns of artifact variability (run-of-the-mill equation-based cultural transmission models won't cut it, either, because they typically don't take spatially-structured interaction into account). I started to try to tackle that question in my dissertation and with some other modeling work. The simple assumption that the degree of homogeneity would be proportional to the degree of interaction is probably wrong: network theory suggests to me that a nonlinear relationship is more likely (a small degree of interaction can produce a large degree of homogeneity).
Finally, circling back to the beginning of the post, we need to have some understanding of environmental variability across the Eastern Woodlands and the implications of that variability in terms of the hunter-gatherer societies that dealt with it. While there are some environmental commonalities in terms of plants and animals that help unify the Eastern Woodlands as a single macro region (and a “culture area” throughout prehistory), it's obviously not all the same. Seasonal differences in the weather would not only affect human behaviors directly, but indirectly through their effects on primary game species such as white-tailed deer. I'm not a deer hunter or a wildlife biologist, but the contrasts between the modern deer-hunting practices and laws in Midwestern states (e.g., Ohio, Michigan, Indiana) and in South Carolina are striking in terms of the length of season, the bag limits, etc. While I'm sure that modern history, culture, and land-use play some role in these differences, I would be very surprised to find that environmental differences don't contribute significantly to the amount of hunting that deer populations can bear in these different regions.
Significant differences in the density and behaviors of deer populations would have had implications for the hunter-gatherer populations that exploited them, perhaps especially during the Fall and Winter. I would guess that variability in deer populations and behavior vary continuously across the Eastern Woodlands along with other aspects of environment (temperature, mast production, etc.). Different strategies, perhaps involving patterns of seasonal mobility and aggregation, would have surely been required in the far north and far south of the region. Whatever the components of those differences, however, they were apparently not sufficient to produce hunter-gatherer societies that were disconnected on the macro level during the Early Archaic period. It may be the case, in fact, that differences in seasonality across the region, in a context of low population densities, actually encouraged rather than discouraged the creation of an "open" social network that resulted in the emergence of the Kirk Horizon. Later on in the Archaic we do indeed see a regionalization of material culture that makes the Midwest look different from the Southeast.
Whatever the characteristics of their larger social networks (and smaller social units within those networks), those Early Archaic societies provided a foundation for much of the Eastern Woodlands prehistory that follows. It's going to require theory-building and a lot of data from a large area to understand it. We need some kind of Kirk Manhattan Project.
Since I started making a concerted effort to engage with fringe notions about the human past last November, I've learned a lot. I've learned that strategies for successfully communicating ideas on the internet are very different from those with which most academics are familiar. I've learned that there are people out there who are genuinely interested in exploring ideas and are open to considering evidence that may run counter to the most "exciting" or "mysterious" interpretations. And I've learned that there are plenty of people out there who, despite their repeated statements to the contrary, have no interest in actually discovering the "truth." These are the snake oil salesmen and the ideologues, motivated by money, religion, and/or perhaps even pathology. It isn't always obvious where people are coming from, how best to communicate with them, or if constructive dialog is even possible.
Sometimes, though, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly.
Fritz Zimmerman, author of The Nephilim Chronicles and self-proclaimed "antiquities preservationist," has decided that the professional archaeological community is keeping the world from seeing whatever "truth" he is attempting to uncover. One of his remedies is to publish a book that he markets by saying it reveals the locations of sensitive archaeological sites that professional archaeologists don't want you to know about. (One of his webpages, for example, states "There is one burial mound at the park, but the DNR won't tell you where it is....but I will" next to the ad for his book - sounds like a pretty serious scholar, right?). He has found a sympathetic ear in treasure hunter J. Hutton Pulitzer, author of numerous books that purport to share "SECRETS and TECHNIQUES that make it possible for people to find lost history and treasure." If you don't see the irony here, you've probably already stopped reading.
In a recent exchange I had with Zimmerman on Facebook, he stated that
"It won't be long before the American people discover that university archaeologists are little more than a criminal organization based on outdated theories, deception and lies."
Now, as a professional archaeologist, that hurts my feelings. I've been doing archaeology now for about twenty years, and I don't recall ever sitting down with a cabal of other archaeologists and plotting about how we were going to suppress the truth with our outdated theories, deception, and lies. We discuss our outdated theories all the time, of course, and that discussion sometimes involves beer. In those cases, the lies and deception we perpetrate are aimed at each other rather than the American people at large. Sometimes bailing on the group before the check arrives is involved, but that's about as egregious as the misbehavior gets.
Zimmerman's statement about the criminality of academic archaeology came after I commented on a Facebook post by Pulitzer. Pulitzer had reposted the 2012 story of Jim Vieira's talk being removed from TEDx with the proclamation "SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE: This is how the academia are suppressing our Hidden History. This is a sad sad sad state of affairs." Pulitzer, fresh off his TV appearances on The Curse of Oak Island, has been trying to drum up enthusiasm for his exploits by doing a series of audio interviews that he says showcase the "raging debate" about prehistory centered around "the Copper Culture" (I wrote about one of those interviews here; I have not listened to most of them). He says he wants to explore "all sides" of whatever this raging debate is supposedly about (I still haven't figured that part out, as he seems to throw everything including the kitchen sink into the "Copper Culture"), but if you pay attention it's pretty obvious that objectivity isn't really part of the equation. When I saw all the capital letters in his post about the suppression of Jim Vieira, I thought maybe World War III had broken out. And you know it's serious when you use "sad" three times in a row. Anyway, I basically told Pulitzer he was being silly and it was no wonder he had a hard time finding professional archaeologists to interview (he had invited me previously but I had declined). That brought out some giant enthusiasts, and we were off and running with the "but there's thousands of accounts" argument (again), and then Zimmerman, apparently also feeling suppressed, piped up with his commentary.
In addition to the obvious practical love affair one might expect between a person who wants to sell site locations and a person who writes books about how to find buried treasure, Zimmerman and Pulitzer share the common bond of not understanding how science works. That emerges clearly in this interview when they discuss their disdain for academic archaeology (about 13:00 in):
Pulitzer: "What they're talking about in peer review is ten guys just like themselves, who have the same exact degrees, who have the same exact theory. You write all your paper out, you present it to your peers to review. Well, if you do anything that is against the system, anything which is against the status quo, anything against what those degrees taught you it was, not only do they edit it, but in most times you have self-identified yourself as a rebel. And what happens is you get run out of town, you don't get your tenure, you're made into a laughing stock. So peer review is not to assure quality, as much as I believe peer review is actually to hide the smoking guns. And if you are so adamant about coming out about hidden history and forbidden truth, you're actually committing professional suicide if you're willing to talk about it. Do you agree, Fritz?"
Zimmerman: "Absolutely. You know, I liken it to the 15th and 16th century Church and it is why we are in the Dark Ages of history in North America."
According to these two (and many others who believe in giants, alien encounters with the ancient world, unicorns, a flat Earth, Bigfoot, etc.), there is some kind of "truth" out there, known but hidden by scientists, waiting to be revealed by someone courageous enough to do it: it's up to those outside of academia to really figure out what's going on and to somehow work around these obstacles that science has erected in their path. To heighten the drama of this particular battle in the war with the academic elites, the description of the interview loudly announces the existence of SECRET ARCHIVES that hold the "historic smoking guns." As best I can tell, those secret archives are the county history section of the Allen County Public Library where Zimmerman did his research (it is clear from the interview that Pulitzer does not really even know what county histories are - here's a description). Apparently there's a Dunkin' Donuts inside the library now, which is new since I lived in Fort Wayne.
Anyway, this conspiracy of academic archaeologists to suppress the truth comes as news to me, as does Pulitzer's revelation about how peer review actually works. Maybe the other scientists are shutting me out because I let my secret society membership dues lapse.
Zimmerman and Pulitzer aren't the only ones frustrated with science. But they're frustrated for the wrong reasons. As a scientist, I can tell you that there is a human component to all scientific work. Science isn't perfectly efficient. Sometimes it takes longer than it should, for example, for an incorrect idea to be discarded because egos, personalities, or institutional inertia get in the way. But incorrect ideas are eventually discarded, not arbitrarily but because they can be shown to be incorrect. The ability to falsify something (to show that it's wrong) is central to how science works: that's what lets us sort the plausible ideas from the implausible ones; that's what makes science cumulative; that's why we know more about the way the world works today than we did several hundred years ago. And despite what Zimmerman says, we know vastly more about prehistory now than we did a century ago. Watching ideas being proven wrong is watching science in action: it's a demonstration that science works, not evidence that it doesn't. In the classes I teach, I tell my students that each of them could probably outscore Aristotle on a basic quiz about the natural world covering physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy . . . That doesn't mean they're smarter than Aristotle, it just means they have the benefit of 500 years of scientific inquiry that he did not have. There has been an amazing increase in our knowledge that didn't come about by scientists conspiring to hide "the truth."
And there's no doubt that today's peer-review process isn't perfect and could use some fixing (here's an article in The Economist discussing that issue; here's another in Slate). But the imperfections in how science is done are not the reasons why Zimmerman's ideas are not accepted (or even entertained) by mainstream science. Speaking for myself, I can give you two better reasons.
The first reason is plainly obvious when you look at his work: it doesn't meet even the lowest standards for presentation of evidence. Pointing out all the errors and misrepresentations Zimmerman makes in his written work, his spoken words, and on his various websites would be a full-time occupation. His online material is one of the most tabloid attempts at giantology you can find, and that's saying something. He freely mixes and matches photos of skeletons and snippets of old newspaper accounts with apparently zero regard for what actually belongs together. Apparently it doesn't matter? You just put "Nephilim" into the headline and slap a picture of some skull on there and voila, you've got yourself a "smoking gun." I own a copy of The Nephilim Chronicles but I honestly haven't read much of it - the errors are so frequent that I found it difficult even to get started (I looked at his coverage of "double rows of teeth" back when I started this adventure, but haven't revisited the book since). Who knows - maybe there are actually some good ideas in there somewhere, or at least something testable.
The second reason is more serious than sloppiness. In the audio interview (starting about 16:00 in), Zimmerman and Pulitzer spend time agreeing with one another that the government's attempts to protect information about the locations of earthworks (and other sensitive archaeological sites which contain human remains and artifacts that are prized by looters because of their monetary value) are a bad thing. Gee, imagine that: a treasure hunter and a fringe theorist coming together to support the endangerment of irreplaceable cultural resources and burial grounds for their own immediate monetary gain. Shocking.
Why won't government officials let Fritz Zimmerman into their site files? That's easy: because it is part of their jobs, by law, to manage and protect information about the locations of archaeological sites that may be harmed if their locations were publicly known. While you listen to Zimmerman and Pulitzer's forbidden history conspiracy tantrum, you should familiarize yourself with Section 304 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. That section reads as follows (bold added):
(a) Authority to Withhold from Disclosure.-The head of a Federal agency or other public official receiving grant assistance pursuant to this Act, after consultation with the Secretary, shall withhold from disclosure to the public, information about the location, character, or ownership of a historic resource if the Secretary and the agency determine that disclosure may-
(1) cause a significant invasion of privacy;
(2) risk harm to the historic resource; or
(3) impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners.
(b) Access Determination.-When the head of a Federal agency or other public official has determined that information should be withheld from the public pursuant to subsection (a), the Secretary, in consultation with such Federal agency head or official, shall determine who may have access to the information for the purpose of carrying out this Act.
Records of archaeological site locations maintained by state and federal governments are not public records in the same sense as marriage licenses kept at the courthouse. No-one, neither me nor an "antiquities preservationist" such as Fritz Zimmerman, can walk into a State Archaeologist's office and get access to the site files for no good reason. In fact, archaeological site locations are specifically exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under 16 U.S.C. § 470hh.
The rationale in limiting access to archaeological site records is simple and has nothing to do with concealing a "hidden truth:" it lessens the potential that sites will be looted by people illicitly seeking artifacts or other remains for monetary gain (e.g., treasure hunters). Zimmerman knows that the goal of not putting site locations into the public domain is to protect them from looting, but seems more concerned with positioning himself as someone who is pulling the veil from the "hidden history" that those of us in the professional community are trying to suppress. His goal is to sell books and to sell himself as a liberator. As is obvious from some of his material online, he understands that his willingness to disclose site locations is probably the biggest selling point of his books ("the DNR won't tell you where it is....but I will"). Are those books aimed at serious students of prehistory, do you think? Is this a person whose ideas anyone should take seriously? If he's accusing professional archaeologists of conspiring to keep him from facilitating the pillaging of archaeological sites for things to sell on eBay, I'm on board with being part of that conspiracy. Count me in.
I'm constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my best strategies for engaging with all kinds of people and ideas online. It's been a learning experience. As far as the dynamic duo of Zimmerman and Pulitzer . . . I think I've seen enough. As I mentioned above, Pulitzer has invited me to be interviewed (and to repost one of my blog posts on his site) and I have declined. I know that by doing that I'm losing out on an opportunity to communicate to a different audience than those who read my blog. But I also know that my refusal means I'm not participating in creating content that is designed to draw people to a website that promotes treasure hunting under the guise of "truth." Everything I've seen from Pulitzer so far leads me to believe that joining him in the "debate" and "search for truth" would be a game of charades. He is running a bush-league circus of disinformation. So . . . thanks, but I'm going to pass on this one.
PS: To my archaeology friends in the Midwest (especially Indiana and Ohio): please be aware of Zimmerman's activities. I do not believe he is acting responsibly and I do not believe he has the best interests of the resources at heart. I was a bit conflicted about writing this post because I didn't want to bring any additional attention to his books, but after thinking about it I concluded that anyone who is interested in using his books for illicit and/or unethical activities probably already knows about them. Conversely, I'm guessing that many professional archaeologists in the Midwest were not aware of Zimmerman and Pulitzer. So now you are. I hope some good comes of that.
Update (5/7/2015): The "TreasureForce Commander" is upset with me.
Yet another reason why I love this topic: I stumbled across this song by the band Rasputina while doing some poking around for information on yet another giants-related program activities tangent.
It's awesome and you should listen to it.
I have no idea what this band is or what the backstory to this song is, but it is called "Holocaust of Giants," and it's set in Ohio and features double rows of teeth.
Here is a live version from Cleveland. Here is another from a performance in Detroit. Detroit is better.
So there you go: my shortest blog post. You're welcome.
Data from "Functional and Stylistic Variability in Paleoindian and Early Archaic Projectile Points from Midcontinental North America"
I have added an Excel file of the basic dataset for my 2013 paper in North American Archaeologist to the "Data" section of the website. The file contains basic information on provenience (county), UTMs (county center), typological category, and morphometric data for the 1,771 Paleoindian and Early Archaic projectile points that I used in that study. Like the 2014 AENA paper, the NAA paper was produced from a portion of the analysis in my dissertation.
The samples I used for the morphometric analysis in my dissertation and in the NAA paper were identical, so the data in the Excel file are also in the appendices of my dissertation. I'm hoping that providing the data in an electronic format will save someone a great deal of time doing data entry, and will encourage the use of the dataset that took me who-in-the-hell-knows-how-many hours and miles to collect, compile, and produce. The measurements used, as well as the procedures for taking them, are defined in the paper and in my dissertation.
The ultimate goal of the two analyses (raw material and morphometric) was to produce a quantitative description of the apparent sequence of material culture change from homogenous (Early Paleoindian) --> regionalized (Late Paleoindian) --> homogenous (Early Archaic) that characterizes the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the Midcontinent. A quantitative description allowed an "apples to apples" comparison with data from model experiments, providing a basis for evaluating some alternative scenarios explaining the regionalization as a result of various changes in social network structure. As the time to my defense was ticking away, I had to sacrifice some of the modeling work in order to get finished. I was able to draw some conclusions, but a satisfying analysis of the "social boundary" question is still in the future. Once I get set up at my new job I'll be able to restart the modeling work, add data from the southeast to my dataset, and reboot on the question of the social networks of early hunter-gatherers in eastern North America.
Data From "Changing Scales of Lithic Raw Material Transport Among Early Hunter-Gatherers in Midcontinental North America"
I am a proponent of openly sharing information, and one of my purposes in creating this website was to create a way that I could make available data from own papers and research projects. I realized when I recently paid my bill for the site that it has been a year and I have yet to post any data. So I'm starting now.
I have added an Excel file of the basic dataset for my recent paper in Archaeology of Eastern North America to the "Data" section of the website. The file contains basic information on provenience (county), UTMs (county center), raw material, and typological category for the 926 projectile points that I used in that study. The AENA paper was produced from a portion of the analysis in my dissertation.
Giants, “Mound Builders,” and mastodons have been entangled with one another in several strange ways since at least the mid-1800s. In a previous post, I wrote about one well-documented instance of a mastodon skeleton being misinterpreted and misrepresented as that of a giant human. Another example is discussion of the often-repeated quote from Abraham Lincoln about "that extinct species of giant," which often centers on whether the reference to "giant" was intended to refer to the bones of dead mastodons and mammoths or to the bones of dead human giants.
In this post, I’m going to discuss two more instances – one historical and one current – where mastodons and “Mound Builders” are mingled.
The historical one (the ideas of Frederick Larkin) illustrates some of the imaginative thinking that flourished in the 19th century in a relative vacuum of temporal control over archaeological and paleontological information. The current one (the ideas of Joe Taylor) illustrates the willful disregard of almost everything we’ve learned about time in the past century. Both relate to the question of who built the mounds, enclosures, and other earthen monuments of eastern North America.
That question was answered long ago: it was indigenous Native Americans. This was established to the satisfaction of most scholars with the publication of the Bureau of American Ethnology’s (BAE) Annual Report of 1894. While our understanding about how, when, and why these earthworks were constructed has been significantly refined over the last century, no direct evidence has surfaced which suggests that the main conclusion of the BAE report was incorrect. The earthworks of eastern North America were built by and for Native American societies.
The notion that Native Americans could not have built the large and/or complex earthen structures dotting the landscape has a long history in this country that continues to this day. The 19th century question of the identity of the “Mound Builders” had a distinct racial component, with many Euroamerican observers unwilling to accept the idea that earthworks were built by the ancestors of the indigenous peoples that they had recently exterminated or forcibly removed from the region.
I suspect that, once I have my database assembled and cleaned up, I will be able to demonstrate a connection between the frequency of reporting of “giant” skeletons from the earthworks of eastern North America and the historical trajectory of the “Mound Builder” controversy. Many (though not all) of those 19th and early 20th century newspaper accounts of large skeletons employ the language of race and make explicit statements about the identity of the skeletons that can be understood in the context of the debate about the existence of a pre-Native American people/race/civilization that built the earthworks.
The current resurgent interest in giants is clearly connected to a revitalization of the myth of the “Mound Builder.” The articulation between current “research” on giants and the “Mound Builder” myth is made obvious through the "Stone Builders, Mound Builders and the Giants of North America" website of Jim and Bill Vieira and the content of their program Search for the Lost Giants. Here is a blog post by archaeologist Stephen Mrozowski explaining his view of what that program is about.
More about that later. Let’s get to the mastodon connections.
The American mastodon (Mammut americanum) was a cousin of the elephant that lived in North America for several million years during the Pliocene and Pleistocene. Mastodons became extinct as modern environments emerged after the last Ice Age: the youngest mastodon I am aware of dates to about 10,700 BC. Environmental change and human predation probably contributed to the demise of the species, though the relative importance of these factors is a subject of a debate.
What did mastodons have to do with "Mound Builders?" In reality, nothing.
Frederick Larkin’s Domesticated Mastodons
Our first case comes from the 19th century.
Frederick Larkin, a consort of T. Apoleon Cheney in the exploration of various earthworks in New York (including the Conewango Mound), thought that the “Mound Builders” of eastern North America had used domesticated mastodons in their construction activities. He did not believe in giants. Like many giant enthusiasts (and ancient alien theorists), however, he didn’t think the earthworks could have been built by normal humans. In his sole publication, Ancient Man in America (1880), Larkin wrote:
“My theory that the pre-historic races used, to some extent, the great American elephant, or mastodon, I believe is new and no doubt will be considered visionary by many readers and more especially by prominent archaeologists. Finding the form of an elephant engraved upon a copper relic some six inches long and four wide, in a mound on the Red House Creek, in the year 1854 and represented in harness with a sort of breast-collar with tugs reaching past the hips, first led me to adopt that theory. That the great beast was contemporary with the mound builders is conceded by all, and also that his bones and those of his master are crumbling together in the ground.” (preface)
“From the shores of Lake Superior we can trace this people to Wisconsin, where we find some singular earthworks: six effigies of animals, six parallelograms, one circle, and one effigy of the human figure. These tumuli extend for the distance of half a mile along the trail. What the animals represent in effigy is difficult to determine. Many at the present time suppose that the mastodon is one, and that he was a favorite animal and perhaps used as a beast of burden. That the mastodon was contemporary with the mound-builders is now an undisputed fact. It is a wonder, and has been since the great mounds have been discovered, how such immense works could have been built by human hands. To me it is not difficult to believe that those people tamed that monster of the forest and made him a willing slave to their superior intellectual power. If such was the case, we can imagine that tremendous teams have been driven to and fro in the vicinity of their great works, tearing up trees by the roots, or marching with armies into the field of battle amidst showers of poisoned arrows.” (page 3)
Later in the volume, Larkin further explained the rationale for his conclusion:
“I have heretofore suggested that the ancient Mound Builders were contemporary with the mastodon and that in all probability they tamed and used that powerful beast to haul heavy burdens. As I stand almost alone, in relation to that theory, I will give my evidence for such a belief. It is a fact admitted by all familiar with pre-historic discoveries that the bones of the mastodon and those of the Mound Builders are found in the same localities, and in about the same state of preservation; also in and around their great works, stones are frequently discovered with animals engraved upon them which are supposed to represent that animal. The copper relic, formerly referred to, found on the Allegany River with the form of an elephant engraved upon it, represented in harness, first attracted my attention to that subject. If the ancient people in North America tamed that great beast it is very likely that the inhabitants of South America done the same thing.” (pg 141)
“When we consider the magnificent works built by these ancient people it looks impossible that they could have been built by no other than human labor. The great mound at Cahokia, Illinois, is estimated to cover twenty millions of cubic feet of earth, which was all brought from a distance. Now, it would take one thousand men nearly twenty years to perform the labor which was bestowed upon building of that one tumulus, and when we consider that that is but one of about sixty other structures by which it is surrounded, one thousand men could not have performed the great labor in the days and years allotted to human life.” (pg. 143)
Given what was known about the paleontology, geology, and human prehistory of eastern North America in 1880, we should cut Larkin some slack. The idea that global cooling cycles (i.e., Ice Ages) had occurred and affected the environment was relatively new, and estimates for the age of the Earth varied from the short (i.e., ~6000 year) time frames supplied through biblical calculations to ages in the tens to hundreds of millions of years calculated based on the Earth’s temperature (Thomson) and the size of the sun (von Helmholtz). Radiometric dating techniques allowing the ages of geological deposits, Pleistocene fauna, and archaeological deposits to be estimated in absolute terms were still decades away. In other words, assuming that humans and mastodons were contemporary in eastern North America was not such a crazy thought – it was in fact correct. But we now know that mastodons went extinct thousands of years before the earliest known North American mounds were built (about 3500 BC or so).
Joe Taylor’s Amazing Fifteen Foot Mound-Building Mastodon Skinners
Speaking in 2012, Joe Taylor (promoter of the 47” femur) deserves much less slack than Larkin for his ridiculous statement about the relationships between mastodons and “Mound Builders.” In this interview (about 24:00 minutes in), Taylor says the following:
“I’ve got the Burning Tree mastodon here that was skinned. I’ve got the skeleton – a cast of it – and I lived with that thing for five months so I know it pretty well. That thing was skinned. If you figure an elephant hide weighs around 2000 pounds, you have to do some tall explaining to say why would the Indians as we know them have skinned that thing. But if you know that Ohio, at Newark, where this mastodon came from, was called the Mound City . . . and if you know that in some of those mounds in Ohio there were men ten feet tall found, and others nine feet tall, now you begin to see that well, maybe if there were tribes of these men that were ten, twelve feet tall, and like the Pawnee said they were fifteen feet tall, well a half dozen or so of those guys could look at this mastodon who’s been injured and standing over there in a pool, well they’d just wait till he died and skin him. A man twelve to fifteen feet tall could actually utilize an elephant hide for armor or clothes or whatever. So I think the Burning Tree mastodon indicates that there giant men living in Ohio.”
So there you have it: according to Joe Taylor, giant Mound Builders skinned the Burning Tree mastodon. The alert listener will notice that the giants in Taylor’s story grew from ten feet to fifteen feet tall in less than two minutes. We’re lucky it was a short segment of the interview: if it had gone on for ten more minutes they would have broken the 60 foot threshold and someone would have to make a new version of that chart that’s all over the internet comparing the different skeleton sizes.
Taylor is correct that there is evidence of butchery on the Burning Tree mastodon. Everything else he says, however, is wrong. The authors of the analysis (Fisher et al. 1994:51) make the following conclusion:
“. . . the Burning Tree mastodon died elsewhere and was disarticulated and to some extent defleshed before being transported to and submerged in the pond. The patterning of marks on the bones indicates a deliberate strategy of carcass reduction involving symmetrical treatment of paired anatomical regions. The occurrence of bones in three discrete concentrations composed of anatomically unrelated units indicates intentional emplacement. The excellent preservation of bone, the presence of articulated skeletal units, and the presence of a section of the mastodon’s intestine containing viable enteric bacteria indicate that the carcass units were submerged in the pond shortly after the death of the mastodon. This constellation of factors is most parsimoniously explained by Paleoindian butchery and subaqueous caching of the mastodon’s carcass.”
The mastodon didn’t die in the pond – disarticulated parts of it were dragged there after death. And it wasn’t just skinned – it was butchered. The Burning Tree mastodon is securely dated to around 11,400 BC, many thousands of years too early to have anything to do with the Woodland period cultures that constructed the earthworks in the same vicinity. Elephants were butchered by Paleoindians (and possibly earlier peoples) in eastern North America, and were also butchered in other parts of the world during the Pleistocene. The idea that only giant humans could butcher an elephant is silly. Here is a video showing a bunch of modern people using knives to butcher an elephant carcass. None of the persons appears to be a giant. They do use a tractor at one point to turn the carcass over, but I’m sure that there are ways to process the entire carcass that don’t require an internal combustion engine.
I’m not sure how Taylor justifies completely ignoring the dating of the Burning Tree mastodon – maybe it’s because he believes the earth is only 6000 years old and therefore all information from radiocarbon dating is meaningless? The Mt. Blanco website states that the presence of living bacteria in the stomach contents of the mastodon means it couldn't be as old as the radiocarbon dates indicate. I'm not a bacteria specialist, but apparently being in a state of dormancy for a few thousand (or million) years is not a big deal for bacteria.
For whatever reason, Taylor seems to be willfully embracing the fundamental lack of temporal information that handicapped Larkin. In Larkin’s case, the lack of temporal control was due to an actual lack of information, causing him to equate proximity in space with equivalence in time. In Taylor’s case, however, there is no excuse. You have to squeeze your eyes shut really hard these days to make the same mistake Larkin did.
Taylor’s interpretation of the Burning Tree mastodon is illuminating for just that reason. There is a determined blindness at the core of the entire revitalization of the “Mound Builder” myth. In order to presume that there was such a thing as a single “Mound Builder” race or culture, you have to disregard a century of scientific archaeology and consciously flatten time in a way that hasn’t been remotely defensible since the dawn of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s. It is reasonable to ask why so many giantologists seem so willing to put those blinders on and so resolved to resuscitate an inherently racist idea that was discredited over a hundred years ago.
Fisher, Daniel C., Bradley T. Lepper, and Paul E. Hooge. 1994. "Evidence for Butchery of the Burning Tree Mastodon." In The First Discovery of America, edited by William S. Dancey, pp. 43-57. The Ohio Archaeological Council, Columbus, Ohio.
In his book A Tradition of Giants (available here), Ross Hamilton presents his conclusions about the presence of “double rows of teeth” in large skeletons from Ohio and elsewhere. Spoiler alert: none of the accounts of Ohio skeletons presented by Hamilton actually describes an individual with multiple, concentric rows of teeth.
Hamilton (2007:18-19) writes:
“The trait of double rows of teeth may date this Ohio mound (below) to a very early period, perhaps early or pre-Adena. This now rare dental condition can be found with some frequency in the early reports. It is in modern races a rare and recessive trait.
The remarkable feature of these remains was they had double teeth in front as well as in back of the mouth and in both upper and lower jaws. (Seneca Township, Noble County, Ohio)
Such teeth were always associated with extra-large frames, and these people may have had a connection to a segment of the military Adena or their Archaic predecessors the Ohio Allegheny people who, in accord with Indian tradition, also boasted members of very large stature.”
Hamilton goes on to give three more examples of “double rows of teeth” in this section, including the skeleton from Deerfield, Massachusetts, that I discussed several days ago. He also provides an account from Medina County, Ohio, in support of the Adena giant soldier with “double rows of teeth” idea (pp. 92-94) and several accounts that he says describe cannibalistic giants with “double rows of teeth” from New York. Hamilton (2005:115) weaves these various accounts into a cultural-historical timeline, tracking the “possible movement of the double-rows-of-teeth giant Lenape warrior class from extreme northern Ohio to the east, becoming the Stonish giants.”
Hamilton’s interpretation is built on, among other things, the idea that “double rows of teeth” is a distinctive genetic condition (see above) that can be used to discern relationships among populations. That assumption is not at all justifiable when these accounts are considered in their historic context. As I have discussed here and in reference to “giant” skeletons from Ellensburg, Washington, northern New Mexico, and Deerfield, Massachusetts, the phrase “double teeth all around” was commonly used in nineteenth century America to describe a set of teeth that, because of their worn state, appeared to consist entirely of “double teeth” aka molars.
"Double teeth all around" does not mean "double rows of teeth." If you don't believe me, go to the Library of Congress and search for the phrase in its archive of historic newspapers and see what stories come up. They won't all be about giant skeletons. You’ll find cases where the phrase is used to describe living individuals (and not just those with “extra large frames,” as Hamilton [2005:19] assures us). Go a little crazy and search for "double teeth," also. It might surprise you.
Having “double teeth all around” is a result of tooth wear, not genetics. It was worthy of mention in these 19th century accounts because it was not a wear pattern that was typical of most individuals living at the time. That does not make it a mystery, however, or something supernatural.
Back the Ohio accounts. Let’s look at three that Hamilton (2007) highlights:
Noble County, Ohio
Here is the text of the account from Noble County, Ohio (Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes, Noble County, Ohio, pp. 350-351, available here) [428 in my database]:
Huge Skeletons.—In Seneca township was opened, in 1872, one of the numerous Indian mounds that abound in the neighborhood. This particular one was locally known as the "Bates" mound. Upon being dug into it was found to contain a few broken pieces of earthenware, a lot of flint-heads and one or two stone implements and the remains of three skeletons, whose size would indicate they measured in life at least eight feet in height. The remarkable feature of these remains was they had double teeth in front as well as in back of mouth and in both upper and lower jaws. Upon exposure to the atmosphere the skeletons soon crumbled back to mother earth.
This is a simple one. Translated from the 19th century parlance, the writer of the account is remarking that the skeleton appeared to have molar/grinding teeth instead of cutting teeth (incisors and canines). This was a common interpretation in skeletal human remains (and in living humans) when the front teeth were highly worn. There is no “double row of teeth” here.
Lawrence County, Ohio
Here is the text of the 1892 account published in the Ironton Register (May 5, 1892) [I have not yet gotten an original copy of this one, so I’m assuming it was reproduced accurately by Hamilton; I do not know how much of the story this passage constitutes]:
Where Proctorville now stands was one day part of a well paved city, but I think the greater part of it is now in the Ohio river. Only a few mounds, there; one of which was near the C. Wilgus mansion and contained a skeleton of a very large person, all double teeth, and sound, in a jaw bone that would go over the jaw with the flesh on, of a large man; the common burying ground was well filled with skeletons at a depth of about 6 feet. Part of the pavement was of boulder stone and part of well preserved brick.
This one is also fairly simple. Again, once you understand that a “double tooth” is a molar tooth, it is clear that the writer is describing a skeleton with “double teeth all around:” a dentition filled with well-worn teeth that appear to be molars.
Medina County, Ohio
Here is the text of the account from Medina County, Ohio (History of Medina County, Ohio, 1881, p. 21; available here) [424 in my database]:
In digging the cellar of the house, nine human skeletons were found, and, like such specimens from other ancient mounds of the country, they showed that the Mound Builders were men of large stature. The skeletons were not found lying in such a manner as would indicate any arrangement of the bodies on the part of the entombers. In describing the tomb, Mr. Albert Harris said” It looked as if the bodies had been dumped into a ditch.” Some of them were buried deeper than others, the lower one being about seven feet below the surface. When the skeletons were found, Mr. Harris was twenty years of age, yet he states that he could put one of the skulls over his head, and let it rest upon his shoulders, while wearing a fur cap at the same time. The large size of all the bones was remarked, and the teeth were described as "double all the way round.” They were kept for a time, and then again buried by Judge Harris. At the center of the mound, and .some nine feet below the surface, was found a small monument of cobble-stones. The stones, or bowlders, composing this were regularly arranged in round Iayers, the monument being topped off with a single stone. There were about two bushels in measure of these small bowlders, and mixed with them was a quantity- of charcoal. The cobble-stones, charcoal and skeletons were the only things noticed at the turn of digging the cellar, in 1830.
This account even puts the phrase “double all the way around” in quotation marks, identifying it as a colloquialism. Like the two accounts above, this account was meant to convey that the teeth appeared to be all molars or grinding teeth, not “double rows of teeth.”
What the Giantologists Got Wrong
These three accounts from Ohio are clearly describing a state of tooth wear (that was sometimes mis-interpreted in the 19th century as the presence of molar teeth in place of cutting teeth), not a genetic condition. Hamilton’s (2007) claim that “double rows of teeth” are some kind of genetic trait that can be used to identify populations of extra-large beings or track their movements across the landscape is not supportable based on these cases. Upon this non-existent "foundation," he has assembled a complicated story that involves cannibalistic giants, population movements, and an Adena military force. Without the "double rows of teeth," what happens to this story?
There are plenty of other cases interpreted by Hamilton and others as “double rows of teeth.” We shall how many of these still appear mysterious under closer scrutiny.
As usual, please let me know if you see any errors in what I have presented here.
All views expressed in my blog posts are my own. The views of those that comment are their own. That's how it works.
I reserve the right to take down comments that I deem to be defamatory or harassing.
Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_A_White
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sick of the woo? Want to help keep honest and open dialogue about pseudo-archaeology on the internet? Please consider contributing to Woo War Two.