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Bye Bye, Beringia

Anthropology and Archaeology of The Americas

by Bill Jones

    One might think that Archeology sites throughout the World have produced many datable human remains. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Ancient human remains have so rarely been found that these singular findings could not be connected to others to form chronologies about human evolution.

    The scarcity of human remains to be analyzed has prevented the sciences of Anthropology and Archaeology from forming conclusions about the cultural levels of ancient humans. We try to measure the culture of a people in terms of the totality of their socially developed behavior, their arts, crafts, tools, and language. As a result of scarcity of samplings, ancient humans have been generally classified in such terms as; savages, hunter-gatherers, roving bands, etc. This is especially so for the early inhabitants of the New World. Some recent discoveries shatter that prevailing picture of the ancient people of North America.

The Windover Site at Titusville, Florida

    4,500 miles to the South and East of Beringia is the Windover Archaeology site. One of the so-called roving bands of hunters settled there to live. At Windover, more ancient human remains were discovered than the total of all others found previously in the New World, and they were the oldest. The Windover site produced the largest and oldest group of human remains, and most complete insight of an ancient culture ever found. The following quoted article tells of some astounding findings there. The following article was originally published on May 16, 1996 by The News Herald (Panama City, Florida), and is reprinted here with permission:

Archaeology finds new picture of Paleo Indians
 By: Robert Suriano, Florida Today

    Melbourne -- Food was plentiful in the lush land that was Broward County 8,000 years ago, making life good for the people who buried their dead in a shallow pond near Titusville. They walked the ground between the site of today's Walt Disney World and the Space Coast, hunting white-tailed deer and bobcat among the pine and oak trees. They fished for bass and sunfish or scooped up turtles, frogs, and snakes. Their primary job -- filling their stomachs -- took only about two hours each day, leaving plenty of time for making jewelry from bones and seeds or weaving clothing from the leaves of sabal palm.
    That is a richly detailed picture that continues to emerge today of the Paleo-Indians, whose watery burial ground was discovered in 1982 during construction of a housing project off State road 405. Known worldwide as the Windover Archaeological Site, more than a decade of research from that dig is challenging previous notions about these people of the distant past.
    "They enjoyed a good lifestyle, said Glen Doran, the Florida State University archaeologist who oversaw the Windover excavation that lasted from 1984 to 1986. "Life was a little easier than it even may have been a few thousand years later. You had a a lot of different resources packed pretty densely into this area within a few kilometers walk in any direction. Clearly, this was a good place to be."
    And so it remains for Fran and William Hinson and child, 12 year old Hilary, who play in the yard that borders the burial site, now a National Historic Landmark.
    "I was intrigued with their level of civilization," she said. "They exhibited a civilization far beyond what had been previously believed that ancient Indians in North America and Florida would have shown."
    The Windover site, named for the sprawling rural housing development that surrounds it, bore archaeological treasures that amazed experts with their quality and quantity.
        *Skeletal remains of 169 people, split almost evenly between males and females, ranging from 6 to 70 years old.  About 75 of the skeletons were relatively intact.
        *90 intact human brains that include the oldest DNA samples in the World.
        *Artifacts of wood, bone, and seed that were made into jewelry and tools, providing insight into the ancient peoples' lives.
        *Tests showed the oldest skeletons were buried 8,100 years ago. The youngest was placed in the ground 6,900 years ago.
    "To put this into context," Doran said, "these people had already been dead for 3,000 or 4,000 years before the first stones were laid for the Egyptian pyramids!"
    They were lean and robust, most likely a copper-skinned people. The tallest man stood 5 feet and 6 inches tall. The average woman was 5 feet and 2 inches.
    Like all people of their time, about 6,000 BC, they kept moving in a yearly pattern that followed the most ample sources of food. For this group that meant walking the land between the St Johns River and the Ocean.
    They had risen above the subsistence level, giving them time to do things not typically associated with early people.
    But they were not free from human hostility. The remains of a 29 year old male show a deep wound in the buttocks, probably caused by an antler. The injury is such that Doran thinks it was caused by a human wielding the antler in anger. He says that the wound is counter to previously stated views of these people as passive.
    Most of the other skeletal remains showed signs of long festering infections that likely brought natural deaths during a time before antibiotics and medicine. But overall, the group appeared to be healthy. They had triumphed over the rigors of daily life.
    "Relative to a lot of other populations at this time period, these folks were relatively well off." Doran said. A sign of their wealth is the cloth that was found among the bodies, the oldest cloth ever found in the Western hemisphere.
    "This cloth will set the example," Doran said. It is rare that fabric textiles even 1,000 years old are preserved in the United States."
    *All told, 87 cloth fragments from an estimated 67 complete items were recovered from the dig. The cloth was made from the leaves of sabal palm. The pieces reveal five different methods of fabric making, all without benefit of a loom. Even so, some fabrics are woven as tightly as a cotton T-shirt. Others are made more loosely twined into blankets, capes, and toga-like garments.
    *Some skeletons were found with especially fine cloth, suggesting some of the dead enjoyed a special status, but not necessarily a society of kings and paupers.
    "In all likelihood, they had a egalitarian society." said James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archeological Institute in Erie, PA. The institute is overseeing the chemical preservation of the cloth.
    In addition to the cloth, artifacts of bone and wood were found among some of the skeletons. They include a wooden pestle and a paddle, perhaps used to pound plant fibers for weaving; a small hammer, needles made from deer antler, and the bones of manatees, rabbits, and fish.
    If the number and quality of skeletal remains at the site caught the attention of archaeologists, an added discovery in 1984 caused great excitement.
    *They found one skull that contained a soft, greasy, lard like substance. Doran scooped the material out and stored it in the refrigerator of his Cocoa apartment before sending it to a laboratory for chemical analysis. He guessed that it could be anything from slime mold to brain tissue.
    "Organic matter," was the laboratory analysis. The material had decayed too much for the tests to determine whether it was human brain tissue.
    A second chance came in December. Archaeologists found another skull with the substance inside. This time they sent the entire skull to the University of Florida laboratory in Gainesville, where molecular biologist, William Hauswirth and his colleagues were waiting.
    Instead of spooning out the material. Hauswirth removed the rear portion of the skull and tilted it. A shrunken but intact human brain slid out! Over time, the organ had lost mass and its tissue had mixed with peat, but the softball-sized matter was clearly a brain.
    *By the end of the excavation, 91 brains were recovered. Ninety of them, minus the first that was not salvaged, are stored in the pathology freezer at Sands Hospital in Gainesville.
    Although brain tissue has been discovered before, this was the first time that intact human brains had been preserved. Even while the bodies' other soft tissues deteriorated, the brains were secure in the safest place in the body, the skull.
    "The crania is well designed to protect your brain while you are living," Doran said. "The end result is that it protects it when your are dead too."
    The brains hold a frozen gold mine of genetic information in the form of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid. While Doran said he thinks older human DNA has been recovered elsewhere in the World, so much of the genetic material never has been isolated from a single group of people.
    Hauswirth said it contains genetic markers, or specific segments of DNA that are affiliated with one small subset of modern American Indians. This suggests that the Windover people did not reproduce with people from other groups, a finding that again challenges previous assumptions.

A New Culture Model for the Ancients

    The primary significance of Windover is the seeming sophisticated culture of these people who lived there 8,100 years ago and before. Windover dates an advanced culture in North America that precedes any previously discovered anywhere else in the World. Their egalitarian culture paints a new picture of ancient people of the Americas. Until now, the model of ancient peoples pictured roving bands of hunters, grunting semi-savages, having no culture to speak of. Of course, the 4,700 BP pyramid builders of Egypt had advanced further in terms of architectural achievements and they had pictograph symbols to convey meaning, but they came along 3,400 years after the Windover people. Windover revealed a culture of people in the New World, twice as old as the Egyptian culture. Of course, there are artful paintings of animals and symbols in caves that are attributed to the Neanderthals, but little else to associate with Culture.

    Now we know that 8,000 years ago, the Windover people wove fine cloth.; They buried their dead ceremonially. They cared for each other; by indulging and taking care of the handicapped. And they adorned the bodies of their dead with fine clothing, placing them in special positions that were spiritual to them, and things that would be useful in an after life were buried with them.

    Logic places them in Florida for quite some time before they buried their dead in that peat bog. How long?; 1000 years? 5000? Could the ancestors of the Windover people have been the Clovis of New Mexico 11,000 years ago? Time, distance, and logic says not. The Windover people might be the ancestors of the Seminoles. They might be related to other Paleo Indian cultures of North America, past and present. There is sufficient human DNA to find out. The ancient human DNA is of such quality as to allow genetic cloning, or to make comparisons with present living ethnic groups, or to test kinship with other ancient peoples. But the latter would require usable DNA, and this treasure trove seems to be the oldest group of human DNA ever found anywhere in the World. Also, the artifacts collection has an abundance of the oldest fabrics ever found in the Western hemisphere... 8,000 year old cloth woven as fine as in a cotton t-shirt! At first it was thought that the clothing was hand woven, but that does seem to be possible. They must have used some sort of apparatus, a loom, to weave such fine cloth.

    Now we will move on to some other Archaeology sites and times.

A Table of Archaeology Discoveries
*Indicates actual human remains found and dated
Site and place
Time before Present (BP)
*The Pyramids
4,700 (a base line)
Eastern United States
*Olmec Pyramids
*The Windover People
Titusville, Florida
*Kennewick Man
Washington State
Old Crow Site
Old Crow, Yukon
Bluefish Caves
Old Crow, Yukon
Cactus Hill
Manix Basin
Monte Verde
New Mexico
Gypsum Cave
Sandia Culture
New Mexico
New Mexico
*The Ice Man
Italian Alps

Early Human Species

Neanderthal                           200,000 to 35,000 BP
*Cro Magnon                          32,000
Modern Man (Homo Sapien) 50,000 BP to Present

    Of course, this table represents only a few  archaeology sites that have produced provable times of ancient human life, and one should not discount the dates of the ones that did not produce actual human remains. Other evidence at many of the sites are compelling and in such abundance that the dates are not arguable .

    The theory goes that in Europe,  Modern man overlapped both the Neanderthal and the Cro Magnon species during a brief 18,000 years span. This overlap period, 50,000 to 32,000 years BP, could become more significant as archaeology sites in the Americas produce more dated evidence. Archaeology of the New World is beginning to push closer to the theoretical time lines of these three species of early man.   If the Old Crow site, or any other, should date 27,000 years, then the question will emerge; "Were the people Neanderthal, Homo Sapien, or a separate New World specie?"

    How does all of this relate to the Arctic Northern Region?  Well, we have that pesky theory.. that the New World was devoid of human life until the Ice Age came.

    The Beringia Theory:   A land bridge (Beringia) between Siberia and Alaska was exposed by a lowering of the World's sea levels.  Then roving bands of Asian hunters crossed the land bridge into Alaska.  These roving bands then followed the animals East and Southward to populate the central Continent, and thence into Central and South America.  This theory has held up for nearly a century and has been defended quite vigorously, until recently.

Beringia and the Clovis People-- Two Dependent Paradigms

    The Clovis theory proposes that they were the first humans to arrive in The New World.  Human life did not exist in the New World before.  Clovis sites dating range between 10,000 and 11,500 years before present.  (Archaeology uses the word paradigm to mean a theory that is held until disproven.)

    "Pre-clovis" is a term that Archaeology circles are using widely now. Its meaning is diametrically opposed  to the theory that the Americas were populated by Asian bands of hunters that crossed the Beringia land bridge. That is, if there were pre-clovis people, then their ancestors could not have crossed Beringia from Asia.

    At least three Archaeology sites within the Americas have produced evidence of human life that date before the time when the Beringia Land Bridge was exposed for transit into North America. Evidence at Meadowcroft places humans there 19,600 BP. The Old Crow sites suggest 20,000 BP, and the Monte Verde site suggests 14,500 BP. One sample of charcoal at the Old Crow sites dated 25,000 BP, but was said later not to be charcoal. There are two sites near Old Crow. One is named Old Crow and the other Bluefish Caves. Old Crow is a Gwich'in village on the Porcupine River above the Arctic Circle in the Yukon Territory. This remote area is replete with ancient artifacts. Preliminary artifacts dating there range between 12,000 and 27,000 years BP. If the latter date, 27,000 BP, is confirmed, it will become the oldest archaeology of the New World. Although much older claims of New World human existence have been made by many archaeologists in the past, their findings were discounted by others.

    Suffice it to say that site datings at Meadowcroft, Manix Basin, and Monte Verde have already shattered the Clovis and Beringia theories, and these dates confirm the presence of humans in place in the Americas before Beringia was exposed for transit.

    Bye bye Beringia! Clovis now becomes just one group of New World people, probably the predominant group of that time period, but not the first or only.

Have Biases Deterred New World Archaeology?

    Of course, and there is no doubt about! We could blame some early Archaeologists for being wrong, but they are all dead. The science of Archaeology did not begin until the early 18th Century. That is not very far back in history. Until the 17th Century, the Papacy was the World's authority about the genesis of the World and its inhabitants. By decrees of the Papacy, the beginning of the Earth was set at 3500 BC. God created the world about that time (in 7 days). Then God created man. So the first bias about Archaeology was religion based. Anyone who might come up with a different theory would face the crime of heresy, and could suffer various forms of punishment, including execution, depending upon which of the old world countries he lived in. All countries of Europe were kingdoms and each had a strong attachment to the Papacy. Kings depended upon Papacy support, and they could not hold their crowns without it. Religions of the World still cling to Creationism, and they might be right, at least partially. If so, the time of the World's beginning was too far in the past for our comprehension.

    Today, archaeology is so broad based that little if any bias can exist. There are many archaeology associations and institutes comprised of individual members, mostly professors, who come together in conferences. At times these independent associations produce written papers that are released to public domain. These archaeology associations form a loose and self policing body politic of the science.

    Archaeology is purified by these professional associations. They work both independently and together to scrutinize each other's scientific analysis of site works and methods of dating. Some individual archaeologists take it upon themselves to argue against the veracity of other's works, which creates rifts within the profession. It all comes down to meticulous testing and documentation to back up the findings at each site.

    Important archaeology sites, such as Windover, Meadowcroft, Bluefish Caves, and Monte Verde, might produce an abundance of new science, but the findings may not be fully digested by the archaeology community as a whole. This seems to be the case of the Windover and Meadowcroft site works. A rich and important group of new findings seems to have escaped major notice and the important science developed there may not ever be fully integrated into the mosaic of new world archaeology. Monte Verde for example, is far away in Chile, and the expense of full and continued participation by a college in that exploration would be prohibitive. The Arctic slopes of Alaska and Canada are a wide and rich source of ancient artifacts of human life, but the expense of conducting detailed research there is also prohibitive. Submerged wet sites are the most expensive of all to explore. Wet sites are also the most promising for finding preserved human DNA. There are many known wet sites that are awaiting funding to explore. These short comings are just the nature of an un-regulated and largely un-funded science. And few would believe that science should be regulated.

    Europeans have their Neanderthals and Cro Magnon ancestors to study. The New World has a much wider variety of ancient people to study. So far though, no archaeology organization has ventured to propose that ancient New World people may have been a separate specie of humans than any in the Old World, or that a specie of humans might have originated, in place, in the Americas. While evidence has not been produced to support such provocative ideas both are possibilities to explore.

    Future generations deserve to know the ancient history of their lands.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author, Bill Jones. This article is copyright ©2000-2011 by Bill Jones.