John Hawks has a good writeup about the latest news on the theory put forward a couple of years ago that a comet impacted the Laurentide ice Sheets, overkilling Clovis culture, megafauna, and instigating the Younger Dryas Event to boot. The new paper by Todd Surovell et al. completely fails to replicate a key bit of support for the theory, namely that magnetic iron spherules, said to be the comet’s smoking gun, were associated with terminal Clovis stratigraphy across the Americas. Other studies have chipped away at the theory as well. I’m not an expert and it’s hard to judge the state of debate — though as Hawks notes, the paper is unusually unequivocal in its conclusions of ‘no evidence”.
I have to say, I don’t mind seeing more theories of Clovis exceptionalism shot down — it is an unusual archaeological phenomenon to be sure, but it hardly takes white-hot fallout across the Americas to bring it down. Let’s start looking at Clovis on a more human scale! Enough with the megafaunal overkill models, when the most ubiquitous fauna associated with Clovis are turtles and tortoises. Enough with the ignoring of plant remains — the Clovis Policemen’s longstanding refusal to accept Monte Verde tells us everything we need to know about their knowledge of ethnobotany. Enough with the phallocentric failure to look beyond the Clovis Point to see that the rest of lithic Clovis is pretty much a standard Upper Palaeolithic toolkit.
Thinking about that the other day, I realized that Clovis is (ironically, counter-intuitively) ripe for a post-processualist analysis. Not a critique – an analysis. Why? What makes Clovis different is style – widespread projectile point style as a sort of hyperkinetic effort to maintain social cohesion through semiotics, if you like. When something is so unusual we have to posit its arrival in a river of blood through the parting of a white sea, and then see it off with a rain of fire from heaven, surely it is time to turn it over to the school of archaeology that deals with histories, not generalities.
Surovell TA, Holliday VT, Gingerich JAM, Ketron C, Haynes CV, Jr, Hilman I, Wagner DP, Johnson E, Claeys P. 2009. An independent evaluation of the Younger Dryas extraterrestrial impact hypothesis. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA (early) doi:10.1073/pnas.0907857106 (subscription required)