Paisley Cave Update

Paisley Cave human coprolite dating older than 14,000 cal BP. Source: PBS.

There is a tantalizing news item in a recent edition of Nature indicating that the team led by Dennis Jenkins has found a bone tool in the old layers at Paisley Cave in southern Oregon.  This cave already returned a number of pre-Clovis dates on human coprolites.  Although there was some vociferous opposition to this finding, a vigorous defence of these feces was mounted and to my mind was effective.  (Note that one of those claiming the human poop is actually camel poop posts a slightly hysterical online comment on this Nature news item.  This charge of excess fibre is dealt with in Gilbert et al’s 2009 rebuttal in Science, which is not mentioned in the Nature comment.  Clearly there is a new generation of data-selective Clovis Police being groomed out east.)

Anyway, this bone tool, which I assume will be published soon, is said in the Nature article to date to 14,230 cal. BP, from which I infer a 14C estimation of about 12,250 – exactly contempraneous with the poop.  According to the article,

The dating of the bone tool, and the finding that the sediments encasing it range from 11,930 to 14,480 years old, might put these questions to rest. “You couldn’t ask for better dated stratigraphy,” Jenkins told the Oregon meeting.

Seeing the tool itself will of course be very interesting and hopefully definitive, as there is a long history of bone pseudo-tools in North American archaeology.  So far this date has only been announced at an unspecified “meeting” and peer reviewed publication will be essential to form a final judgment.

You can watch a PBS news clip on the poop discovery from a link here which gives a good idea of the setting of the cave, and also includes nice footage of Luther Cressman!

Camel astragalus from Paisley Cave. Source: U of Oregon.


Dalton, Rex. 2009. Oldest American artefact unearthed: Oregon caves yield evidence of continent’s first inhabitants.  Nature: doi:10.1038/news.2009.1058.

35 responses to “Paisley Cave Update

  1. I am the author of the hysterical online comment on the Nature article. I would like to apologize for my tone but also would like to restate that we were misquoted without having had the possibility to explain our real position. I repeat: we demonstrated (and not claimed as you suggest) that one of the 14000 year old coprolite that contained human DNA is actually not human. 4 Science’s reviewers agreed with us as many other experts after the article came out (despite they answer to our comment). Most importantly we never suggested the possibility of a vegetarian diet because it is simply impossible that humans can produce herbivore-like feces (not even if herbivore and humans were eating the same grasses). In fact the digestive processes in the two species are completely different and the byproducts are totally so. More over in their article Jenkins et al. claim that 3 coprolites contained human and canidae DNA but decided they were human. Why? in the video Jenkins shows a coprolite with hair and bone fragments. How many hair and bones a human can ingest before getting appendicitis? Don’t you agree that a coprolite such as the one shown in the video belongs to a dog or a fox rather then to a human? Either way the degree of uncertainty is equal and independent morphological evidence were needed but were never provided (with the exceptions of ours!). In sum many believe that our concern about the significance of the biomolecular work at Paisley cave is justified. Finally I personally believe that it is very possible that pre-Clovis people inhabited N. America 14000 y ago and when Jenkins asked for our collaboration we accepted enthusiastically. On the other hand we cannot look away when we know that something is wrong. Therefore I hope that the evidence at Paisley cave will be soon consolidated by the publication of a clear and well dated stratigraphy with tools, bone and more coprolites. Again apologies. F.B.


  2. For anyone interested in seeing more photos of the Paisley Cave site, please check out the gallery page on my site above. These are from the summer of 2009.


  3. Hi Russel, thanks for that – I’ll add it to my queue.

    francesco: my apologies, I had not turned on the notification for comments feature when you posted and so had never seen your comment until now. Thank you for it.

    This is one of those hard contexts where we are confronted with two opposing views, each in a highly respected, peer-reviewed publication, and each having been rebutted by further commentary. In such a case, one might be tempted to treat the matter as unresolved – but I am not really disposed to do so, and that is mainly because there is such a long history of aggressive behaviour towards pre-Clovis claims, including holding them to a higher standard than normal (why? because a priori they must be false). Pienaar make a comment to that effect. In this case then, the Clovis Police have burned all their social capital and intellectual credibility by calling wolf (fox, dog) too many times and I am going to hold them to an even higher standard when they attempt to shoot down these peer-reviewed publications. I know this is not very “scientific”, but I have been observing the sociology of the discipline for some time now and have concluded that science is only one of the modes of argument being used on all sides. I am sorry if you get caught in the crossfire!

    In any case, if it is a 12000 14cBP dog, then case closed anyway. If there is any human DNA (especially from ancient lineages and not from any known modern source of contamination) in or on a 12,000 year old human-sized and shaped feces then that requires a very, very strong rebuttal. There is always a Kuhnian rearguard and they always end up looking silly – see Stuart Fiedel’s “Quacks in the Ice” or “Dogs vs Mammoths” for someone who is in their intellectual foxhole, out of bullets, moaning to themselves and for their momma.


  4. Interesting Quacks on the Ice article. Nice premise that continental migratory patterns would not be substantively changed during glacial maximum. Interesting emphasis on the large birds like swans and geese. Peculiar silence on the likelihood of very large numbers of migratory birds down the coast, flying relatively short distances from glacial refugium to refugium.

    I suppose he might be onto something, that migrating birds signal land in the direction of flight. If he had written a Quacks along the Coast article, it might have been a useful contribution.


    • He posits with a straight face the 2000 km dash through uninhabitable landscape via the parting of the white sea (he actually references Moses!) led by a bird-shaman. How many times does this have to happen before you get a viable founder population in Lethbridge? Seriously, a comparable scenario on the coast would rightfully draw scorn from him. Yet, the coastal alternative is so much more hospitable and resource-friendly – not to mention earlier (e.g., the 17,000 cal BP brown bear from K1 cave).

      This is the same Fiedel who did a hatchet job on Monte Verde (he cites the hatchet, and not Dillehay’s extremely thorough rebuttal) – but that was when he was still posing as the sober voice of scientific reason. Now he is playing the role of pathetic caricature of a mad scientist.


  5. stuart fiedel


    I suppose, in the continuing absence of any credible artifactual evidence of humans on the NW coast prior to 10,700 rcbp, you are reduced to the witless name-calling I see in this thread. I take it you did not attend the recent SAA meeting in St. Louis. If so, you might have learned that, aside from Arlington Springs Man and Clovis surface finds, there is nothing along the whole US Pacific Coast dating earlier than 10,000 rcbp. So much for your coastal migration!

    Stuart Fiedel,
    “mad scientist”


  6. Hi Stuart,

    I think I should have added some emoticons to better express the casual and lighthearted tone which prevails on my personal site 😉

    I notice you limit yourself to the US coast. If you had heard the paper at the St. Louis SAAs in Goebel’s session which I co-authored, you would now be aware of several sites in coastal British Columbia with dates between 10,000 and 10,700 14Cbp. Is the BC Coast not part of the Coastal Route?

    In any case, Arlington Springs and the numerous surface finds of Puget Sound Clovis you mention are a pretty big “aside from”.

    Since you’re here though, I wonder if you really do think the Quacks in the Ice (great title, BTW) model is realistic – that is, are you serious, or just having some fun?

    All the best!


  7. point of clarification:

    British Columbia is NOT part of the ‘US Pacific coast’


  8. stuart fiedel


    I used the 10,700 rcbp date precisely because of your evidence (as presented at SAA) of bear-hunting along the Canadian coast; and I used the term “US Pacific Coast” advisedly (although I could have tossed in Mexico’s Baja California, where the earliest evidence is a Clovis point from Isla de Cedros). Re your bifaces with the bears, they look to be variants of Western Stemmed, not Clovis. Are you suggesting that Clovis ancestors came down the coast, left the bears alone, and then abandoned the region altogether, perhaps briefly hunkering down along Puget Sound while Western Stemmed folk replaced them?

    Other than the cheeky title of “Quacks”, I’m quite serious about the importance of birds in early Paleo subsistence. Note that the Alaskan sites producing evidence of waterfowl use (Broken Mammoth, Swan Point) are interior sites that are much earlier (12,300-11,700 rcbp) than anything known on the coast.

    On the Paleo movement through the ice-free corridor as a rapid, directed migration or trek see F H West in “American Beginnings”, pp 555-6. Recent studies of the much later Thule migration offer an analogous case of very rapid, directed migration.



  9. There is indeed a startling lack of evidence in the ice-free corridor itself, but since the quacks theory does imply there won’t be any evidence there I suppose that must be seen as a good thing. Timing, viability, and direction of human occupation of the ice free corridor are all pretty much unresolved – but what information we have suggests it was open too late, viable too late, and occupied from south to north, and hence not compatible with Clovis First. Do you think that the ice free corridor was the route by which Clovis people came to the Americas the first inhabitants of these continents?

    Since I am in the camp of believing in, say, the Monte Verde site at 12,400 14Cbp, then the ice free corridor itself is most likely fascinating marginalia for the First Peopling of the Americas – unless we clock it back to a pre-LGM ice free corridor, for which there is no evidence of relevance that I know of.

    The Haida Gwaii points — a diverse group of four or five, only two complete — do resemble Western Stemmed more than anything else, but they don’t exactly map 1:1 with any of them. But I don’t see Western Stemmed in general and these points in particular as necessarily derivative of Clovis, and I certainly don’t see Haida Gwaii as being part of a grand Clovis backwash. In fact, I don’t think Clovis is particularly relevant to the earliest occupation on the coast, unless we are talking coastal origins of Clovis and spread inland. It won’t surprise me to see “pre-Clovis” archaeology (whatever that means on the coast – let’s say pre-11,000 14CBP, come out of those caves or similar contexts but I understand not everyone thinks this is likely or even possible.

    As for the US coast, well Arlington Springs is one of your data points, and that’s on a small offshore island. Do you think that is a “Clovis person” as well – it falls into the 11,050-10,800 heart of the Clovis frame? If so, would you agree Clovis people had substantial maritime capacities just to get to that island? I don’t think the straight bits of the coastline were really great for marine specialists, but the drowned continental shelf would certainly have been a viable strip of highly-productive environment – similar in size and shape as the ice-free corridor, but not requiring behavioural exceptionalism to exploit.


  10. stuart fiedel


    If you want to see what a REAL Chilean coastal Paleoindian site looks like (butchered horse, 11,000 rcbp, fluted point and debitage) look up the report on Quebrada Santa Julia in Current Anthropology. MV has NO debitage, no provenienced artifacts; the “cordage” is loosely twisted reeds, and as Morley noted in another thread, the wooden “artifacts” are a joke. Oh, and the grand communal healing structure measures ca. 1.3 meters across.

    The ice-free corridor opened soon after Bolling warming at 14,700 cal BP. Go examine Art Dyke’s maps. As for Clovis people moving northward into the corridor (which seems an idee fixe among you Canadians lately), how did they get to the lower 48? From Mars? Do you know about the discovery of Clovis diagnostics in the Williston Reservoir? Why aren’t you guys all excited about that?

    You can see Santa Rosa from the shore, and it was close enough for mammoths to swim out to it (hence the origin of the island’s M. exilis). I don’t doubt the capability of Clovis folk to paddle out there on simple craft (they probably used boats on proglacial lakes) and then extirpate the dwarf mammoth population (last dated individual 11,030+-50 rcbp).



  11. how did they get to the lower 48? From Mars?

    No – they came down the coast from NE Asia via Beringia 🙂

    Quebrada Sta Julia is an interesting site. With basal dates of 11,090 it is probably pre-Clovis anyway, and is certainly a long way away from the ice free corridor. The fluted point is an asymmetrical preform of which only one side is illustrated, and its not really diagnostic of anything other than fluting. I disagree it is any more a ‘REAL’ palaeoindian site than, say, Quebrada Jaguay at 11,100 14cBP, just because it looks like a familiar plains-style site – and as a fairly ephemeral site 5 km from the ocean it seems unremarkable.

    I don’t think the coastal route requires exclusively coastal sites to be found any more than we should ignore Clovis use of turtles or ducks. In fact, with sea level rise, we would expect a disproportionate number of sites representing the use of the near-coastal interior to be found and QSJ seems to fit that bill nicely. The fluted preform there is probably an early step in them adapting a basally-thinned harpoon technology in order to hunt land mammals seasonally.

    I am excited about Williston Lakes, and Morley can talk to it of course, but it is a series of deflated, undated surface assemblages with some arguably fluted points (not classic Clovis) and some very nice Clovis-style cores and preforms. Do we know that Clovis cores and large bifacial preforms adhere to the same dating constraints of Clovis itself, which I take to be 11050 to 10800 14cBP? Anyway, it seems to me to be no more relevant than the discovery of the similarly-undated classic Clovis Points from Puget Sound. Both are probably Clovis backwash from points south, but I suppose either could be older than the well-known classic Clovis sites.

    I guess the reason some might be fixed on the South to North movement of Clovis into the ice free corridor is because it fits the current evidence better than the alternatives. And why wouldn’t Clovis move into the ice free corridor, even if they had just dashed through it guided by their Swan Shamans? And if it opened at 14,700 cal BP (12400 14cBP) (which most people don’t believe) then we have over a millennia of missing pre-Clovis material?

    All this time the coast was open and viable.

    My recollection is that Sta Rosa island has never been closer than about 20km to the mainland, and the intervening waters are turbulent and dangerous. Good to see the Clovis folks getting their feet wet, though.

    As for Monte Verde, well, I disagree there are *no* provenienced artifacts and indeed I have never seen anyone including yourself claim such an extreme position before. There may be some issues with Monte Verde as there are with any site but the preponderance of evidence – faunal, floral, organic, radiocarbonic, footprints, chunks of meat, site catchment analysis, etc – is that it is real. The analysis of the knots in Dillehay 1997 show these to be not plausibly of natural origin. So we will probably have to disagree about MV.


  12. stuart fiedel

    So, you would derive Clovis from the rock-bashers of MVII? I will reiterate: there are no provenienced chipped stone artifacts from that site. Check all the maps in Dillehay’s report and see if you can locate any of them. Then try to find a provenience photo with a scale. You say you were convinced by Adovasio’s write-up of the “cordage” so I guess you have the volume and have read it thoroughly, right? And I take it you are not surprised that the famous Wishbone Structure has a seating capacity of less than 1?

    The Glacier Peak B/G tephra has recently been re-dated to ca. 13,600 cal BP, which provides a plausibly older age for the East Wenatchee cache. That would explain why fluted stuff in South America dates to ca. 13,000 cal BP. You can’t seriously suggest an independent yet simultaneous origin of southern fluted points!

    The excavators of Quebrada Jaguay (Sandweiss et al.) now think the oldest occupation there dates to 10,700 rcbp, not 11,100. That’s in line with the age of Quebrada Tacahuay.



  13. I’ll keep my eyes open for any QJ revisions. Their 1998 publication gives date of 11,100. Even at 10,700 it is a REAL paleoindian site though, would you agree? 10.7 on the Plains would qualify. Hence, the realm of real palaeoindian sites includes QJ and QT and those should structure our expecations of what constitutes terminal Pleistocene archaeology in the Americas – big game kill sites, yes, small fish kill sites, also yes.

    That’s interesting about Wenatchee. I infer then that you do not believe that Clovis is constrained to 11,050 – 10,800 since 13,600 cal BP is about 11,600 14cBP. If that’s true (and again, most archaeologists believe the Clovis chronological hygiene process if the recent literature is anything to go by), and you point to East Wenatchee as an old Clovis site, one which is barely east of the Cascades on the Columbia
    River, then my pet theory of NW coastal origins of Clovis may have more going for it than I thought.

    As for MV, I’ve read the report, I’ve followed the literature and I’ve read your critique and Dillehay’s response and in my view Dillehay provides credible rebuttal or explanation of most or all points. As I said, the preponderance of evidence from there is very strong and lithics are not the final word on archaeological reality.

    Readers might like to dip into these:

    Click to access monteverde.pdf


  14. In that last link you provide SF is quoted as writing off botanical evidence because “transitory ‘nesting birds’ may have deposited them in their excrement”. Bird theories all over the damn place.

    Ties in nicely with today’s post about the RBCM bird bone identification website. I love these synergies in your blog.

    I wonder if the transitory nesting birds were Raphus cucullatus? Just askin.


  15. Well, this reader dipped into those three links you posted Q, and I’m left as unimpressed with the lousy photos as I was the first time I saw them (OK, they are old web sites now, probably designed for dial-up downloads) and, frankly, by many of the detailed responses as much as Fiedel’s apparent witch-hunt. I really want to see the report. Those stakes frankly don’t look much like stakes to me, I can’t see the cordage tied around them at all, and if the large piece of wood has been chopped in another photo, its certainly not clear. I hope the published report is going to be very much better. If the stakes are clearly fire-scorched from being hardened, as described, I’d be more convinced – I can’t see that sort of detail on any of those links. Some look to be badly out of focus.

    I was amused by the defense of the experience of the field crew that worked at Monte Verde:
    “In the twenty-year debate about Monte Verde, it is curious that of the 85 professional
    and student archaeologists who excavated at Monte Verde between 1977 and 1985, none
    have ever claimed that Monte Verde was an invalid site. More than 35 of these individuals
    had archaeological field experience prior to working at Monte Verde. We estimate that they
    collectively had about 25 years of professional experience at the time. Today, their collective
    professional experience totals more than 400 years.”

    I’m sorry, but 35 archaeologists had 25 years of collective professional experience at the time? I did some work recently with George MacDonald and David Archer, and we realized we had over 130 years of experience collectively. Just the three of us. Sounds like the MV crew were indeed a bit green at the time of the excavation.

    I’m very glad to see the Williston material being discussed; Quentin is quite right that it is from undated surface sites. I have a nice calcined bone C-14 sample from a dense scatter of bone with a single directly associated Clovis-type core, no other artifacts anywhere nearby, if anyone has money to run a date. I frankly missed this one when we were selecting a sample to date (funded by Millennia, not from the contract). I chose a different bone, flake, and fcr hearth with three nearby classic Cody Complex projectile points. The points were relatively close (a couple of dozen metres) but not directly associated but the location on a andscape totally lacking in mictoporaphic features had me thinking that the chances of two sets of people camping so close were very small. The bone came back at about 3,000 BP, obviously a different scribe’s hand in that palimpsest.

    The location, on the surface of a glacial lake bed, is I think problematical to get a Clovis date, if indeed it is as narrowly constrained as the recent literature indicates. The draining of the lake is undate. But I doubt its going to be much before 10,000 or 10,500 rcybp. I also think we are starting to see a pattern of very similar assemblages turning up on the shores of glacial lakes from the Great Lakes west. I know Barney Reeves is thinking that there was some long-distance boat travel going on to move long distances quickly. Could be those Clovis people (and their successors) adapted their ancestor’s coastal maritime skills to get around the northern inland seas!

    If anyone is at the CAA in Calgary, I will have some casts of the Clovis-like artifacts, as well as some of the more recent palaeoindian


  16. stuart fiedel

    Witch hunt? I pored over the MV volumes for the sort of documentation of finds one would expect in any competently assembled archaeological report and came up empty-handed. As FH West noted in 1996 (p. 540 of “American Beginnings”): “The clearest of several indubitably human-manufactured stone specimens appears to lack provenience. In sum, the Monte Verde II assemblage is extraordinarily heterogeneous, consisting largely of elements not clearly identifiable as artifactual. The relevance of the dating is therefore unclear”.

    In any case, if one still accepts MVII at 12.4 k rcbp, then there’s no reason to reject Taima Taima’s El Jobo points with mastodont at 13-14 k rcbp, which puts people in NE South America long before they get to coastal Chile and ruins the whole Pacific Coast, seaweed-chomping, kelp highway narrative. Erlandson et al., by the way, attempted recently to bring the date of MV down to about 11.8-12 k.

    Can anyone suggest to me why they suppose Dillehay has never returned to more fully excavate MVI or the 12.4 k Chinchihuapi site located some 500 m from MV?



  17. stuart fiedel

    re Williston Reservoir:

    Morley, I’m not sure of your precise location, but I think Art Dyke shows the lake draining between 11.5 and 11 k rcbp (perfect timing for Clovis).

    You might contact either the U of Arizona lab (and Vance Haynes) or Mike Waters at Texas A&M about dating the calcined bone.



  18. I don’t think accepting one means you have to accept the other – that’s been part of the problem. Taima Taima should be evaluated on its own terms, a task thatwould be easier if they published a 1600 page report on it. IN any case, F.H. West has a pretty big axe to grind on this topic as well and his 1996 comments are before the 1997 Dillehay report, and he never went to the site. Dillehay also notes in his report that a 20-year standing invitation for interested people to come to his lab at Kentucky to see the material for themselves resulted in exactly two takers. It seems people were afraid of what they might see!

    I agree the site should have been revisited but my understanding is that it is now destroyed (and was at the time of the 1997 visit by the Cardinals, making their on-site conversion all the more hilariously obviously a face-saving exercise.)

    Regarding the knots, Morley: it is routine in wet site context and regarding this kind of organics, from sites of any age, that you use drawn illustrations for the complexities of the relationship between organic strands. Illustrations are, of course, interpretive but they are hardly unique in archaeology in that respect – and its not like stone tools aren’t often still drawn as well, sometimes to highlight their features which do not photograph well.

    Speaking of, I’d like to see illustrations of both sides of that QSJ fluted point “blank”: who flutes their “blanks” anyway, it doesn’t even look like a blank, and frankly based on the written documentation I’ve seen (5 pages in CA) it could be an impact fracture even though they claim a fluting flake nearby. It’s probably an El Jobo point made on quartz crystal with an impact fracture. Archaeology is so easy sometimes!

    Morley — I’ve seen those casts and they are things of beauty.

    Erlandson is an interesting person and has done great work in California, but he recently (Life on the Edge pub QSR 2008) got the dates for Richardson Island completely wrong: labelled the 9300 14c dates as 9300 calBP, not 10,500 calBP, and included a 9590 14cBP date which we have never claimed is cultural. On what basis he would like to reduce MV I don’t know but I hope he gets it right.

    I mean, I know a lot of people who would like MV to be younger, and yet there it is.

    And if he does reduce it to 11,800, there it still is, southern Chile, 800 years pre-Clovis.


  19. Thanks for those refs Stuart, Mike Goebel from Texas A&M has recently been in touch I will ask him about spare change for radiocarbon !

    I wasn’t aware that Art Dyke (another amusing name for someone who studies ice dams!) had published anything on the lakes that once filled the Parsnip and Findlay rivers arms of Williston reservoir. You can google-earth query “Williston Lake, Canada” to see exactly where we are. Some of the old glacial lake bed is shown as bare silt in GEarth. Many others show as light blue water. I asked John Clague about the date of drainage again recently, and he wasn’t aware of any recent data.

    Q, rather than just holding the pre-Clovis nay-sayers to the same high standard as they are demanding of pre-Clovis site reports, I think we should just be demanding the same high standard for POST Clovis too!! You and I both know that some of the major contributions to Northwest Coast archaeology are based on some pretty sketchy fieldwork, especially when it comes to field documentation. And many of the “just so” stories that are taken as rock-solid evidence are really “we’d like to think this is true” stories based on superficial analysis with very little to back it up once you start delving. Whereas others (David Archer and Daryl Fedje spring to mind immediately) always seem to produce high-quality work with meticulous documenting backup and consideration of alternate explanations.


  20. Hi Morley,

    One thing that might not be clear to everyone is, Williston Lake is in the Rocky Mountain Trench, not the ice-free corridor proper.

    High standards are a good thing, agreed. I think though what the bee in my bonnet is that archaeology is sort of a science, but sort of not. And one important way it isn’t is in the replicability of findings. Sometimes it is impossible to go back to a site to dig more, but more often it is just not done – for money reasons, for turf reasons. I mean, Stuart could, in principle, go dig at Monte Verde or Meadowcroft or Taima Taima, or even at Gaadu Din 😉 . As I noted, people didn’t even go to Kentucky, for heaven’s sake, to look at MV stuff in person.

    But generally, that doesn’t happen. There is a big honour principle in archaeology wherein colleagues are expected to act in good faith and report truthfully on their finds. And, so far as we know, this works. So when the critique of another site veers to the extent that we are meant to believe the excavator was either venal, dishonest, or an unbelievable idiot, or all three, then that breaks the social contract of archaeology.

    When I worked in Argentina on a fishtail point site the chat down there was huge resentment about the North American discourse around the first peopling of the Americas. I guess I have adopted that as my own personal chip on my shoulder – its not that I think the coastal route is in the bag – I want to see evidence, but I do want a level playing field. As far as I can tell (and its not just me), Clovis-First is a badly wounded model. While whatever replaces it is yet to be determined (an earlier ice free corridor opening is an interesting idea, as is a coastal route with some eventual portal to the east) the bulk of the evidence is going to be presented in print and critiqued in print, and that needs to happen in good faith on all sides or the discipline, not just the Clovis Model, will break. And it hasn’t always been, which is why I am outspoken about the kinds of criticisms I have seen of Monte Verde and now, Paisley Cave (the original topic of this post!). I’m inclined to fight back in order to have the interpretive space and freedom to figure out what actually happened in the past and not just replicate and enforce received wisdom.

    PS Surely Hydro has the money for one more 14C? Come the Site C Peace River dam, you’re going to be rolling in it Morley!! (actually, a potential model derived from Williston applied to Site C reservoir would be … cool)


  21. stuart fiedel

    Morley– Dyke’s paper (2004) is “An outline of North American deglaciation with emphasis on central and northern Canada. If you give me your e-mail address I can send it on to you.

    At 10-10.5 k rcbp, I don’t think any Paleoindians were still making big classic blades. Do you have photos of these artifacts?


    I agree with you about the basic trust that must underlie scientific discourse. That is precisely why I think the inadequate reporting of MV is so damaging to the discipline. I don’t understand how, like other true believers, you can remain unperturbed by the lack of documented provenience for the key artifacts. Why do you express such resentment at me for simply having asserted that this emperor has no clothes? By the way, you are right that the MVII site had been severely damaged by the time the delegation arrived to view it in 1997; thus, I don’t see how their confirmation of its validity could be taken as meaningful. However, it seems that MVI (the 33kya “site” on the south bank of the creek) was not destroyed, and the New York Times reported that Dillehay planned to open it up again in 2001. Of course, this never happened, again for incomprehensible reasons.



  22. Hi Stuart,

    I don’t think the reporting of Monte Verde is inadequate, and I also think Dillehay rebutted your concerns especially with regards to your questions of provenience. If you do not accept his response that is fine, but I do. Your criticisms of him have come very close to calling him a liar and a fraud and I don’t believe that, myself. People can and will make up their own minds, and at the end of the day new evidence will settle this question. It’s good to have a diversity of opinion but most knowledgeable archaeologists now do not believe Clovis was first. Maybe they are wrong and you are doing a valuable service to the discipline, or maybe they are right and your rearguard position will be memorable in the sociology of science. Your comment about “Mars” as the only alternative to the ice free corridor above shows to me you consider the coastal route to be a far-fetched proposal from the realm of science fiction, or equally, that you do not take it seriously as an unproven hypothesis, or indeed, you do not consider it at all. None of these are the positions of a rational assessor of all available evidence, in my view.


  23. Oh – also, I agree that the site visit to MV was a fig leaf by which leading authorities, who had had their mind changed by the 1997 report, were then able to save face by engaging with some meaningless dirt. They apparently saw nothing and learned nothing new from that visit yet they framed it as an essential act of peer review. I take that to be interesting as a means by which paradigms shift, and it is an important glimpse into the prideful mndset of the Clovis-First proponents, but in no way do I think it makes Monte Verde any less real because some visitors conducted a charade on the bulldozed earth

    Given the continued atmosphere of discourse which prevails, if I were Dillehay I wouldn’t touch MV I with a ten foot pole either. I hadn’t heard he was going back and would be surprised, because I have never got the impression he really had confidence in that small and enigmatic component that differs in almost every way from MV II.


  24. stuart fiedel


    There is no time or space here for me to engage in a tiresome rehashing of all the MV evidence (I note that you made no comment about the little “communal structure”–stumped by that?). Liars, frauds, and charlatans are unfortunately not all that unusual in archaeology (cf. F Hibben, “Mr Golden Hands” of the Japanese Paleolithic, R Berger’s phony 14C dates, Mellaart’s imaginary kilim frescos from Catal Hoyuk, etc.). You’re right, time will tell. For now, MV is unique, Quebrada Santa Julia and Tagua Tagua show us what real Paleoindian sites in the region look like, and there is no Paleo presence in northern Chile prior to 13k cal BP. I will predict here, with some confidence, that nothing else resembling MV will turn up in South America.



    • “Liars, Frauds, and Charlatans are not all that uncommon in archaeology”

      Whether this applies to Dillahey is beside the point; Stuart is right,these traits have been a recurring trait in our discipline, especially if we add ‘deluded’ and simply ‘mistaken’ to the list for wriggle room and some acknowledging of worthy morals tied to flawed data or reasoning. Quentin, your saying “such behaviour is actually extremely uncommon in archaeology” may be statistically true, but there is a distressing proportion where it is indeed true.
      If there is one thing treated worse than any pre-Clovis claims, it is whistle-blowers in any venue or discipline. The messenger is almost invariably shot. Look whats happened to
      Richard Colvin, although now the government has finally agreed to pay his legal tab (which they were always legally obligated to do but were refusing anyway).

      Any site making extraordinary claims deserves very close examination. I mentioned the Piltdown example earlier for good reason; it was made as an intentionally bad fake, with which the perpetrators intended to embarass the senior investigator when his incompetence was exposed; but that exposure took something like 50 years. Noone wanted to be a whistle-blower. Thats long ago, but we have people still digging at Calico Hills, and in Canada we’ve had a Pleistocene pre-Clovis site dug near Calgary and published in a peer reviewed journal, and for the plain mistaken, we have the Taber Child and the caribou deflesher from the Yukon (Old Crow?) originally dated to 20-something K, and redated to a few thousand. I’ve recently been re-reading claims to 18 K year old artifacts in NW BC, from an archaeologist who ended up in prison for smuggling cocaine. I recall a story from another area circulating about the suspiciously convenient discovery of lithics in a pleistocene-aged deposit when visiting experts arrived, and later some of those experts stumbling across what looked like refitable cores and associate debitage of the same material at a very fresh flaking station on the next hill over. Nothing was said publically; when I questioned that, I was told noone wanted to make waves but the story would spread and no more publications would be accepted in journals. I think that sort of attitude, while it did seem to work in that case, is an affront to science itself; it certainly has resulted in problems for the climate change people lately.

      I read most of the rebuttal of Fiedel’s criticisms twice, and I was convinced by some and not completely by others. I reserve my own judgement until I read the report. Fiedel made a fundamental mistake in making these accusations in a non-refereed magazine, which has no more credibility that this blog (some would say less 🙂 ), and in not allowing for a private rebuttal to his accusations before going public with them. This led to his critisism being dismissed when he himself was wrong on trying to link lab photos of artifacts with artifacts visible in wide-angle field photos, a dangerous assumption unless the artifact is amazingly unique. It also leads to an easy rebuttal. One of the things that bothered me with Dillehay’s response was that he said that his response to Fiedel was the last such critisism he would respond to. Maybe he just meant outside the bounds of acceptable criticism.


  25. All I can say is that I find your thinly veiled accusation that Tom Dillehay is a “liar, fraud and charlatan” to be quite distasteful. Such behaviour is actually extremely uncommon in archaeology, or at least the kind I associate with, and that you see choose to generalize based on a few isolated cases I suspect says more about you than it does about the discipline.

    I see we will never agree, and I have my doubts that even compelling new evidence would convince you, so I will bow out of this conversation now. Thank you for your interesting contributions.


  26. Trouble with pulling a few examples out of (apparently) thin air is that everything starts to take on a very strange shape indeed.

    Morley – you deride the idea that the 35 student archaeologists each had on average 8.6 months of field experience prior to working at MV (this would indicate 2 to 4 academic seasons of fieldwork, likely on a wide variety of sites). I think your derision of this amount of experience misses the central argument which seemed to be that they were experienced enough to notice what was going on in a reasonably competent way at the time they worked on the site. Since then many have gone on to successful careers in archaeology where they have accumulated enough context and experience to allow them to critically examine what they participated in at MV. And yet they have not raised doubts about the veracity of the MV fieldwork or data. I think that is actually a very powerful argument. And to suggest that Dillehay or others are committing some kind of fraud or wishful thinking or just plain incompetent interpretation is to require a massive conspiracy of silence that involves at least 35 other people all of whom have bought into, or been coerced into, some kind of unholy secret. This is completely ridiculous, not to mention insulting to each and every participant in the project. Unless of course they were all taken aboard a UFO and mind-wiped, say on Mars. I can see why Dillehay does not want to discuss it any more. And qmackie too.

    So, where a strange (even stranger?), shape takes form in this dialogue is when one places bits and pieces from different parts of the conversation side by side. For example, put Morley’s discomfort with 8.6 months of field experience against his high opinion of David Archer’s work (not to pick on Morley, but we have lots of shared history so it is easy to find examples here). Morley, as we both know since we worked there together (at what must be around the time MV was being excavated), David Archer’s MA thesis was conducted on a site which was excavated by students and first nation assistants and a smattering of volunteers. If we calculate the same statistic for the student assistants on that project (excluding you and David since you were the directors of the project) the average experience for those students is going to be less than 8.5 months, perhaps less than 2 months. Does that in any way invalidate David’s results; is the integrity of all or most of his data necessarily compromised? I think not.

    Even though I was very inexperienced, (I could count my experience as less than one week when I started on that project) and now have many years of field experience to contextualise what occured on that project, I dont think there was anything fundamentally wrong with that project; overall it was well done. If I did think there were problems, and it was an important site in regional (or continental) prehistory, I would make my observations known. As would others who worked on that site, including you. If true on that project, how come not true at MV?

    I go through this example because I think it illustrates how this kind of discourse is characterised by inherent contradictions or inconsistencies. Such debate is never satisfactory in the participation, and rarely in the outcome either.

    And, I dont think you can throw in “mistaken” and “deluded” into that definition because they are not the same as deliberate falsification of data, and indeed, many of us have been guilty of mistakes and delusions in our working life, usually for short and sometimes deliriously happy periods of time.

    The example of the archaeologist, 18k date and cocaine is a case in point. Does a drug conviction have anything to do with the quality of the archaeological work? This is not just rhetorical on my part, since maybe there is a connection unkown to me. (Though lets try to not consider what a serious hangover, or worse, serial hangovers, can do to the quality and veracity of field results or we might have to toss a lot of the 1960’s and 70’s data out the window on suspicion of sodden integrity). Do you think that person was falsifying data to create 18k dates, or otherwise acting fraudulently? Or do you think he was guilty of the “mistaken” and maybe overly enthusiastic application of a new and poorly understood dating method? If the former, where’s the proof, though best not to go into too much more detail here in case it crosses into character defamation

    I side with Quentin in thinking that “Liars, Frauds, and Charlatans” are exceptionally rare in archaeology. I also think that to suggest otherwise so publically and then to redefine the category (“mistaken” etc) and then use examples that are not actually fraudulent is not really appropriate. Piltdown! For chrissakes, that was in the century before last, hardly relevent to the modern discipline, or Monte Verde. And the very fact that its necessary to cite Piltdown makes the point that more recent cases are indeed rare.

    Despite all my cautions above, I am enjoying reading this highly educational thread. As that radio guy says yet againI have “wasted another perfectly good hour” reading this blog.


  27. I understood the 25 cumulative years to apply to the entire staff, not just the students. Reread the quote, I cut-and-pasted it. I think I had seven years and David had eight or nine by 1976 so if we were included, we’d up the average. I still consider us pretty green at the time. And if we had been working on a ‘paradigm buster’ I would have expected much more scrutiny. I mentioned it mostly out of amuzement, certainly not derision; with more thought, maybe you are right Al that the subsequent career paths haven’t shaken loose any naysayers is the more important point.

    From what I remember, the cocaine was being smuggled in archaeological level bags, so there was some lack of respect for the archaeological record there, and if so I would not be surprised that attitude carried over from earlier work. It was certainly sloppy work, with insufficient consideration of technical issues, even though it was a new technique. Other people were much more cautious.

    I mentioned Piltdown because it is so well-known but the backstory of the disgruntled assistants isn’t; and it shows how false data can persist. Stuart mentioned some others; the Japanese one was just last year I think? And that was a formerly very well respected professional. So, yes its rare, and the vast majority of us plodders carry on doing the best we can on, studying things most people are not very interested in; but it does happen and the fakers will tend to be at the cutting edge in the limelight. They are literally making something out of nothing, and its going to be for motives that are not consistent with the quest for new knowledge. Its too bad, because it puts a lot of pressure on everyone who is doing good, honest work at the cutting edge.

    Oh, and Stuart; big polyhedral cores and blades continue to at least about 8,500 in Alaska. They may be solidly diagnostic of Clovis in the southern 48, but that doesn’t hold for the north.


  28. Morley, perhaps those cores and blades *are* Clovis – the essence of the tool kit minus the big sexy points which were no longer needed with much of the megafauna gone. Kind of like on Richardson Island where the stratigraphy is fine enough to demonstrate that microblade technology was added to an established tool kit without otherwise changing that assemblage, or at least not for hundreds of years.


  29. stuart fiedel


    Dillehay took his stuff to numerous specialists (beetles, wood, seaweed, bones, etc.) who did not visit the site. Collins, who worked up the lithics, visited but saw nothing excavated in situ. Discovery of the complete El Jobo-like point and the slate “perforator” is now attributed (in Dillehay’s on-line rebuttal) to Argentine archaeologist Hernan Vidal, who died in a car crash in the mid-90s. I’ve talked with Argentines who knew Vidal, and he never mentioned those discoveries to them. Who are the other 35 people who participated in fieldwork at MV and now have flourishing careers? All photos of the site show no more than half a dozen excavators at any time. I know Jack Rossen was there. Who else? To be fair, Quentin, you might have linked to my response to Dillehay, which was posted by Kris Hirst at Archaeology@ But that was 10 years ago, and it may not be available any more. I will note that on Dillehay’s page, he has a photo on which he indicates, with an arrow, the location where a point midsection was excavated next to the wishbone structure. The same image was published in his 1984 Scientific American article, in which no recovery of projectile points was mentioned. An oversight?

    MV I is much like MVII. It has “braziers”, amorphous stone “tools”, and a clearly artifactual handaxe-like piece lacking unambiguous provenience.

    Again, time will tell. Who still talks about Sandia Cave?



  30. stuart fiedel


    I checked: Hirst evidently no longer has that response posted.


  31. I’m not really prepared to play host to character assassination on my web site, any more than I would 9-11 Truthers and their pseudo-scientific paranoia, which this conversation is increasingly coming to resemble.

    So I’m turning off comments. Another sign of the conspiracy against Clovis no doubt, but whatever.


  32. Pingback: What can blogging do for archaeology? Revisited… « SARA PERRY

  33. Pingback: Fluted Point – Dan Stueber « burnt embers