Screenshot of Manis news from the website of the Center for the Study of First Americans. Click to go to page.
[October 20 edit: Manis article now out in Science, my post here.]
Quite a while ago I posted about some of the frustrations I felt about the Manis Mastodon site, near Sequim on the Olympic peninsula. This 1970s find of a Mastodon skeleton had one singularly enigmatic feature: there appeared to be the broken tip of a bone point embedded in one of its ribs. As I wrote before: yank that sucker out! – so we can determine for sure if this is a human made artifact dating to the same age as the Mastodon – about 14,000 years ago. Being well pre-Clovis and right near the coast, this find would be of profound importance to our archaeological understanding of the first arrival of people into the Americas. Now, as you can read above, there is an intriguing hint that Manis has finally been re-examined, and found to be a legitimate Pleistocene archaeological site. It’s real. Wow.
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Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Washington State
Tagged bone technology, clovis, first peopling, Manis, mastodons, pre-clovis, Sequim, zooarchaeology
Mastodon rib from Manis site, showing protruding end of an intrusive object. Source: CSFA
The Manis Mastodon site near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula (map) is one of the great enigmas of Northwest Coast archaeology. The site has been known since the 1970s and is purportedly a Mastodon kill-butchery site. With radiocarbon dates (on plant material associated with extinct mastodon) of 13,500 to 13,900 calendar years ago, the site is clearly pre-Clovis. As a pre-Clovis site on the Northwest Coast, Manis should be of comparable stature to, say, the Clovis-killer Monte Verde site in Chile, which dates to about 14,500 calendar years ago.
Doubts remain about this site, though, mainly because it is not yet completely reported. A preliminary report by Gustafson et al. in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology (which I don’t have handy — hey CAA, I know you sell CDs of your back issues, so how hard can it be to put them online?) was equivocal about the association of some flake and cobble tools with the skeleton, and while interesting conclusions were drawn about the fragmentary nature of the skeleton, nothing conclusive was resolved. This is despite one of the clearest possible “smoking guns” one could hope for in archaeology.
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Mastodon! From: Science 20 November 2009
Abundant megafauna are important to the Clovis-First model of the peopling of the Americas because the mechanism for what was considered to be an exceptional event or series of events was overkill of these large, naive, critters . Overkill led first to localized extirpations (moving the Clovis folks along on a bow-wave of blood) and ultimately to megafaunal extinctions across the hemisphere.
Sad, then, for that particular story and its storytellers, to see recently reported results in Science which track (through samples of dung fungus) a millenium-long decline in mastodon and other megafauna before the arrival of Clovis. This decline might relate to climate change or to the influence of pre-Clovis humans – it’s too early to say. But as the graph below shows, the decline set in pre-Clovis at about 14,800 cal B.P., and by the time of Clovis (ca. 13,500 cal B.P.), far from being hyperabundant, herbiferous megafauna seem to have been at a historically low level of population. Vegetation change (often used to track climate) was a result of this die-back, not the cause of it. Perhaps this remnant megafauna population was then finished off by Clovis, but that is hardly a bow-wave of blood scenario, but rather a “mopping up” of increasingly scarce game. Has there ever been as misunderstood an archaeological concoction as the Clovis Culture?
Update: The Guardian has coverage, incongruously illustrated by the RBCM’s life-sized mammoth model.
Jacquelyn L. Gill, John W. Williams, Stephen T. Jackson, Katherine B. Lininger, Guy S. Robinson.
Pleistocene Megafaunal Collapse, Novel Plant Communities, and Enhanced Fire Regimes in North America.
Science 20 November 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5956, pp. 1100 – 1103
Pre-Clovis decline of large herbivores. Source: Science 20 November 2009