Tag Archives: natural history

Still no Clovis Comet

Oh noes, my tusks are on fire. Source: wincustomize.com

I talked once before about the “Clovis Comet” theory, which suggested the widespread extinctions of megafauna in North America at the end of the last ice age was caused by a large comet impact.  At the same moment, the highly distinctive “Clovis” archaeological culture was terminated.  It was suggested this comet might have either airburst or struck the ice sheets, in either case not causing a visible crater.  However, abundant “nanodiamonds”, said to be highly diagnostic of an extraterrestrial impact, were found at a widespread boundary layer roughly associated with the end of Clovis – the start of the Younger Dryas cold period when the earth was suddenly thrust back into near-glacial conditions.

So, I said then and I’ll say again now: this theory didn’t pass the sniff test from the beginning because it is another example of “Clovis exceptionalism” – the skeptical leeway that the Clovis-First model of first peopling of the Americas has been afforded by segments of the archaeological community.  No Clovis model was so implausible that it wasn’t given much respectful beard-stroking by the usual silverbacks.

Anyway, subsequent studies of the nanodiamonds and associated evidence have failed utterly to reproduce the findings.  Now comes even more news that the comet theory is unsupported and that the original investigators may have mistaken nanodiamonds for, among other things . . .  [drumroll] . . .  “hardened faecal material from arthropods.”

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e-fauna and e-flora of British Columbia

Raven, Corvus corax. Photo: Doug Skilton, via e-fauna BC

Not a strictly archaeological topic, but I was interested to find these online projects: the Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British  Columbia, and a sister site for the flora.   These are subsites of a larger project called The Biodiversity of British Columbia.  Together, these sites aims to document, with photos, all the marine and terrestrial plants and animals of BC.  They have made a lot of progress – almost any critter or shrub you’ve heard about has  a photo at least, while many have descriptive pages of information and range.  Some sample pages for culturally-significant species: blue camasbalsam root, harbour sealsturgeon, Roosevelt elk, and Pacific banana-slug.  Species with photos only include raven and the hairy spiny doris.

Looking at the “animal photos wanted” page is a reality check though: while the current databse includes almost 9,000 photos, some 11,002 species still need photos to be submitted.  This speaks to the size of the task as well as the stunning breadth of biodiversity in BC.   If you have pictures of unusual animals then consider joining and making a submission – this would be a fantastic distributed project where the hive-mind of amateur naturalists across BC could make a solid contribution to these encyclopedic ventures.  They have some very handy checklists if you are inclined towards completionism.

One complaint: the site navigation is extensive, with multiple kinds of search possible, but the frame structure makes linking to specific pages very awkward or impossible.  Cleaning this up would be a big job but would increase the utility of the site greatly.

Chum salmon in a Burnaby estuary. Photo by Les Deighton via e-fauna.