Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2097th Meeting

Speaker: Dennis Stanford, Smithsonian Institution
Topic: “Changing Concepts of New World Origins: Putting a New Face on the First Americans.”

President Agger called the 2097th meeting to order at 8:16 p.m. on December 11, 1998. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2096th meeting and they were approved.

The speaker for the 2097th meeting was Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution. The title of his presentation was, “Changing Concepts of the New World Origins: Putting a New Face on the First Americans.”

The last two years are the most exciting in recent decades. Recent and ongoing discoveries are changing the face of North American archeology. The old theory of American origins had a population called Clovis people spreading to North America 11,000 years ago when an ice-free land bridge from Siberia opened up. The Clovis people were named after the distinctive style of fluted projectile points they used. They are also attributed with eating everything in sight and causing the extinction of the indigenous mammoth. Archeologists known as the “Clovis Police” staunchly supported this model of the Clovis people as the first people in America. This is a neat story, but it isn't so!

However, putting things in context, the Clovis people were much more than mammoth hunters. They were forgers and did eat everything. As far as the mammoths go, any one group of Clovis people probably killed one mammoth in their lifetime, and then talked about it for the next 50 years. They certainly did not cause the extinction of the mammoth. Most such extinctions were caused by the fact that the species was already hanging on the edge.

A most recent assault on the old Clovis theory came recently from the excavation of an archeological site in Monte Verde in south central Chile. Here, human artifacts radiocarbon dated at 33,000 years old were uncovered. These early inhabitants clearly predate the Clovis people. So much for the dictates of the “Clovis Police.”

We now have had ample opportunity to look at the archeology of Siberia to look for evidence of ancestors of Clovis people. However, there really is not much evidence there of a direct Clovis predecessor. Further, radioactive dating of the original Clovis inhabitants in the Americas stops at 10,900 years old. Ironically, these oldest Clovis folks are in the southeastern part of North America Florida and Tennessee, not Siberia! But if Clovis did develop in the Southeast, who did Clovis develop from? When did it happen? And where did those people come from? If it wasn't Siberia, where was it?

To further complicate the story, characteristic Clovis technologies such as projectile points have recently been identified in Northern Europe. The consequent studies of the archaeological sites back in southern North America also show strong ties between the first Americans and the Upper Paleolithic of Europe.

Moving on, recent studies of several 9,000 year old human remains from the northwestern United States identify a high incidence of Caucasoid physical traits that distinguish the Pleistocene and Early Holocene populations from the modern northern Asians and North American Indians. On a similar note, DNA studies had previously identified only four unique population groups in early America. These were categorized as Groups A, B, C, and D. Now, a fifth group, categorized as Group X has been identified. Interestingly, this DNA ties to early populations of Northern Japan — and again, not to Siberia. Significantly, with our new found “Madam X” in our gene pool, the old model of the Unilineal Route from Siberia is dead.

Current research and data support the concept that the early American populations were all connected. They came here from many different places, using many different migration routes and were composed of many different ethnic origins. And they continued to come — and return, over a long period of time. Planned research will pursue these avenues and will most likely show that we were all quite connected in the beginning which is not a bad place to end up either.

Mr. Stanford closed his presentation and kindly answered questions from the floor. President Agger thereupon thanked Mr. Stanford for the society, announced the next meeting and made the usual parking announcement. She then adjourned the 2097th meeting to the 128th Annual Meeting of the Society at 9:57 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,
Bill Spargo
Recording Secretary

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