Clovis Conspiracy

Some kind of ‘memorial day’ has delayed the first Creation Science Update – and they do seem to be being called that now, at least in the ‘references’ – for Year Two. But it’s here, and it’s called Scientists Late to Recognize Human and Giant Mammal Coexistence. While there is a kernel of truth in this one, it wont be found in the title.

For some context, the 3 May edition of Nature ran a feature on Peopling the Planet, which in my opinion is a vein of the good stuff when it comes to creationist quote mining (all the articles in it excluding Stringer’s What makes a modern human column are free to read, I might add). Here’s just one line, from the Date with history article:

Most of the thousands of carbon dates from archaeological sites from the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic era are wrong, say scientists, perhaps even as many as 90%.

You can quite easily see what could be done with that, I’m sure. Mr Thomas, however, has restricted himself today to the topic of a different article, Coming to America. An accompanying editorial, Young Americans (which Brian does not reference, I might add), bemoans that:

The histories of these arguments [about whether the Clovis people where first to America] are a case study of poor communication and missed opportunities. One researcher, new to the field after years of working on other contentious topics, told Nature that he had never before witnessed the level of aggression that swirled around the issue of who reached America first. “When people stop listening to arguments and stop looking at data and instead just go with their own beliefs,” he said, “that’s when it becomes completely crazy.”

In other words, the argument hasn’t been particularly scholarly. Now that you know that, let’s see what Brian Thomas does with this revelation. He begins:

Giant mammals roamed North America during the Ice Age, but were humans among them? A site in Vero Beach on Florida’s East coast contains mammoth, mastodon, giant ground sloth—and human fossils. The problem is that humans were not yet supposed to have been there, according to the standard story told to generations of archaeologists.

He begins by talking about something else: a press release on the subject of a paper – Humans were contemporaneous with late Pleistocene mammals in Florida: evidence from rare earth elemental analyses – on the Vero Beach fossils. The problem I have with the claims that this shows that humans coexisted with ‘giant mammals’ is that humans are often blamed for the extinction of these animals. I suppose though that it makes it more plausible.

However, in this case the finds were a few thousand years too old to be genuine – it was claimed that the humans had been buried in the sediment much later. But, in more recent years, opinions have changed.

When discovered in the early 1900s, researchers insisted that the Vero Beach human remains washed in long after the large mammals fossilized. But new results, like so many other similar reinvestigations of old sites, show they were made at the same time and that humans lived and died in North America long before believed. What took researchers so long to acknowledge that?

The reason why it took so long for the evidence to come to light may be the same reason why fossil evidence of humans and dinosaurs is so scarce.

You could have guessed that that was where he was going. He’s accusing palaeontologists of, effectively, publication bias: that they wont announce that they had found human and dinosaur bones together because it doesn’t fit the narrative. But if the OPERA saga has taught us anything, scientists will at least announce that they’ve found the anomaly (after careful study, of course), even if nobody will believe them. The evidence, in the form of these fossils, has been around for a century. But, as another of the feature’s minable quotes, this time from Eastern odyssey, says:

“People say mute stones speak,” says [Anthony] Marks. “They don’t. They just lie there. We’re the ones who impose our views on them.”

It took a while for scientists to work out which view fitted the stones best. But there simply aren’t the fossils that would show dinosaurs and humans together, and the few dredged up by creationists aren’t the real deal. But how do we know that these are genuine anyway?

Archaeologists at the University of Florida analyzed the concentrations of rare earth elements in the various bones from the Vero site, finding that they all statistically matched. This evidence shows that they were buried simultaneously, and it contradicts longstanding dogma that humans had not yet arrived in America.

Dogma is a little too strong a word here – the ICR’s insistence on flood geology, for example, would be ‘dogma.’ Amusingly, the way this was done looks very much like the horrible uniformitarian dating systems that the YECs so deride. They didn’t actually derive a date, alas – from the press release:

“It is important to note that they [the authors] did not provide an absolute or chronometric date, rather the geochemistry shows that the trace elemental geochemistry is the same, thus the bones must be of the same age,” said Kenneth Tankersley, an assistant professor in the University of Cincinnati anthropology and geology departments.

(Where the insert is from the original.) Back to Brian:

Supposedly, the earliest Americans were the Clovis peoples, who left tool caches in New Mexico caves that researchers discovered in the early and middle 20th century. However, all this new evidence of pre-Clovis peoples is finally forcing a broad scale revision of history.

Now we get to the Nature feature.

Nature recently reviewed some of the pre-Clovis evidences that include fossil dung from a cave in Oregon, campsite remains from Chile, stone tools from Salado, Texas, and “sites in Tennessee and Florida, where evidence of pre-Clovis mammoth hunting was uncovered in the 1980s and1990s.” And now, the Vero Beach evidence adds to the “slow avalanche of findings.”

He gives reference, aside to what has already been covered, to a DpSU by him from April of 2011: North America’s Oldest Inhabitants Found in Texas. It’s basically more of the same.

Adherence to a particular narrative apparently holds a stronger sway than evidence contradicting that narrative. For example, one longstanding narrative that held an iron sway for so long among archaeologists told that ancients migrated across the Bering land bridge during the Ice Age, from Asia to America. But lately, some dare to suggest that the ancients instead travelled by boats along the coast, called “coastal migration.” An even more rare dissenting voice suggests that they floated straight across the Atlantic.

“The ancients”? Curious language there, I must say, as with the rest of the paragraph. I wonder, has anyone been…. Expelled?

But there’s more:
Why were these alternative ideas so long in coming? University of Oregon archaeologist Jon Erlandson told Nature, “I was once warned not to write about coastal migration in my dissertation. My adviser said I would ruin my career.”

That’s a legitimate quote, without much in the way of alleviating context – except the possibility that it might be wrong or an exaggeration. On the other hand, he did get his PhD in 1988. And again, this has not been the best fought scientific controversy.

If a career can be ruined over as trivial a matter as challenging a North American Ice Age migration story, how much more easily would it be ruined by a researcher challenging the story of dinosaur extinction millions of years before man by daring to consider evidence of human and dinosaurs having lived together?

Actually, it would probably be made – is there an applicable Nobel prize? There is a difference, after all, between bringing the evidence to light and being an early arrival to that camp.

Certainly, for many years dogmatic adherence to the Clovis-first narrative suppressed the most straightforward interpretation of field evidence for pre-Clovis peoples. Similarly, the dogma of human evolution caused researchers to misidentify human foot bones found in Africa as belonging to an extinct ape. Who knows what human fossils may have been discovered in even deeper earth layers, but misidentified because they didn’t fit the evolution narrative?

That’s the end of this article. Again, there’s a kernel of truth here – but it’s not that creationism is true.

But what about this foot fossil? He’s talking about Lucy, giving a link to Human Foot Bone Misidentified as Lucy’s from February 2011.

He claimed that a foot bone claimed to be Lucy’s is in fact from a modern human, and that other Australopithecus aferensis feet have been found that are much more ape like. The actual evidence he provided for ape-like A. aferensis feet, however, was to a 2005 Scientific American article on the ol’ Laetoli footprints, on research that apparently showed that the makers of the tracks had flat feet. They concluded from this that the tracks were not made by A. aferensis, btw. But later on in 2011 Mr Thomas claimed that:

Repeated examinations of the biomechanics required to make this famous set of tracks have consistently shown that they must have been made by something almost exactly identical to modern human feet.

Given that his claim that the foot could not be from aferensis is based on his own judgement, and that he claims that the Laetoli footprints are either ape-like or completely human depending on what fits his own narrative best at the time, I think we can discard his claim entirely. For more information on Australopithecines see these two talk.origins pages.

At any rate, returning to the original Thomas article we were talking about, including this claim is a bit of a bait and switch. He offers these allegedly misclassified fossils in place of the mesozoic humans he is talking about. Why? Because he has no such fossils.

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10 thoughts on “Clovis Conspiracy

  1. Ah, so by demonstrating the scientific method in action – with wrong ideas being revealed and abandoned – this article has inadvertently shown science to not work!

  2. “But what about this foot fossil? He’s talking about Lucy, giving a link to Human Foot Bone Misidentified as Lucy’s from February 2011.
    He claimed that a foot bone claimed to be Lucy’s is in fact from a modern human, and that other Australopithecus aferensis feet have been found that are much more ape like”.

    Different YEC groups are all over the place when looking for a ‘suitable’ pretext for denying some science.

    Answers in Genesis – who are now presenting the fossil Lucy as an exhibit which is ‘some sort of gorilla’ in their Creation Museum – wrote on 4 February 2011: “Some scientists disagree with the study’s conclusions, however. American Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Will Harcourt-Smith argues that the study does not settle the question of whether Lucy had crucially important arches on the inner foot. “It’s hard to envisage an animal that had entirely made the leap to full, obligate bipedalism,” he explained. (A composite photo in the National Geographic News coverage of the story helps illustrate Harcourt-Smith’s point, albeit unintentionally.)”.

  3. Of course there’s ANOTHER ‘hypothesis’. That Lucy was a knuckle-walking human being.

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