Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

No evidence for Clovis comet catastrophe, archaeologists say

Date:
October 1, 2010
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
New research challenges the controversial theory that an ancient comet impact devastated the Clovis people, one of the earliest known cultures to inhabit North America.

These are Clovis Points.
Credit: David Meltzer

New research challenges the controversial theory that an ancient comet impact devastated the Clovis people, one of the earliest known cultures to inhabit North America.

Writing in the October issue of Current Anthropology, archaeologists Vance Holliday (University of Arizona) and David Meltzer (Southern Methodist University) argue that there is nothing in the archaeological record to suggest an abrupt collapse of Clovis populations. "Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is a matter for empirical testing in the geological record," the researchers write. "Insofar as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist."

The comet theory first emerged in 2007 when a team of scientists announced evidence of a large extraterrestrial impact that occurred about 12,900 years ago. The impact was said to have caused a sudden cooling of the North American climate, killing off mammoths and other megafauna. It could also explain the apparent disappearance of the Clovis people, whose characteristic spear points vanish from the archaeological record shortly after the supposed impact.

As evidence for the rapid Clovis depopulation, comet theorists point out that very few Clovis archaeological sites show evidence of human occupation after the Clovis. At the few sites that do, Clovis and post-Clovis artifacts are separated by archaeologically sterile layers of sediments, indicating a time gap between the civilizations. In fact, comet theorists argue, there seems to be a dead zone in the human archaeological record in North America beginning with the comet impact and lasting about 500 years.

But Holliday and Meltzer dispute those claims. They argue that a lack of later human occupation at Clovis sites is no reason to assume a population collapse. "Single-occupation Paleoindian sites -- Clovis or post-Clovis -- are the norm," Holliday said. That's because many Paleoindian sites are hunting kill sites, and it would be highly unlikely for kills to be made repeatedly in the exact same spot.

"So there is nothing surprising about a Clovis occupation with no other Paleoindian zone above it, and it is no reason to infer a disaster," Holliday said.

In addition, Holliday and Meltzer compiled radiocarbon dates of 44 archaeological sites from across the U.S. and found no evidence of a post-comet gap. "Chronological gaps appear in the sequence only if one ignores standard deviations (a statistically inappropriate procedure), and doing so creates gaps not just around [12,900 years ago] but also at many later points in time," they write.

Sterile layers separating occupation zones at some sites are easily explained by shifting settlement patterns and local geological processes, the researchers say. The separation should not be taken as evidence of an actual time gap between Clovis and post-Clovis cultures.

Holliday and Meltzer believe that the disappearance of Clovis spear points is more likely the result of a cultural choice rather than a population collapse. "There is no compelling data to indicate that North American Paleoindians had to cope with or were affected by a catastrophe, extraterrestrial or otherwise, in the terminal Pleistocene," they conclude.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Vance T. Holliday, David J. Meltzer. The 12.9-ka ET Impact Hypothesis and North American Paleoindians. Current Anthropology, 2010; 51 (5): 575 DOI: 10.1086/656015

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "No evidence for Clovis comet catastrophe, archaeologists say." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100929171815.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2010, October 1). No evidence for Clovis comet catastrophe, archaeologists say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100929171815.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "No evidence for Clovis comet catastrophe, archaeologists say." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100929171815.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 14, 2014) A hoard of Viking artifacts dating back over 1,000 years is discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Scotland. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins