A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Science Marches On

TOF first ran across the notion of humans in America prior to the American Indians in a fiction! It was "Beringia," a 1990 story by Poul Anderson in his Time Patrol book The Shield of Time. It follows Wanda Tamberly, a time patrolman who has been studying this pre-Indian people (and has grown attached to them) when a band of Indians finds its way across the Bering Land Bridge. They bully the indigenous people (because they can. They are technologically more advanced.) But even when they don't, they over-awe the natives. But they also fear the native's powers of magic. After all, they are in their country and feeling very insecure, having fled their own land. Everything hits the fan, there are causal loops, and the time patrolman has to salvage her own reputation, too.

Either Kennewick Man
or Patrick Stewart
In 1996, the skeletal remains of Kennewick Man were found -- happily enough near Kennewick WA, since otherwise his name would make no sense. Anatomically, he bore no relationship to American Indians but was closely related to the Ainu of Japan. (And perhaps to Patrick Stewart, which brings up all sorts of SFnal possibilities involving time travel...) This triggered a crisis. One camp contended that to recognize this fact would be (somehow) to justify the European Genocide of the American Indians Native Americans. After all, if the Indians had done it to someone else... then something something. The science of Victimology has not developed enough to settle the matter of reparations in such cases. As Mark Twain once observed: There ain't an acre of land on earth in possession of its rightful owners.

Suit was brought. (This is America!) The Umatilla tribe wanted custody of the bones so they could bury them "according to tribal tradition." They did not mean the tribal traditions of the Ainu. Because their oral history "goes back 10,000 years" and says that "their people have been present on their historical territory since the dawn of time," the Umatilla claim that any finding that Kennewick Man is not Native American is detrimental to their religious beliefs. (This is actually a flat-out conflict between science and religion; yet it is seldom mentioned when the topic comes up...)

Besides, how would you like it if your ancestor were dug up and studied and deposited in a museum? Like Heidelberg Man or Java Man or Peking Man or Altamuro Man or the Red Lady of Paviland or... Hmm. Okay, old bones are frequently treated this way in Europe, Africa, China, or Egypt (though in Egypt they are often securely wrapped and we even know their names); but still...

They also tried to prevent the scientific study of the bones -- and the arrowhead embedded in the hip. According to Wikipedia, the Corps of Engineers, which holds ownership of the bones, continues to deny scientist's requests to conduct additional studies of the skeleton. TOF is unsure whether the Usual Suspects are on the side of science in this one.

Now comes another find pushing the date back:
New Evidence Puts Man In North America 50,000 Years Ago
Radiocarbon tests of carbonized plant remains where artifacts were unearthed last May along the Savannah River in Allendale County by University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear indicate that the sediments containing these artifacts are at least 50,000 years old, meaning that humans inhabited North American long before the last ice age.
Which is not only one helluva single sentence, but also may be "an inference too far." The evidence is actually that artifacts were found in sediments dug up with a backhoe that contained 50k-year old carbonized plant remnants. For all one knows, these were the remains of a primordial forest fire in which the artifacts much later wound up. Did Paleoindians not know how to dig a hole? The excavator (the scientist, not the backhoe) has built his reputation on pushing back the earliest humans in North America, so it's not like he's seeing what he wants to see, and the idea is in fact quite exciting, for those excitable about such things. TOF sometimes wishes these things were announced with a little more uncertainty. It's not mathematics, after all.

Putting modern humans in North America at about the same time they were in Central Asia (50,000 ybp) and before they were in Europe (40,000 ybp) indicates a fleetness of foot on the part of Early Man that is remarkable. If this keeps up, we may learn that H. erectus made it here, too!


  1. Putting modern humans in North America at about the same time they were in Central Asia (50,000 ybp) and before they were in Europe (40,000 ybp) indicates a fleetness of foot on the part of Early Man that is remarkable

    Clearly, they just walked across Atlantis. *grin*

    Seriously, though, this is so cool!

  2. Clearly, they just walked across Atlantis. *grin*

    Nah. Obviously, some "ancient aliens" used their spaceships to move a group of humans from Central Asia to North America. Well ... I'm sure that's what the History Channel will say at some point anyway.

  3. No one walks across Atlantis. Breathing underwater and taking underground currents is the only way in or out. Keeps out the riff raff. Aquatic homonids, who knew? Labyrinths on dry ground are better when flooded.

    Hydroelectric systems of mounds, all over. Works with wind and water. Swamp water, and brooding.