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Got a theory that breaks a consensus? Expect aggressive silence. Snickering. Wait decades

For a long time it was thought the first people arrived in the Americas around 13,000 years ago. Jacques Cinq-Marc  found a set of caves in the Yukon called the Bluefish Caves laden with bones marked with cuts from human butchering. They were radiocarbon dated as 24,000 years old. Cinq-Marcs published a series of papers between 1979-2001.

This is a topic that doesn’t have a $1.5 Trillion dollar industry riding on it. No political careers are made or broken if humans arrived in the Americas millenia earlier. Yet still, the smug scoffing of the consensus slowed progress in science for decades.

What Happens When an Archaeologist Challenges Mainstream Scientific Thinking?

Heather Pringer, Smithsonian.com

Cinq-Mars… work at Bluefish Caves suggested that Asian hunters roamed northern Yukon at least 11,000 years before the arrival of the Clovis people. And other research projects lent some support to the idea. At a small scattering of sites, from Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania to Monte Verde in Chile, archaeologists had unearthed hearths, stone tools and butchered animal remains that pointed to an earlier migration to the Americas. But rather than launching a major new search for more early evidence, the finds stirred fierce opposition and a bitter debate, “one of the most acrimonious—and unfruitful—in all of science,” noted the journal Nature.

But relatively few of Cinq-Mars’s peers shared his confidence. And as I began regularly attending archaeological conferences in the years following that trip to Bluefish Caves, I saw what Cinq-Mars was up against. Sitting in halls with Canadian and American researchers, I witnessed what happened when archaeologists presented data that contradicted the Clovis first model. Often a polite bemusement spread through the room, as if the audience was dealing with some crackpot uncle, or the atmosphere grew testy and tense as someone began grilling the presenter. But once or twice, the mask of professional respect slipped completely; I heard laughter and snickering in the room. Tom Dillehay remembers such conferences well. “Some Clovis first people had a suffocating air of defiance and superiority at times,” he says.

Stung as he was by the criticism, Cinq-Mars refused to back down. None of the explanations for splintered bones, he noted, could account for the complex chain of steps that produced the mammoth-bone flake tool his team found. But by then, serious doubts about the Bluefish Caves evidence had been sown, taking firm root in the archaeological community: Hardly anyone was listening. Cinq-Mars couldn’t believe it. At one presentation he gave, “they laughed at me,” he says angrily today. “They found me cute.” Embittered by the response, he stopped attending conferences, and gave up defending the site publicly. What was the point? To Cinq-Mars, the Clovis first supporters seemed almost brainwashed.

For Mackie and others, the protracted battle over the Clovis first model now stands as a cautionary tale for archaeologists. Notes Mackie, “Clovis first will, I believe, go down as a classic example of a paradigm shift, in which the evidence for the collapse of an old model is present for many years before it actually collapses, producing a sort of zombie model that won’t die.”

–There is a lot more at the Smithsonian link above from Hakai Magazine

Lauriane Bourgeon studied 36,000 bone fragments to confirm Cinq-Mars work. That was published in Jan 2017.


Lauriane Bourgeon, Ariane Burke, Thomas Higham. Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, CanadaPLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (1): e0169486 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169486

h/t MArk M in Unthreaded, and David B.

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