Courtesy redcarperDid I write “carp” in the title of this post? That’s not at all what I meant to write. I guess it’s just one of those things spell check isn’t going to catch, you know, because “carp” is a real word. It’s a fish, but I wasn’t talking about fish.
No, I meant to point out that scientists have added another nail to the already pretty well sealed coffin of the Clovis-first hypothesis for the population of the new world. And exactly what is this nail? This crusty, brown nail? Why, it’s an ancient piece of dried human excrement. That’s right, a 14,300-year-old piece of carp.
The carp in question was found in Oregon’s Paisley Caves, a series of eight westward facing, wave-cut caves overlooking Lake Chewaucan. Not a bad place for a carp, I imagine. Apparently ancient Americans thought so too.
The Clovis first/pre-Clovis debate has been mentioned on the site before, but, briefly, here it is: For decades it was generally believed that the Clovis people (named so for the distinct style of stone tools they used) were the very first humans to inhabit the Americas. Clovis people are thought to have arrived in North America about 13,000 years ago at the earliest, and that there could have been people here before then was not seriously considered by most archaeologists. In the last thirty or so years, however, an increasing number of archaeological sites have been excavated that demonstrate very compelling evidence for pre-Clovis cultures in the Americas, people who arrived here thousands of years before Clovis. Clovis-first proponents still argue against the validity of some of these sites, which seem to indicate—stratigraphically and through carbon dating—occupation significantly earlier than 13,000 BP, but the presence of pre-Clovis peoples in the Americas is now more or less agreed upon.
This carppy new find, however, is the first actual example of pre-Clovis human DNA that has been found; it is the oldest human DNA obtained from the Americas. The team’s lucky geneticists were able to extract and analyze mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line, from the dried carp. The carp itself was radiocarbon dated to be about 14,300 years old, and the DNA found was matched to haplogroups A2 and B2, genetic groups common to Siberia and east Asia. Interestingly enough, three of the six pieces of carp also tested positive for DNA similar to red fox, coyote, or wolf. My money’s on the theory that the carpers of Paisley Cave were some kind of wolf-people, although the University if Oregon team working at the site thinks it’s more likely that the people had simply eaten some foxes, or that one of these animals had urinated on the carp later.
Although the Paisley Cave site has generally been very productive in terms of yielding artifacts—archaeologists have found exceptionally fine threads of sinew and plant fibers, hide, basketry, cordage, rope, wooden pegs, animal bones, projectile point fragments, and “diverse kinds of feces”—exactly who its former occupants were is still unknown. The site lacks a broad assemblage of stone tools, something often used to define Paleo-Indian cultures. So we don’t really know how these people relate to the Clovis culture, only that they were definitely present in North America at a much earlier time.
Still, not a bad discovery at all. I mean, who would have thought that the oldest human remains discovered (so far) would turn out to be carp? There’s something like irony here.