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.
A new theory suggests that a blast from space 13,000 years ago may have been responsible for changes in Ice Age human cultures, and for wiping out most of North America’s large mammals, a fate similar to what large dinosaurs may have met 65 million years earlier.
The extraterrestrial blast from a large object, such as a comet or asteroid, colliding with Earth would have caused a significant climate cooling over the North American continent lasting for centuries.
According to Dr. Richard Firestone of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, the source of the collision may have originated from a supernova explosion that occurred about 250 light years from Earth.
“Our research indicates that a 10-kilometer-wide comet, which may have been composed from the remnants of a supernova explosion, could have hit North America 13,000 years ago,” says Firestone. “This event was preceded by an intense blast of iron-rich grains that impacted the planet roughly 34,000 years ago.”
Firestone and co-researcher Alan West say evidence of the supernova’s initial shockwave can be found in tiny impact craters in 34,000 year-old mammoths tusks. The two men theorize the tiny craters are the results of iron-rich grains traveling at 10,000 kilometers per hour slamming into the enamel.
Other evidence supports the comet impact theory. Sediment layers at some 22 prehistoric sites across the continent, show high of levels of iridium, along with concentrations of tiny diamond chips called nanodiamonds. There’s also a black layer of high carbon content that researchers argue could be the remains from wildfires ignited by the blast that swept across the continent.
No crater is known but scientists suggest that ice sheets present at the time may have been thick enough to act as a buffer against the collision.
It’s also possible the space rock exploded in the atmosphere but even then a shockwave of intense heat that would have wiped out everything in its path for miles around, and would have caused immediate and long-term damage to any existing human cultures. Glacial ice would have melted and surged into the North Atlantic, changing currents and effects on climate for centuries.
Such an event seems to coincide with the onset of what’s known as the Younger Dryas Episode, a period of significant environmental changes, Paleolithic cultural development, and mega-fauna extinctions.
All the large mammals that once populated the North and South Americas disappeared suddenly right about the estimated time of the extra-terrestrial impact.
"All the elephants, including the mastodon and the mammoth, all the ground sloths, including the giant ground sloth - which, when standing on its hind legs, would have been as big as a mammoth," said Professor James Kennett, from the University of California in Santa Barbara.
"All the horses went out, all the North American camels went out. There were large carnivores like the sabre-toothed cat and an enormous bear called the short-faced bear."
The effects of such a sudden extinction would certainly impact human populations as well. And that seems to be what happened. A number of prehistoric cultures such as the Clovis seem to have disappeared around the same time.
The new theory will be presented and hashed out this week at the American Geophysical Union's Joint Meeting in Acapulco, Mexico.
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