I thought I knew about the ‘really old’ sites in America indicating some habitation by humans prior to the “consensus” view of about 11,000 to 15,000 years ago. There are some cave deposits on the East Coast that look a bit earlier. There are some preserved burned wood deposits in what look like camp fire rings in parts of South America from 20,000 or so years BP. Not a lot, and not enough to prove much, but enough to make it a legitimate question to ask if folks were here a few thousands of years earlier than accepted, and suggest that it might be possible it was 10,000 ish years.
Then I run into something that just turns that all upside down.
It isn’t just some newly found pile of rocks or chunk of old leather and a bone fragment; found by some amateur. No, this an official archaeological dig with a very big name attached to it: Louis Leakey.
The site is named “The Calico Dig” and it is old. Very old. Very very old. 50,000 to 200,000 years old kind of old. We’re talking Homo Erectus kind of old. In North America.
This, as you might expect, caused me to pause for just a while. How could you have a site with such import, attached to such a “Name”, and even in my own back yard here in California, and you just don’t hear a peep about it?
They have a rather good web site that tells you all you could want to know:
The main entry is here, with a nice picture of a representative artifact:
There is an audio archive, an image gallery, and this text presentation:
It has 19 “pages” listed. For some, the title has the hot cells so you can click it to get the link. For most, it’s just the page NUMBER that is a live link, so you must put the cursor on the number to see the page. I’ve barely started reading it. So far just a few of the pages.
One that caught my eye was number 16: Louis Leakey’s Perspectives on the Calico Site
Perspectives on the Calico Site
THE PROBLEMS OF CALICO: SOME BACKGROUND THOUGHTS
by Louis S.B. Leakey (excerpted from Dr. Leakey’s keynote address at the International Conference on the Calico Mountains Excavations held in San Bernardino, California, October 22-25, 1970)
One of the most striking things about the Calico specimens, even with the cortex flakes, is that, almost without exception, they are not flakes struck off a piece of chert of poor quality. They are flakes struck off a selected piece of chert, or a piece of jasper. There are other materials besides chert and jasper available in that deposit, and mostly they do not have flakes removed from them, except for a few of limestone. This selectivity is something nature never does. Nature splits off flakes at random. Man knocks off flakes for a specific purpose.
The next thing I wish to consider is an important one indeed; that is the problem of age. I have consistently refused to say more about Calico than that it is over 50,000 years old, and I have consistently warned the crew that it might be a great deal more. The safe thing is to say that it is over fifty thousand years beyond the range of carbon dating. I know that there are those who believe the fan is so old that it couldn’t contain artifacts. That I don’t believe, because the artifacts are there! The possibility of a great age should not interfere with the interpretation of facts.
Yeah, more than 50,000 years beyond carbon dating…
The antiquity of the deposits is one fact. The second is that it contains specimens that certainly look as though they are man-made, I don’t think that anyone who sees the total assemblage, or even the representative assemblage I put out for your examination, will not be impressed by the evidence. I suggest that you should consider all the factors and see what it says to you. And I tell you I believe it represents unquestionable evidence that man was living at the time this particular part of the fan was accumulating and being built up.
What this means in the terms of the age of man in the Americas we’ve got to resolve. There cannot be conflict between geological truth and artifact truth, and consequently we’ve got to find how to accommodate the two.
Now that is a real scientist speaking.
The page has much more in it. The form and character of the words alone are worth the read. But when a man like Leakey says there are very old hominid tools in a place, you pretty much have to listen.
Several of the pages complain about compatibility with my plugin for something or other. Don’t know if that is because it’s an old site, or because I’m using old plugins. At any rate, be advised… but the text seems to still display OK for me.
On the intro page it gives a good idea what ‘the beef’ is with the ‘consensus folks’:
About This Site
One of the most controversial archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere is located in the Mojave Desert of California, near the town of Barstow. The site, in low hills east of the Calico Mountains, displays evidence for the presence of tool-making humans in the Americas some 200,000 years ago, far earlier than any Western Hemisphere site that has been accepted by the majority of the archaeological community. The Calico site has been developed since 1964 by Ruth DeEtte Simpson with the active involvement of Louis B. Leakey, one of archaeology’s greatest names, famed for his pioneering work on the African Paleolithic at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
Controversy centers on two issues: the authenticity of the Calico lithic artifacts and the age of the deposits in which the artifacts are found. At present, more than 11,000 inferred chert and chalcedony tools and detached flakes have been recovered from trenches and pits up to 10 meters deep, excavated in alluvium and fanglomerate cemented to an almost rocklike state by calcium carbonate either leached downward from the surface or deposited by capillary rise from an ancient high water table. The artifacts identified range from crude choppers, scrapers, and handaxes to delicate gravers, reamers, and burins. There is a conspicuous absence of spear or projectile points in any form, suggesting that the artifacts were those of a culture based on collecting rather than the pursuit of large animal prey.
The objective of this internet site is to permit interested parties to view the controversial Calico Site specimens, to answer specific questions about them and their geological context, and to open an informed dialogue about their origin and wider implications.
A much more appropriate comparison is with the crude choppers, scrapers, and hand axes of the Old World Paleolithic (Acheulean, Clactonian, etc.), well illustrated in Francois Bordes’ “The Old Stone Age,” or by Googling “Acheulean” (see “image results”). Looking at 200,000-year-old tool assemblages from well-authenticated Old World sites, one sees that Old World Paleolithic tools are, in fact, the very tools unearthed at Calico. Observers familiar only with the North American Neolithic toolkit of refined arrowheads and spear and dart points, will not easily recognize Paleolithic artifacts, which include no projectile points at all. Before assessing the Calico material, such observers should consult illustrations of accepted 200,000-year-old artifacts–the Old World Paleolithic.
In fact, the Calico Site appears to open the door to the New World Paleolithic!!!
I’ll leave the rest of that site for folks to explore on their own. The “punch line” here is simply that we’ve got a deposit of paleolithic style tools, in a paleolithic age bed, in a place I’ve driven past a dozen times in the last 20 years and never even knew existed. Sheesh…
There is even a YouTube video from a proposed TV show (that, one presumes, didn’t make it). The presenter doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the ‘control pit’. What it ought to have lead with is that if there are NO artifacts in a ‘control site’ in the same geology, it is likely NOT a natural geologic process making the artifacts. He spends a while describing the ‘control pit’ before finally getting around to how to understand it… But it does let you see the place:
He also puts emphasis on the amateur dig nature, but does not mention the site was funded under Leakey and only moved to volunteer status after Dr. Leakey died and funding dried up with his passing…
A couple of other links:
That UCR is University of California Riverside – my Son’s school. It has a ‘top text’ and links to more detail. The top layer has some interesting points in it:
Estimates of the earliest dates of human colonization in America area have traditionally varied between 12,000-16,000 BP, the latter occurring at Monte Verde, Chile. These have been based largely on the presence of a unique American invention, the Clovis Point. However, recent mitochondrial DNA data point to much earlier dates being possible, e.g., 40,000 BP. These data reveal three or four distinct migrations of humans to the Americas, and a fifth mysterious migration indicated from data collected among the Ojibwa Amerindian group in the Great Lakes region of North America. This group, called “X” had obtained genetic variation that is found in certain areas of northern Europe, which may have been contributed by copper-seeking Scandinavians at the end of the Bronze Age (see Bronze). Although archeological evidence and remains of prehuman Homo erectus are known from Eurasia, Africa and Asia, none has been verified in The Americas. This may be due in part because specific searches for such evidence are few in America. Nevertheless, recent findings are revealing the possible existence of tools and other artifacts left by Homo erectus. One site in San Bernardino County, California, The Calico Dig, has come up with suspicious findings, albeit they are difficult to verify (Dr. D. Simpson, personal communication).
There are ongoing discoveries in Midwestern and Eastern North America of Homo sapiens occurrence that are of great interest. For example, a site in Indiana contains obvious points, and flaked chips, some so-called “microchips” and a couple of axe heads, many with stylized patterns and consistent markings and carvings that do not seem to be attributable to natural causes [see Indiana Site]. There are many stones with 1-2 cm. carved shapes of humans, animals and possibly some primitive writings. Numerous carvings of the American Lion (see Lions), the American horse and cameloids point to an early Pre-Classic date for this site. Yet these animals were all presumed to have become extinct by the end of the Pleistocene around 9,000 B.C.! [see Extinct]. A site along the Savannah River of southern United States is producing dates that exceed 40,000 BC as well as other sites in South America (see Savannah).
Well, how do people who were not supposed to be here yet; draw pictures of animals that were supposed to be extinct when they got here?
But never mind, there is a consensus that they weren’t here, so just forget about it /sarcoff>.
Is the “Friends of Calico” site …
Because of the potentially ancient age of the artifacts, The Calico Early Man Site has always been highly controversial in the field of archaeology. But new data revealed at other more recently excavated sites makes Calico’s evidence more plausable.
Well, that’s nice to hear!
The complex geology of the surrounding area and the site itself makes dating by stratification techniques difficult if not impossible. Future planning for thermoluminiscent age dating on some of the older artifacts is in progress, but for now all we know is that they are remotely ancient. Many artifacts found at this quarry site likely predate the Clovis Era, putting it in the class of only a small handful of sites in all of the Americas of that age. This is Calico Early Man Site’s singular value and its contribution to science and world heritage.
Friends of Calico was founded to provide a place for the public to participate in an archaeological dig while promoting scientific discovery of the origins of man.
At the site you will: learn how to dig an archaeological site and record your findings; be trained to distinguish man-made artifacts from natural geofacts; hear varied lectures about geology, astronomy, flintknapping, early man, and related cultural topics; help preserve and manage a unique archaeological site.
This environment is dry desert, 1 1/2 mile up a graded road from Highway 15 that runs between San Bernardino and Las Vegas, off Minneola Road in Yermo, California.
The archaeological pits are a 1/4 mile walk up a maintained trail. Depending on the number of people volunteering, you may work in the pits, help maintain the site, or enjoy discovering the local flora and geology with other Friends of Calico.
Although there is no cost to participate in the digging or other volunteer efforts, you may purchase a membership to Friends of Calico, a non-profit organization, for only $25 a year which finances the ongoing scientific investigation.
You will have great fun, meet other interesting volunteers, get exercise, learn about multiple disciplines through lectures, and promote the understanding of the history of man.
I think I’ll plan on stopping in to help a bit next time I’m passing by on my way to Texas or Florida…
The site has discussions further down and schedules for events and digs.
Now I’m sitting here wondering just why this isn’t better known? It’s not like Leaky didn’t know a napped chopper when he saw one or was a nube just out with a shovel and a dream. At any rate, it looks to me like the forces of “consensus” are doing their best not to be proven wrong and have no interest in looking at evidence to the contrary, even when you can just go out and dig it out of the ground yourself…