By Ruth Musser-Lopez
May 9, 2014. Its been said that those who write history, make history. With the 2014 political season, we can definitely see how history can be reinvented with twists and spins of all sorts. Its now 4 weeks until the primary on June 3, and there are certainly those well rooted politicians who would like to obfuscate and forget. That is where news reporters, historians and archaeologists/anthropologists can really play an important role. What isn’t in the written record can often be found in material evidence…just ask any forensic anthropologist.
For example, the “Age of Corruption” in San Bernardino County is going down on the historic record but the forensics associated with the current investigation have more to do with digging into the dirt contained in computer files than the dirt of traditional archaeological trenches. The recent spate of public corruption cases are nothing new to San Bernardino County. And more are on the way, it seems, as evidenced by the information pouring in on the recent criminal defense conflict panel contract deal making case.
Here is a very cursory and brief glimpse of some of the corruptions of the past in San Bernardino County..
In the 1920s, C. S. Crane, the First District Supervisor of San Bernardino County arranged to have the district gerrymandered in such a way so that its boundary dropped down into the northern part of the city of San Bernardino, making it convenient for Crane to live in the county seat and not have to stay out in the desert where most of his constituents resided. That’s a pretty mild case of corruption by today’s standards…but things get worse after the World War II.
In 1946, in the race for District Attorney, the incumbent, Jerome Kavenaugh, arranged to have his opponent in the race, Ward Evans, indicted on grand theft charges less than a month before the election. Wounded by the adverse publicity, Evans, who previously appeared to be surging past the incumbent, lost the election that June 4, garnering 17,366 votes to Kavanaugh’s 20,786. Shortly after the election, the Evans case went to trial, with Evans representing himself. After hearing the facts of the case, the jury took less than 10 minutes to acquit Evans on the first ballot.
In 1958 before the Victorville Chamber of Commerce then-district attorney Lowell Lathrop lamented that law enforcement officers could no longer pistol whip suspects in order to beat a confession out of them.
During the months leading up to the election in 1966, it came to the attention of the public that Frank Bland, then county sheriff, was pilfering money out of the fund kept for vice narcotics operations. He was reelected anyway.
In the early 1970s, Robert Covington, who was then the county’s chief administrative officer, bootlegged a subdivision in the middle of a dry lake in Apple Valley, doing so under his mother’s name.
Thankfully corrupt politicians are not the only ones who make history and for a diverse many, the study of events that took place in San Bernardino County prehistorically is far more interesting and illuminating. For example the “Peopling of the Americas” — how North and South America became populated by humans in the first place, is currently an intriguing and hugely controversial matter going beyond our local human drama.
There are many professional archaeologists both in academia and in commercial consulting who are paid to study the subject and edify us as to how and when humans first arrived in the western hemisphere—and I have learned of one who even argues that humans originated in the Americas and then migrated to the old world!
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), this year held in Austin, Texas, with an ever-growing number of participants, more than 4,000 this time representing countries far and wide, including contingents from China and Siberia. As usual, the subject of the peopling of the Americas was the hot topic with numerous sessions devoted to “Paleo-Indians” (“paleo being a derivative word meaning “prehistoric,” “fossil” or “old”).
Typically several sessions are devoted entirely to the peopling of the Americas. One group of academics, which is perhaps the largest, are known as “Clovis First” advocates. The resistors hold that hard evidence shows that the earliest and opportune time “Paleo” humans could have arrived in the Americas is during a single wave of migration over the Beringia Land Bridge in the Bering Straight from Siberia to Alaska. This would have been during a period of lowered sea levels with the land bridge still exposed as the ice age neared its end but when glaciers were retreating, opening an ice-free inland corridor where big game could be tracked. They say that prior to that time, extensive glaciers closed off the interior corridor and after that time, the sea levels rose covering the bridge. Travel to the warmer south and the peopling of the Americas happened around 12,000 years ago, they contend.
The Paleo-Indian arrival, these archaeologists argue, is represented by a certain distinct type of tool technology that was short-lived in the “New World.” The technology involves the inclusion of a flute or channel groove about a third of the way up from the base on both sides of the projectile. Bifacial fluting permitted the point to be attached to long shafts or darts intended for spearing large game. The length of the flute seemed to evolve but then extinguished altogether along with the mammoth during the post glacial times of the Holocene, after nine or ten thousand years ago.
Variations on the Clovis First idea now abound with new discoveries especially in the west where evidence of the existence of other humans with a different tool technology referred to as “Western Stem Points” lived about the same time in North America as Clovis and perhaps earlier. Dr. Dennis L Jenkins of the University of Oregon is credited with the research at Oregon’s Paisley Cave; he uncovered the tool assemblage in roughly 13,000+ year old deposits. The assemblage does not include Clovis. The findings at Paisley Cave suggest that Clovis was not first and since Clovis is also not found in Asia, it must have been invented in America after humans using a different technology were already here.
The Pre-Clovis camp contends that there were numerous waves of migration to the Americas and point to the diversity of languages in the Americas and also ancient skeletal remains, which may include traits not typically associated with modern Native Americans, such as the Kennewick man dating to about 9,500 years ago. Those who contend a pre Clovis arrival date prior to 13,000 years ago, point to evidence of brief global warming episodes prior to the terminal Pleistocene which may have also provided opportunities for entering America from Asia. One archaeologist last week reminded us that Clovis points had been found in the Rocky Mountain range and that humans have always been able to adapt to extremely cold conditions, hinting that we could have entered into the Americas at any point in time since there has always been another land bridge, howbeit in icy conditions, between Asia and the Americas if you simply trace the Rocky Mountain range north across high elevations and over the polar cap.
Some archaeologists considered the whole issue settled years ago when a panel of experts judged that the Monte Verde site in southern Chile was pre-Clovis over 13,000 years old, so the migration must have began well before that time.
Meanwhile, 40 miles northwest of our SAA meeting location in Austin is a site called Buttermilk Creek where stone tools such as projectile points, blades, choppers and other tools made from local chert, dating from 13,200 to 15,500 years ago were embedded in thick clay sediments immediately beneath Clovis material. During the meeting, some people visited the site. “This is the oldest credible archaeological site in North America,” Michael R. Waters, leader of the discovery team, said at a news teleconference as reported by John Noble Wilford (New York Times 3/24/11).
Dr. Waters, analyzed the pottery of San Bernardino County but is currently Director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. He and his colleagues concluded in the journal article that their research over the last six years “confirms the emerging view that people occupied the Americas before Clovis…”
Increasingly, the numbers are falling in the Clovis First contingent as evidence is brought forward at SAA meetings with regard to human occupation sites well over 13,000 years old. Some archaeologists (to whom I have spoken with between SAA’s multitude of sessions held simultaneous over the 4-day meeting period) are holding out before they weigh in on the Pre-Clovis debate. Since the Buttermilk Creek artifacts were dated through stratigraphy and a method called “luminescence” of inorganic materials, archaeologists are waiting for corroboration with radiocarbon dates (from organic deposits) yet to actually be published from the Meadowcroft Rockshelter site excavated by Dr. James M. Adovasio.
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter is important. The 2011 New York Times report also stated that Adovasio, a professor at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., said some of the Buttermilk Creek material resembled tools at his Meadowcroft Rockshelter site and other “Pre-Clovis” sites at Cactus Hill, Virgina, and Miles Point, Maryland to name a few.
Getting to the bottom of the Pre-Clovis debate is often discouraging. Here is an example of what we sometimes have learned to anticipate at the meetings: Dr. James Chatters reports that the radiocarbon dating of a submerged prehistoric human skeleton found commingled with gomphothere (elephant like) remains in a cave off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula was impossible to obtain a radiocarbon date from due to the loss of bone proteins in warm water. An innovative dating approach used by researchers showed that the human cranium was not as old as the gomphothere… “however I am not authorized to release the date of the human remains yet” said Chatters. Apparently we must wait for the publication to come out.
If there is truly breaking news, you might hear it first on Twitter by the New York Times science writers, reports on the nightly news, or daily internet media like Yahoo.com. National Geographic, History Channel, and various featured programs on the Public Broadcasting Stations may take a little longer. Wikipedia, Ask.com, About.com and many other websites, including professional websites like “J-Store” and “Highbeam” requiring passwords are also used to disseminate information. Many researchers upload their papers at Academia.edu, Linkedin, and Editage.com. Nationwide professional journals such as SAA’s “American Antiquity” often take longer to report as there is a backlog of articles waiting to be published. However, year after year, archaeologists report unusual to routine new findings gathering in various places around the world and publishing their abstracts in meeting programs.
Most of our local county archaeological news becomes part of the historic record in forums not too far from home and journals published on the west coast. The San Bernardino County Museum is an excellent place to start learning about our county’s history and prehistory. I personally try to attend a variety of professional meetings each year, including the SAA (SAA.org), the Pecos Conference (southwest archaeology—see SWANET.org), the Great Basin Anthropological Association Conference (see GBAC.whsites.net), the American Rock Art Research Association conference (ARARA.org), the Nevada Archaeological Association conference (NVarch.org) and, of course, the annual meeting of the Society for California Archaeology (SCA). The SCA (see SCAhome.org) is second in size only to the SAA and is well attended by West Coast archaeological professionals. The SCA now publishes “California Archaeology—The SCA Journal.” Other journals publishing information on San Bernardino County archaeology include (but are not limited to) the Pacific Coast Archaeological Association Quarterly, the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, and the Nevada Archaeologist.
More and more we hear experts asserting that entry to the Americas could have been via numerous avenues at different times or waves. A 2008 study on the genetics of modern Native American populations suggests that the 86 samples taken are descendants of a single migration that spread out along a coastal route prior to the Clovis era (Fagundes NJ, Kanitz R, Eckert R, et al. (March 2008)). My favorite debate to watch is over the “North Atlantic Ice-Edge Corridor Hypothesis” which was revived by Dennis Stafford of the Smithsonian Institute and colleague Bruce Bradley, University of Exeter (2002) in the 1990s. They argue that Clovis people inherited their technology from the Solutrean people who lived in southern Europe 21,000–15,000 years ago.
When I went to college at the University of California in the 1970s I was told never to let the word “Solutrean” slip off my lips. My mouth is shut but my mind is open. I am actively watching for publications of dates and findings from the archaeological projects off of our Harvard/Ivy League northeast coastline. The theory was long scoffed at but now years after they first made the case, Stafford and Bradley have published a book “Across Atlantic Ice” and their argument is compelling.
“At the core of Stanford’s case are stone tools recovered from five mid-Atlantic sites. Two sites lie on Chesapeake Bay islands, suggesting that the Solutreans settled Delmarva early on. Smithsonian research associate Darrin Lowery found blades, anvils and other tools found stuck in soil at least 20,000 years old” reported Brian Vastag in the Washington Post (2012).
I also like the DNA research being conducted by Dr. John Johnson and his students at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their research is often reported at the SCA.
Using recent DNA evidence detected in islands along the Pacific coast, it has been suggested by some researchers that a coastal migration using floating devices is not only a possibility but a likelihood—in other words, humans were not limited by foot travel over land bridges but could have followed the coast line via buoyed transport at a very early point in time.
The location of the annual meeting of the Society for California Archaeology is alternately held in northern, southern and central California. In March of this year it was held in Visalia, next year on March 15th, 2015 it will be held in Redding and the following year, March 13, 2016 it will be held in San Bernardino County at the Doubletree by Hilton Ontario Airport.
Typically, there are a couple of regional sessions that San Bernardino County fits into—mountains, Colorado River, deserts. As the debate regarding the earliest people of the Americas continues to heat up along with our globe, our own San Bernardino County early man site “Calico” gets increasingly more attention—and gets hotter by every minute approaching summer. This year at the SAA meeting, Dr. Waters referred to Calico among a list of other “pre-Clovis” sites where the evidence has been less than convincing but should be looked at more seriously using new research technology since other sites in both North and South America have yielded sufficiently strong evidence to support a pre-Clovis peopling of America. A year from now, the SAA will be held in San Francisco and it is anticipated that the SCA members will be there to present their theories and findings on the peopling of America via coastal migration southward along the Pacific into Central and South America. I anticipate that we will also hear evidence that the migration slipped up into the Gulf of California, up the Colorado River and inland through what is now called San Bernardino County well over 13,000 years ago—stay tuned.
Syndicated 2014, Ruth Musser-Lopez—Small quotes citing author, the Sentinel and publication date are permissible under copyright law. Please respect the rights of those with photo credits and quoted herein by referencing source. Permission to reprint this article may be obtained by contacting Ruth at the Archaeological Heritage Association (AHA) 760/885-9374 or via email at Ruth@RiverAHA.org.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez