After Decades of Frozen Stagnation

It’s not often profitable to point out the negative but conversely, it doesn’t do us good to hide our problems and pretend they don’t exist.

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A little cleaning to start things off.

We have been making small improvements over the past year in the Blackwater Draw Museum and I certainly hope they continue.  We began by removing decades of accumulated junk, hoarded telephone books, outdated flyers, broken appliances, broken electronics, food containers, etc. that accumulated in the backrooms of the museum.  Now we begin a new phase.  We are still extremely limited by budget but a little enthusiasm from students and a little guidance can go a long way toward making things better.  Many thanks to those who began helping last year and who are moving us forward into a new era.

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Brightening and creating a clean look.

Much to everyone’s consternation, Some displays have lingered, unfinished, for 20 years.  This level of apathy brings me actual physical pain but enthusiastic volunteers were found to kickstart a new look.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph this before we began but this is a couple hours into work.  Tattered labels are removed, and a base layer of blue was put into the oceans.

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Coastlines were repaired, poorly-placed elements removed, and color is layered on.

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The artist not only repaired Cuba, Florida, the Canadian islands and lakes, but was so bold she added Iceland as well.

More to come as we move forward.

Following Up on the South Bank

The South Bank of the Clovis site refers to an area at the southern end of the prehistoric pond around which lie a group of cultural sites spanning a time from the end of the last ice age until recent historic times.  This watering hole provided a marshy habitat for plants and animals and was the focus of human activity for the last 14,000 years.

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The South Bank area of the Clovis site. View to the southwest.

Professional research on the South Bank of the Clovis site has been going on since the mid-1930s.  In fact, this is the area of the Clovis site where it was discovered for the first time, beyond any legitimate doubt, that humans were hunting mammoths in North America.  Other than the spear points we now know as Clovis, major discoveries in the South Bank area include bone spear points embedded in mammoth, spokeshaves, gravers, Levallois blades, turtle shells, bone flakers, bone foreshafts, and a variety of knives and other cutting tools.

Although more work has been done in the South Bank area than any other portion of the site, only a tiny fraction of all the work in this area has been published to date.  A few of us are working hard to remedy this and I have dedicated my career to unraveling the mess of 80+ years of excavation, sampling, and recording of this site.

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Edgar Howard at the Clovis site, 1933.

What we’re up to now.  A building was placed over a small portion of the South Bank in the 1990s to preserve in situ some of the spectacular preserved specimens from this area.  As time permits, we are slowing removing the overburden in this area to reveal the palimpsest of bison kills, butchering, and other activities in this area.  A particularly good crew of excavators with faunal experience were willing to volunteer some of their time over the past couple weeks and huge progress is being made.

 

Here’s a gallery of random photographs from the excavations so far.

Thanks to those who are giving time to this project of mine.  Since, for me, archaeology isn’t worth doing without disseminating the information to the broader public I’ll update the blog as we continue to make progress.  Unfortunately, day-to-day operations of the Landmark and the university take precedent over the fun stuff like this so it will be back to the grindstone before too long.

An Alibates Knife

AlibatesKnifeHere’s an interesting Paleoindian biface made from banded Alibates chert.  It was apparently discovered by a local resident in the early 1970s.  The tool (knife) measures about 12 cm (4 3/4″) and is remarkably thin, with flaking consistent with other Clovis bifaces from the site.  I have used this, as well as other unusual specimens to demonstrate the wide variety of lithic tools that are part of the tool kit that are often overlooked in the popular media.  Although we cannot be certain as to it’s exact temporal placement, based on morphology, the area where it was recovered and information from the finder, I think it is most likely Clovis in age, but we will never be certain.

I decided to post this today as one of our graduate researchers, Stacey Bennett just came across the original field note from when it was returned to the Landmark in 1984.

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A Bison Trap at the Clovis Site (poster)

Bison Trap_S.BennettAn excellent poster about Ms. Bennett’s work on the South Bank Bison Trap at the Clovis Site.  Click the image for a larger image or the following for a full pdf:

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and with Impeccable Timing…

All day, every day at the Paleoamerican Odyssey we were bombarded with a few images on the information televisions.  One of these images was the Rutz Clovis point.  It, or at least a good cast, was viewable in the artifact display room along with the Fenn Cache and some other truly remarkable finds.  Of course, the initial advertisement for the conference meeting mentioned that there would be artifacts from the actual Blackwater Draw Clovis site but if they were there, I missed them.  Maybe they were not in plain sight.

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Image by: Pete Bostrum, http://lithiccastinglab.com/.

For those of you NOT familiar with this remarkable biface, it is alleged to be a Clovis-age point discovered in Douglas County, Washington and, if authentic, is the largest Clovis point known in North America.  Pretty cool surface find, eh?  This is not to say that every knapper or archaeologist is convinced, but I don’t know many people who could even get a hands-on look.  If by some chance, it is authentic, it is a little outside the norm for a Clovis point.  Who knows?  My initial impression, as a person who has handled many authentic Paleoindian points, and made a fair few, is that the margins are remarkably poorly-formed for the finished state of the base and extremely long and very rippled flute.

From what I know of the history, and it is very little, is that this point was announced and immediately put up for sale on a “Treasure Hunter” website in February of 2013 by a “family member” of the finder.  Apparently then, sometime recently, a website was created called the http://rutzclovispoint.com/ with vital statistics and images of the point.

Where is this all going?  Well, the Rutz “Clovis” point is now up for auction!  What lucky timing.  Didn’t something like this happen in conjunction with the Clovis and Beyond?

Okay then, your cultural heritage is bought and sold piece-by-piece every day.  But who cares?

A fine question (as I am a pessimist when it comes to the natural goodness of people).

So the rub with this sale, and the others rumored this week, is that this was facilitated by the very conference that we, as professional archaeologists, just attended.  Or is it just a lucky coincidence?  I personally feel like a sucker.  It was difficult to even go to this meeting after the blow-back of the preceding weeks.  Now this?  Did Texas A&M and the Center for the Study for the First Americans really want this association?  I sincerely hope not but the list of Board Members at the CSFA concerns me greatly.  I am ready to throw my hands up in despair at our readiness to turn to the dark side.  To further your career, what is your price?

This is a real and legitimate question.  What is the proper relationship between those who trade in bits and pieces of the past and those who are meant to study it?  I have looked through many private collections in my career and most collectors are good people.  But there is something special bout the Paleoindian hoarder collector just as there is a gritty edge to some Paleoindian archaeologists.  Much like the need to possess an artifact from the Clovis type-site, regardless of the morality or even legality of the claim.

Please, feel free to comment.  I’ll continue this discussion…mañana.

PaleoAmerican Odyssey – Afterthoughts

I have hesitated to post anything about the Paleoamerican Odyssey, in part, because there was so much information and so many conversations that it’s hard to know where to begin.  It certainly made an impact on many of us.  I began drafting posts during the event, but upon reading my own words, most of what I was saying was reaction to the more appalling and shocking things.

PAC3For those who were not in attendance, let us get this straight.  This was not a scientific “conference” in the sense that papers were submitted, examined by a jury of peers, and talks selected. Feelings were mixed but as one colleague pointed out, “this was created in darkness, by an unknown committee, sponsored by collectors in antiquities, and presented to the working Paleoindian community as a completed package of self-appointed rock stars of our business.”

PAC1Some talks appeared as re-runs of Forrest Fenn’s Clovis and Beyond conference (upon which, this meeting was modeled).  Sometimes there was the feel of a very tired Dog and Pony Show.  Angry personal comments came from the podium.  Nevertheless, throughout the meetings, there were many excellent and informative papers concerned with genuine research from North and South America, and more importantly Beringia and Siberia.

PAC2As a spill-over, I had about 29 folks extend the weekend by coming to the Clovis site Sunday afternoon.  I pulled a smattering of artifacts from the type-site for people to examine and photograph in person.  We had a great time talking, knapping, and experimenting in general.  Several inquiries were made as to how to return items bought, sold, or taken from the Landmark over the years and one retired archaeologist told us of a sale he witnessed claiming to originate at the Clovis site was arranged in a “back room” meeting over the weekend.  Sad news for us.  I truly hope they are fakes, but somehow I doubt it.

As comments come in, and I have time to catch my breath, I would like to hear more from attendees as I’m sure we all had differing experiences.  I am also glad to get the opinions of the organizers if there is an interest in communicating openly with the actual archaeological community.  My intent is not to focus on the bad because I think a lot of good happened throughout the event.  I just hope it isn’t overshadowed by the dark side.

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I hope to keep this page updated during the Paleoamerican Odyssey Conference.  It will be a chore but it could be interesting. With the somewhat dark connections associated with the Clovis and Beyond Conference, rumors abound about this one including motives, funding, and possible personal agendas. After speaking of this with colleagues, I think the latter fear comes from the recruitment of the speakers as opposed to a general call for papers.  I’ll keep an open mind and let it flow over me.  I certainly expect to learn some new things.

And of course I’ll keep posting if I can.

Here’s a small copy of one of my posters to be presented.  The original is much larger but this will give the gist.  Just finished up at the printer’s.  Please don’t use without permission as the resolution is terrible on this one.