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Glacial-Age Man in South America? A Critical Review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Thomas F. Lynch*
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

Abstract

This paper is an attempt to place the dispute about early man in South America in historical context and to review the most convincing and important evidence that has been put forward. Essentially no skeletal remains–either in North or South America–have survived recent scrutiny and direct dating by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and small CO2 counters. Only a handful of North American sites still are considered likely to be pre-Clovis, but the concept of an earlier, generalized hunting-and-gathering adaptation remains popular. In South America the pre-Paleoindian sites of the 1960s and 1970s are reevaluated and found to present only weak or negative indications of early occupation. Recently discovered sites in Brazil and Chile are examined critically, and the evidence is questioned. The results of this survey and evaluation suggest that we still lack the absolutely certain case that would be necessary to support the hypothesis of glacial-age occupation. Moreover, the probability of demonstration is seen to decrease, rather than increase, as the Paleoindian horizon increasingly is defined with more certainty while only equivocal cases are marshalled for an Archaic-like pre-Paleoindian stage. In summarizing prehistory, archaeologists should depend more on unambiguous and replicated cases, rather than on regional exceptions. More interpretive caution is needed, especially where there are possibilities of mixture and secondary deposition. Natural processes often mimic cultural patterns, confusing the positive identification of informal hearths and simple artifacts.

Résumé

Résumé

Este trabajo es un intento para colocar la discusión del hombre temprano en la América del Sur en un contexto histórico, y para revisar la evidencia más convincente e importante que haya sido presentada. Prácticamente, ningún resto esqueletal, en ambos continentes, ha sobrevivido a los recientes escrutínios yfechaciones directas por AMS y pequeños contadores de C02. Solamente un puúado de sitios de la América del Norte es considerado todavía razonablemente probable de ser pre-Clovis, pero el concepto de una adaptación temprana, de caza y recolección generalizadas, es aún popular. En la América del Sur, los sitios pre-Paleoindios de los años 60 y 70 son re-evaluados, y se encontró que presentan solamente frágiles o negativas indicaciones de ocupación temprana. Los sitios de Brasil y de Chile, recientemente descubiertos, son examinados críticamente y la evidencia es cuestionada. Los resultados de esta investigación y evaluación sugieren que todavía nos hacefalta el caso absolutamente seguro que sería necesario para demostrar la hipótesis de ocupacion en la edad glacial. Más aún, la probabilidad estadística parece decrecer, antes que aumentar, mientras que el horizonte Paleoindio se define cada vez más y con mayor seguridad, en cuanto que se acumulan solamente casos equívocos para un estadio pre-Paleoindio. Los arqueológos deberían depender más de casos indubables y replicados, que de las excepciones regionales, alescribir los patrones generales de la prehistoria americana. Se ruega por más cautela interpretativa, especialmente donde existen posibilidades de mezcla y depositación secundaria. Los procesos naturales frecuentemente mimetizan los patrones culturales, confundiendo una identificación positiva de fogones informales y de artefactos sencillos.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 1990

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