- April 27th, 2017
The latest edition of Nature Magazine carries a fascinating article that reports some evidence suggesting hominid hunters of some kind were cutting up a dead Mastodon in California some 130,000 years ago. Cue the inevitable debate among Paleontologists and Archeologists; but it is also time to cue the looney-tunes.
When archeology, tenuous history, and generous interpretations of artifacts cross paths with ethnic self-identification, expect weirdness. Usually the weirdness is harmless, it is often pretentious, and sometimes dangerous.
For instant, the New Age occultists (knitted together from some older movements) of the Thule Movement had a hand in forging the Nazi Party’s ideology; and helped popularize the whole “Aryan” invention. Scraps of half-understood fact from several academic disciplines were glued together with dollops of ‘creative interpretation’, supposition, and wishful thinking. There were consequences, including more than a few lethal ones.
There are lots of people who believe their distant ancestors held the same sense of identification that they have; and impute all manner of marvelous accomplishments to those said ancestors. Some American Afro-centrists fondly imagine Quantum Physics were “invented” in Africa and perpetuated through oral traditions by tribesmen who probably had no concept of ‘Africa’, let alone a grasp of the scientific method.
There are Hindus who insist the Bhagavad Gita proves that Ancient Hindus had tanks and atom bombs but are vague about how these technologies were lost… except that perhaps the British somehow suppressed this knowledge. There is also the Turkish claim that the first man to travel to space was Lagâri Hasan Çelebi, who allegedly bundled a number of gunpowder rockets to a chair sometime in the 17th Century. If true, we might concede he was a space-cadet all right…
The Internet is rife with similar claims, from Greek teenagers who insist the ancient Athenians somehow circumnavigated Antarctica – in a Trireme no less – or Chinese who insist North America was discovered by Han Chinese. One can refer them to the British writer Terry Pratchett who posited that a successful explorer is the one who gets back with the news, hopefully with all of his limbs still attached.
The facts around the mastodon dig in California are… contestable. Was there somebody, 130,000 years ago, who was cracking bones for marrow and left a hand-chopper at the site? Maybe, or maybe not. To leap from there to imagine that the people we know as American Indians were present that long ago is a very long leap of logic; and no doubt dozens of people are making that leap today.
However, Paleontologists are not entirely sure that Homo Sapiens Sapiens even existed 130,000 years ago, though almost all accept an East-African origin for humanity sometime between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. We also know that there was a genetic “bottleneck” probably attributable to the eruption of the Toba Super-volcano around 72,000 years ago. Genetic diversity in our species is quite limited and it seems our entire ancestry shrank to a few hundred individuals at one point.
After the Toba event, the science is fairly strong about a human radiation out of Africa – and that most human beings have a Neanderthal and/or Homo Sapiens Denisovan lurking in the distant recesses of their family tree. Our genes betrayed this, and the Human Genome Project also strongly supports the conventional model of human migrations.
If there were ‘people’ in California 130,000 years ago, they didn’t leave any descendants, and that is a fact.
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