first peoples in a new world: colonizing ice age america. by david j. meltzer
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For example, he visits and describes Tom Lovejoys Minimum Critical Size of Eco-system Project in Brazil, the largest test to date of biogeographical models con-cerned with mitigating biotic extinction. Quammen also discusses at length theSingle Large Or Several Small debate over the optimum size of biological reservesthat was a major theoretical dispute in the s and s.
Of course, it is not entirely fair to criticize an author for not writing the bookthat he or she did not set out to write. Howeverand it warrants reiterationanyauthor who deals with extinctions in our current era, wherein human culpability ishigh on the list of causes, should accept the responsibility to shed light on the cir-cumstances and if possible, point to preventive measures concerning other endan-gered species. That Chilton can treat a topic as important and disturbing as speciesextinction with levity and self-referential lan is not necessarily a bad thing. Butafter drawing the reader so successfully into his adventure, I wish he could haveinstructed the reader more eectively about the historical and geographical con-texts of the Labrador ducks demise. Finally, I would hope that readers of this bookshare my dissatisfactions and look to the larger literature on species extinction toll in the gaps and answer the questions that this book raises. It is a large and grow-ing literature on an immense and accelerating problem.Mark Welford, GeorgiaSouthern UniversityStatesboro
FIRST PEOPLES IN A NEW WORLD: Colonizing Ice Age America. By DavidJ. Meltzer. xviii and pp.; maps, diagrs., ills., bibliog., index. Berkeley:University of California Press, . . (cloth), isbn .
The peopling of the New World was the last great adventure of our hunting andgathering ancestors. Who they were, when they arrived, and what they did afterarriving are topics of considerable research and debateoften acrimoniousamongAmerican archaeologists and their various interdisciplinary collaborators, includ-ing geographers. Many aspects of the peopling of the New World, such as the distri-bution of ice sheets, lowered sea level, and terminal Pleistocene geomorphic andbiological evolution, are fundamentally issues of geography. Indeed, geographerssuch as Carl Sauer and George Carter have been key players in some of the debatesover the First Americans. David Meltzers volume is a synthesis of much of what weknowand dont knowabout this earliest story in the archaeological record ofNorth America. Meltzer is an archaeologist, and much of this book is about archae-ology (Paleo-Indian archaeology, as it is known). But not all. Meltzer delves intoan array of disciplines that bear on the topic at hand. He takes an explicitly interdis-ciplinary approach to an inherently interdisciplinary topic. As such, many geogra-phers will want to read this volume.
This book is not intended primarily as a data-dense text or even as a compre-hensive state-of-the-discipline treatise. It is one archaeologists perspective, albeit aparticularly well-informed and interdisciplinary one. Several personal journeys,as I call them, are out on the market, describing the trials and tribulations of otherarchaeologists investigating the peopling of the New World; among them is James
Adovasios The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeologys Greatest Mystery.Meltzers approach is dierent. He attempts to tackle the fundamental issues at hand,looking as best he can at all sidesor at least the most serious and substantive sidesof the major issues. He gladly throws in and even pushes his own interpretations,but always in the context of the greater debate. His own experiences are incorpo-rated only to highlight or illustrate broader issues.
These themes in understanding the Peopling of the New World are presented inten chapters. The rst two provide the critical background of fundamental archaeo-logical issues and late Pleistocene environmental conditions in order to understandthe questions and arguments presented in the following chapters. Chapter , FromPaleoliths to Paleoindians, deals with the historical debate over the antiquity ofpeople in the New World, which began in earnest in the s and ended (at least,the rst round ended) at the Folsom site in New Mexico in the late s. Meltzer isthe leading authority on the history of the debate, and this chapter is by far the mostcomprehensive treatment of the issue available. Chapter , The Pre-Clovis Con-troversy and Its Resolution, gets into the nitty-gritty of the debate over humanantiquity in the New World that brewed in the decades following the Folsom dis-covery. By the late s, archaeologists realized artifacts named after nds nearClovis, New Mexico, were older than Folsom. For decades the conventional wisdomwas that Clovis artifacts were produced by the earliest occupants of the continent(about , years ago). But some scholars argued for an earlier occupation, insome cases based on a reasonable interpretation of what turned out to be question-able data and in other cases based on little more than wishful thinking. The issuewas resolvedfor many archaeologistsat the site of Monte Verde, Chile, in thes. Meltzer deftly weaves the story of this pre-Clovis debate.
Chapter , Non-Archaeological Answers to Archaeological Questions, looksat hypotheses and models about the peopling of the Americas derived from dataand interpretations in elds outside archaeology. These data include linguistic, den-tal, and genetic information from Native American and Asian populations. Meltzerprovides a straightforward and as uncomplicated explanation of this extremely com-plex topic as is possible and clearly illustrates the overwhelming case for origins inAsia. He also reviews the record of Paleo-Indian human remains, but only brieybecause so few of themeighteen or soare older than , years b.p.
American Origins: The Search for Consensus, chapter , looks at the archaeo-logical case for Native American origins in northeast Asia and interior Alaska, bothrepresenting the present-day subaerial remains of Beringia, the great dryland areaof the Bering land bridge that once connected North America and Asia. Good ar-chaeological connections with the record south of the ice sheets are surprisinglyskimpy but are there, especially when turning to the dna indicators. Meltzer alsogives due space and consideration to, but ultimately dismisses, the notion that Clovispopulations derived from Europe via the North Atlantic.
Chapter , What Do You Do When No Ones Been There Before? is a sum-mary of Meltzers research on peopling an unpopulated landscape. How do you
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learn the landscape and other aspects of the environment? You have no neighbors,so how do you nd your way? How does a population grow? The old fashioned way,of course, but what was the dating scene like? The earliest Americans had essentiallyunfettered access to this new land. How did they survive? They seemed to haveourished and represent the ultimate in mobility. Clovis artifacts are found in allforty-eight contiguous states and into Mexico yet apparently date to within a rangeof just a few hundred years.
Clovis Adaptations and Pleistocene Extinctions, chapter , presents the fun-damental traits of Clovis archaeology and debates over Clovis dietbig-game huntersor broad-spectrum hunter-gatherers? But of even more interest to many geogra-phers is a look at one of the great mysteries of the late Pleistocene world: the extinc-tion of some genera of animals in North America around or at least no later thanabout , years b.p.that is, toward the end of the Clovis occupation of the con-tinent. The cause or causes of the extinction have been hotly debated. Among geog-raphers the best-known explanation is overkill, attributing the demise directly orindirectly to human predation (Clovis hunting). A broad counterargument, with avariety of nuanced variations, ascribes the extinction to the dramatic climate changesunder way at the time. Meltzer summarizes the many and varied aspects of thedebate but rmly argues against overkill for the simple reason that the evidencefor it is scarce.
Chapter , Settling In: Late Paleoindians and the Waning Ice Age, reviews thepost-Clovis Paleo-Indian record, which spans more time than Clovis and is repre-sented by a much richer archaeological record. Folsom is the best-known and mostintensively studied post-Clovis assemblage and draws the bulk of Meltzers atten-tion. He also delves into terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene climate change,which was quite dramatic, paying special attention to the Younger Dryas (,, years ago), which was roughly coeval with the Folsom occupation.
The tenth and nal chapter, When Past and Present Collide, deals with NativeAmericans and their contact with Europeans as well as with contemporary issuessurrounding their dealings with archaeologists. He presents a wide-ranging andcompelling discussion of the question, Who owns the past?
Each chapter contains a sidebar of several pages focusing on some aspect of thechapter at hand; radiocarbon dating, for example, in chapter . Others present somemore sensational issues, such as the recovery and legal issues surrounding the so-called Kennewick Man or the authors eld adventures (the famous trip to MonteVerde by a blue ribbon panel of experts to pass judgment on the validity of itspre-Clovis character; and his own excavations at the Folsom site). All the sidebarsillustrate science in action, and several provide insight into the goings-on of scien-tic research, which is not always attering.
The book was intended as a coee-table volume for the informed lay public butinstead is a scientically solid and intellectually captivating synthesis written in aninformal and entertaining style. I will be using it in my course on Paleo-Indianarchaeology. It is very well illust