The Antiquity of Man in America

Objects of human manufacture recently found in the Southwest

artifacts fossil bison

Fig. 1. Artifacts associated with fossil bison on Lone Wolf Creek, Mitchell County, Texas. No. 1–Found beneath cervical vertebræ No. 2–Found beneath left femur

J. D. Figgins

When we analyze the technical opposition to the belief that man has inhabited America over an enormous period of time, we find it is not only restricted to an individual minority, but it also appears to be traceable to the results of a too circumscribed viewpoint, a failure to appreciate properly all the evidence, and a seeming unwillingness to accept the conclusions of authorities engaged in related branches of investigation. It is a fact, of course, that the nature of the material evidence upon which opinions are based is an important factor, and when such evidence is not abundant, it is obvious that students cannot successfully restrict their studies if they would avoid the dangers that arise through a lack of continuity in one or more threads of evidence.

This appears to be very well illustrated by individuals learned in physical anthropology, comparative craniology and racial relationships. The chief denials of man’s antiquity in America appear to have their origin in those sources of investigation. Such criticism would doubtless have weight and value were skeletal evidence abundant. But such evidence, representative of the periods antedating that which is regarded as “modern,” or since Pleistocene times, is exceedingly meager. Indeed, it is far too scant to make possible intelligent comparisons and safely arrive at definite conclusions. Therefore, to be of value, it is essential that it be supplemented by those branches of the sciences that are capable of fixing geologic time periods—the sole means of bridging the weaknesses that occur in the thread of evidence represented by skeletal remains. Without this aid, opinions are not only venturesome, but distinctly misleading, if given publicity.

Readers of the discussions relative to the antiquity of man in America must frequently wonder because of the antipathy for the acceptance of evidence of that character, and often they may have inquired “Why should we not expect to find such evidence, since there are neither conditions nor facts that interfere in the slightest with such an expectation?” Obviously then, denials of the antiquity of man in America, without convincing proof that we could not expect to find such evidence, are purely supposititious.

However, the purpose of the present paper is not a discussion of the relative merits of arguments previously advanced, but a presentation of new evidence of man’s antiquity in America. As the writer has not made a special study of this subject, his opinions regarding the importance of the evidence would be valueless, and for that reason he expresses none. He merely views it in the light of substantiating earlier finds of a like and similar nature, and as pointing the way to other and more important discoveries. His task is the recording of the facts as he knows them.

In 1923 Mr. Nelson J.Vaughan, a resident of Colorado, Mitchell County, Texas, in a letter to the writer, described a deposit of bones in the bank of Lone Wolf Creek, near his home. Upon request, Mr. Vaughan forwarded examples to the Colorado Museum of Natural History for determination. These proved to be fossilized parts of an extinct bison, and the following season, 1924, Mr. H. D. Boyes was sent to the locality for the purpose of making excavations.

fossil bison

Left: Fig. 2. Artifact associated with fossil bison. Collected by Mr. H. T. Martin, at Russell Springs, Logan County, Kansas. Photo by H. T. Martin; right: Fig. 3. Artifacts found associated with extinct bison, near Folsom, Union County, New Mexico. Photos by J. D. Figgins

After the removal of the overlying formation (studied and elsewhere described by Mr. Harold J. Cook, honorary curator of palæontology, Colorado Museum of Natural History) and the finding of portions of the skeletal remains associated, it was deemed most expedient to remove them in sections. This was accomplished by working down until the fossils were exposed, cutting channels through the deposit at intervals, thus forming “blocks” of considerable size, these, in turn, being encased in burlap and plaster of Paris. A heavy crate was then introduced, and when a block was firmly fixed in the latter, undercutting took place. Then, with the use of tackle, the blocks were released from their bed and turned on edge for the purpose of removing the excess matrix, and planking over the bottoms of the crates. During these operations, the nearly complete skeleton of an adult bison was uncovered, quite articulated and lying on its left side. This was divided into sections and taken up as described above.

When the excess matrix was being removed from the under side of the first block, (the one containing the cervicals, a few dorsals, their attached ribs, and the forelimbs), a complete arrowhead was discovered (illustrated in Fig. 1, No. 1) lying between the fifth and sixth cervicals and nearly in contact with the latter. (The term arrowhead is used in a broad sense, since the artifact may have been a spearhead.) As the matrix was very hard, being composed of cemented sands, gravels and clays, and necessitating the constant use of hammer and chisel, the arrowhead was detached and broken into two main fragments and numerous small slivers before it was discovered. Most of these parts were recovered and have since been assembled without other restoration. In removing the section containing the dorsal vertebrae and ribs, a second arrowhead was uncovered and likewise was detached before its presence was noted, but this example later disappeared and cannot be figured here. Accounts, however, suggest that the position which it occupied was possibly in the thorax, but it is not so recorded. The removal of the last block resulted in the finding of a portion of a third arrowhead (Fig. 1, No. 2), immediately beneath the left femur, in circumstances identical with the first; that is, in removing the matrix from the under side of the block.

Independent of the lost arrowhead, which is described as very similar to the first, two artifacts were taken from beneath an articulated and fossilized skeleton of an extinct bison. That Mr. Boyes seems not to have recognized the full importance and significance of these finds is suggested in his permitting the loss of the second example—whether through theft or otherwise—and the fact that he did not make an immediate report of them. The first intimation the writer had of their discovery came through a visitor to the Museum, who had been present when the first arrowhead was uncovered. Replies to inquiries and later verbal details by Mr. Boyes verified and enlarged upon this account in all particulars.

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