Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Story Telling by Eske Willerslev

I am curious to know why Eske Willerslev is so certain that humans could not have lived in a marginal and partially glaciated environment between 26,000 and 12,000 years ago.  First of all, recent papers on the last glaciation in Alberta indicate that the glaciers might have been passable for much of the period between 26,000 and 12,000 years ago (Link).  Secondly, we know that elk and caribou in Europe did not move significantly from their core ranges in Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum (Link).  There is no reason to think that elk and caribou in North American moved out of the regions to the north and south of the Cordilleran-Laurentide glacial conjuncture during the period between 26,000 and 12,000 years ago.  Even today, elk and caribou do inhabit areas directly adjacent to the Canadians Rockies.  There is no reason to think that areas proximate to Alberta, Montana, Eastern British Columbia and the Yukon were not inhabited by elk and caribou for much of the Ice-Age.

The humans that hunted these elk and caribou would also have been living, at least part of the year, in cold climates and could have lived in and traveled through the Cordilleran-Laurentide glacial conjuncture when it was passable.  There is also the possibility that travel was limited to the summer months.

There is now ample evidence that humans were living in cold steppe like climates 24,000 years ago.  For example, humans were living in Lake Baikal, Siberia (Mal'ta Buret' culture) and likely also in the Canadian Yukon at Bluefish caves 24,000 years ago.  Moreover, based on the dating of 13,500 years ago of a horse hunting site at St. Mary's reservoir, Southern Alberta, humans were living at the southern end of the Cordilleran-Laurentide glacial conjuncture 13,500 years ago.

Eske Willerslev states that humans would not have been able to find fuel in the barren landscape of the Southern Alberta tundra during the Ice Age.  What about the Inuit?  They live on the tundra and use animal fat, including caribou fat, as a fuel source, and are not reliant on wood. 

So, in addition to humans living along the West Coast of the Americas more than 14,000 years ago (Monte Verde, Chile and Triquet Island, British Columbia), and at sites such as Cactus Hill, Virginia and Meadowcroft more than 16,000 years ago, it is very likely that humans were also living in steppe and tundra like regions both north and south of the Cordilleran-Laurentide glacial conjuncture.

It is high time that Eske Willerslev thought a little more carefully and stopped preaching about what he thinks humans couldn't do before 12,500 years ago.  Humans had to wait for the "Ice Free" corridor to turn into a boreal forest populated by "moose" in order to inhabit it?  Newsflash:  even today, there are not many moose in dry and windy Southern Alberta.

It is not as if I am suggesting that glacial Alberta 20,000 years ago was widely inhabited, but the notion that is was utterly devoid of humans until "12,500 years ago" is implausible.  Yes, there was a coastal zone off the West Coast of the Americas that enabled human movement.  Nevertheless, to say that was the only way for humans to move into and out of the Americas for 15,000 years is unlikely.

It is unacceptable that Willerslev is using his bully pulpit to enforce notions of human prehistory that are not supported by the evidence.  One of the problems here is that genomic ancient DNA research is done at a handful of elite universities that are tightly coupled with news outlets that quickly publish half baked scientific ideas.

Small cultural anthropology and archaeological teams, geology and paleoecology researchers, and indigenous researchers do not have access to the budget or media machines of these genomic ancient DNA teams.  Our notions of human prehistory are increasingly at the mercy of herd mentality ancient DNA "research".

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