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Defending the consensus model

17 August 2014

At http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/discovery-suggests-… … a set of tusks in a museum, once attached to a mastodon skull that was thrown overboard, ended up in the nets of fishermen from Chesapeake Bay, along with some stone tools. They have been stored away for some 40 years or so, in the dark recesses of a museum. The interesting thing about them is that the sea floor in which they were dredged up from is continental shelf that would have been dry land during the last Ice Age. It is the North American equivalent of the North Sea basin. The tusks have been carbon dated to 22,000 years ago – which has set alarm bells ringing. Humans are not supposed to have been in the Americas at such an early date – which means some people have gone into denial. Vance Holliday, an archaeologist who was highly critical of the Younger Dryas impact theory, is equally as dismissive of the idea humans arrived in the Americas prior to Clovis.

The remains were rediscovered in a museum storeroom by a geologist (not an archaeologist). He had read about Stanford's theory that Clovis people were related to a people in Iberia who made similar elongated tools. Hence, he informed him of the find and Stanford (now with the Smithsonian) brought them to the attention of the world at large in an article. Hence, Holliday's fit of pique.

The episode draws attention to a flaw in current practise – and that is the role of museums. These have become vast dumping grounds for archaeologists, geologists, biologists, and palaeontologists etc. However, they are not bottomless holes. They run out of storage capacity. At that point they either look for new storerooms or they begin to dump stuff – stuff that is not deemed very important (at the time). Other stuff takes its place – new stuff from a recent dig, for example. The county museum in my neck of the woods has storage capacity at the museum and at a nearby RAF base (in what used to be a spacious nissan hut). It is bursting at the seams. A few years ago it had to find another storeroom, and even this is now full up. So, what do they do – start throwing some of it out, or get another storeroom. The caveat here is that it would have to come out of public funds. No wonder archaeologists are now keen to keep most finds in the ground – out of harm's way. Thery can easily get lost if they end up in the museum.

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