Anthropologist hunts for ancient North Americans
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Anthropology professor David Meltzer answers a question from the audience after his lecture on the early human archaeology yesterday in the Economics Building. Meltzer, a Southern Methodist University professor, focused his lecture on the Folsom, New Mexico archaeological site.
The search for the first North Americans is still on.
David Meltzer, a Southern Methodist University anthropology professor, shared his studies of early human archaeology with a crowd of about 100 in the Economics building last night.
Meltzer spent the summer in Folsom, N.M., searching for evidence of humans from the Pleistocene era - 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago - in a well-known archaeological site abandoned 70 years ago.
"Folsom forever changed the face of American archaeology," Meltzer said. "The lure of the Folsom site was overwhelming."
In 1927, an elite group of scientists discovered spearheads embedded in the skeletons of extinct bison, proving the existence of humans in North America at least 11,000 years ago, Meltzer said.
In 1997, Meltzer organized a team to discover if there was anything left at the Folsom site and his initiative paid off.
Meltzer's team uncovered bison craniums and more than 200 other parts, such as toes and vertebrae, that early humans had no use for.
"All this was terribly exciting," Meltzer said. "It showed that not only were elements of the sites intact, but the bones were still there."
Although Meltzer's team did not uncover projectile points or stone tools, evidence of humans is likely in the area, he said.
"Killing and butchering 30 bison can't be done in an afternoon," he said. "Almost surely, this group camped here for a period of days."
Meltzer also related the Folsom site to a discovery in Monte Verde, Chile in 1997 that revealed proof of South American inhabitants at least 12,500 years ago.
Scientists have concluded that early humans almost surely entered the Americas from northeast Asia, and therefore would have passed through North America years before they reached South America, Meltzer said.
Archaeologists are now searching for other evidence of humans in North America.
"What will follow is not clear," he said. "It's a whole new archaeological world out there, and there's much to fill in."
The lecture was the fourth in a series co-sponsored by the anthropology department and the Arizona State Museum.
Forestry sophomore Brian Lawson, who attended the lecture, has been to the New Mexico areas Meltzer spoke of.
"It was very interesting to see the area now and to think about it back then," Lawson said. "I found it interesting that the Monte Verde site was older."
Anthropology freshman Deidre Collins said she found the lecture interesting and relevant to her classes.
"It was really informative," Collins said. "A lot of stuff tied in, and I understood it really well."
Erin Mahoney can be reached via e-mail at Erin.Mahoney@wildcat.arizona.edu.