Topic ID #2830 - posted 2/3/2008 4:12 PM

Monte Verde

Charlie Hatchett

Monte Verde Excavation: or Clovis Police Beat a Retreat

After long, often bitter debate, archeologists have finally come to a consensus that humans reached southern Chile 12,500 years ago. The date is more than 1,000 years before the previous benchmark for human habitation in the Americas, 11,200-year-old stone spear points first discovered in the 1930s near Clovis, N.M.
The Chilean site, known as Monte Verde, is on the sandy banks of a creek in wooded hills near the Pacific Ocean. Even former skeptics have joined in agreeing that its antiquity is now firmly established and that the bone and stone tools and other materials found there definitely mark the presence of a hunting-and-gathering people.

The new consensus regarding Monte Verde, described in interviews last week and formally announced Monday, thus represents the first major shift in more than 60 years in the confirmed chronology of human prehistory in what would much later be called, from the European perspective, the New World.

For American archeologists it is a liberating experience not unlike aviation's breaking of the sound barrier; they have broken the Clovis barrier. Even moving back the date by as little as 1,300 years, archeologists said, would have profound implications on theories about when people first reached America, presumably from northeastern Asia by way of the Bering Strait, and how they migrated south more than 10,000 miles to occupy the length and breadth of two continents. It could mean that early people, ancestors of the Indians, first arrived in their new world at least 20,000 years before Columbus.

Evidence for the pre-Clovis settlement at Monte Verde was amassed and carefully analyzed over the last two decades by a team of American and Chilean archeologists, led by Dr. Tom D. Dillehay of the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Remaining doubts were erased by Dillehay's comprehensive research report, which has been circulated among experts and is to be published next month by the Smithsonian Institution. And last month, a group of archeologists, including some of Monte Verde's staunchest critics, inspected the artifacts and visited the site, coming away thoroughly convinced.

In his report of the site visit, Dr. Alex W. Barker, chief curator of the Dallas Museum of Natural History, said: "While there were very strongly voiced disagreements about different points, it rapidly became clear that everyone was in fundamental agreement about the most important question of all. Monte Verde is real. It's old. And it's a whole new ball game."

The archeologists made the site inspection under the auspices of the Dallas museum, where their conclusions were reported Monday, and with additional support by the National Geographic Society. The archeologists, all specialists in the early settlement of America, included Dr. C. Vance Haynes of the University of Arizona, Dr. James Adovasio of Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., Dr. David J. Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Dr. Dena Dincauze of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dr. Donald K. Grayson of the University of Washington in Seattle and Dr. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Dincauze, who had expressed serious doubts about the site's antiquity, said that Dillehay's report made "a convincing case" that the remains of huts, fireplaces and tools showed human occupation by a pre-Clovis culture.

"I'm convinced it's 100 percent solid," Dr. Brian M. Fagan, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said of the new assessment of Monte Verde. "It's an extraordinary piece of research."

Finally vindicated, Dillehay said, "Most archeologists had always thought there was a pre-Clovis culture out there somewhere, and I knew that if they would only come to the site and look at the setting and see the artifacts, they would agree that Monte Verde was pre-Clovis."

Monte Verde, on the banks of Chinchihaupi Creek, is in the hills near the town of Puerto Montt, 500 miles south of Santiago. Dillehay and Dr. Mario Pino of the Southern University of Chile in Valdivia began excavations there in 1976. They found the remains of the ancient camp, even wood and other perishables that archeologists rarely find, remarkably well preserved by the water-saturated peat bog that covered the site, isolating the material from oxygen and thus decay.

Tent Stakes

As Dillehay reconstructed the prehistoric scene in his mind, a group of 20 to 30 people occupied Monte Verde for a year or so. They lived in shelters covered in animal hides. They gathered berries in the spring, chestnuts in the fall and also ate potatoes, mushrooms and marsh grasses. They hunted small game and also ancestors of the llama and sometimes went down to the Pacific, 30 miles away, for shellfish. They were hunters and gatherers living far from the presumed home of their remote ancestors, in northeastern Asia.

The evidence to support this picture is extensive. Excavations turned up wooden planks from some of the 12 huts that once stood in the camp, and logs with attached pieces of hide that probably insulated these shelters. Pieces of wooden poles and stakes were still tied with cords made of local grasses, a telling sign that ingenious humans had been there. "That's something nature doesn't do," Barker said. "Tie overhand knots."

Stone projectile points found there were carefully chipped on both sides, archeologists said. The people of Monte Verde also made digging sticks, grinding slabs and tools of bone and tusk. Some seeds and nuts were shifted out of the soil. A chunk of meat had managed to survive in the bog, remains of the hunters' last kill; DNA analysis indicates the meat was from a mastodon. The site also yielded several human coprolites, ancient fecal material.

Nothing at Monte Verde was more evocative of its former inhabitants than a single footprint beside a hearth. A child had stood there by the fire 12,500 years ago and left a lasting impression in the soft clay.

Child's Foot Print

Radiocarbon dating of bone and charcoal from the fireplaces established the time of the encampment. The date of 12,500 years ago, said Meltzer, author of "Search for the First Americans," published in 1993 by the Smithsonian Institution, "could fundamentally change the way we understand the peopling of the Americas."

Child's Foot Print at Left

The research, in particular, shows people living as far south as Chile before it is clear that there existed an ice-free corridor through the vast North American glaciers by which people might have migrated south. In the depths of the most recent ice age, two vast ice sheets converged about 20,000 years ago over what is now Canada and the northern United States and apparently closed off human traffic there until sometime after 13,000 years ago. Either people migrated through a corridor between the ice sheets and spread remarkably fast to the southern end of America or they came by a different route, perhaps along the western coast, by foot and sometimes on small vessels. Otherwise they must have entered the Americas before 20,000 years ago.

Dr. Carol Mandryk, a Harvard University archeologist who has studied the American paleoenvironment, said the concept of an ice-free corridor as the migration route emerged in the 1930s, but her research shows that even after the ice sheets began to open a path, there was not enough vegetation there to support the large animals migrating people would have had to depend on for food.

"It's very clear people couldn't have used this corridor until after 13,000 years ago," Mandryk said. "They came down the coast. I don't understand why people see the coast as an odd way. The early people didn't have to be interior big-game hunters, they could have been maritime adapted people." No archeologists seriously considers the possibility that the first Americans came by sea and landed first in South America, a hypothesis made popular in the 1960s by the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. There is no evidence of people's occupying Polynesia that long ago. All linguistic, genetic and geological evidence points to the Bering Strait as the point of entry, especially in the ice age, when lower sea levels created a wide land bridge there between Siberia and Alaska.

Although several other potential pre-Clovis sites have been reported, none has yet to satisfy all archeologists in the way Monte Verde has just done. But archeologists expected the verification of Monte Verde would hasten the search for even older places of early human occupation in the Americas.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5517 - replied 2/3/2008 4:13 PM

Charlie Hatchett


Monte Verde: Blessed But Not Confirmed

Science Volume 275, Number 5304, Issue of 28 February 1997, pp. 1256-1257

©1997 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ann Gibbons

It was the ultimate field trip. A dozen prominent archaeologists flew to Chile in January to see a crucial site in a long-standing dispute over when humans first reached South America. And when the expedition announced earlier this month that the Monte Verde site was indeed 12,500 years old--and so the oldest accepted human site in the Americas--The New York Times compared it to "aviation's breaking of the sound barrier." Thanks to this trip, the paper concluded, the field had "finally come to a consensus" and had abandoned the leading model for the peopling of the New World. That model proposes that the first Americans were the Clovis people, big-game hunters who came over the Bering land bridge and then swept rapidly through the Americas about 11,500 before the present. One member of the expedition told The Washington Post: "It totally changes how we think of the prehistory of America." Or does it?

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5518 - replied 2/3/2008 4:14 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Peer review. A dozen archaeologists approved Monte Verde as pre-Clovis--but the debate isn't over yet.


In a discipline as contentious as this, one field trip is unlikely to unite the warring factions. A few skeptics remain unconvinced: "Total consensus will only come when the final report is out and the pattern repeats itself at other sites," says archaeologist Tom Lynch, director of the Brazos Valley Museum in Bryan, Texas, who doubts that humans were at Monte Verde so long ago. And even though opinion has been gradually moving away from the Clovis-first model for years (Science, 19 April 1996, pp. 346 and 373), many bristle at the implication that the discipline can be regulated by one or two key people. The Monte Verde trip, they point out, came down to the conversion of just two leading researchers--hardly a paradigm shift.

The trip itself was set up to showcase 2 decades of work by the site's tireless excavator, Thomas Dillehay of the University of Kentucky. Those who have seen his evidence in recent years say it is remarkably thorough and convincing. The coup de grâce came in a long-awaited 1300-page monograph to be published in March by the Smithsonian Institution and given to members of the expedition. This opus offers new radiocarbon dates on wood to show that humans lived at the site at least 12,500 years ago, and describes in detail their footprints, stone tools, and shellfish and other materials brought in many miles from the coast. The Monte Verde people lived in huts with wooden frames and animal-hide roofs--unlike anything found at Clovis sites. The monograph is "almost overkill," says archaeologist David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and it had convinced many researchers even before the trip, including one prominent skeptic, archaeologist Dena Dincauze of the University of Massachusetts.

The one member of the trip who was not persuaded beforehand was C. Vance Haynes of the University of Arizona. And his epiphany is indeed significant, archaeologists admit, because his stature as a leading Clovis expert will influence nonspecialists and the undecided. He and the others inspected the site, which has been mostly destroyed by farmers and now blends into a sandy hillside. But new trenches allowed the group to see the artifact-bearing layer in a "secure stratigraphic context," topped by a layer of peat dated to 10,300 to 12,000 years ago. "So, the artifacts had to be older than that, and I had to buy those dates," says Haynes. With most of the group already persuaded, "I was the heavy," he recalls. After days of intense debate, the moment of truth came at a bar in a nearby town. "I asked if people would agree that the site was 12,500 years old," recalls Meltzer. Everyone did.

And even though that date is only 1000 years older than the oldest dates for Clovis sites, it spells trouble for models that suggest that settlers walled an ice-free path in Canada when glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago, making it unlikely that they reached Chile. Alternate models suggest that the first settlers traveled by boat or arrived before the ice sheets formed.

As news of their acceptance of the site spread, community reaction was decidedly mixed. Some were relieved that such a prominent skeptic as Haynes had publicly accepted a pre-Clovis site. Others were a bit irritated by what they saw as an overblown press response. "What's the big fuss?" wonders University of Texas geoarchaeologist Karl Butzer, who had considered the published date of 12,500 on Monte Verde "uncontroversial" for some time. Clovis expert Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas agrees: "I've been teaching my students for years that there is sufficient evidence that Monte Verde is pre-Clovis. You don't have to go to Chile to figure that out." In his view, the trip was chiefly a public benediction of the site: "I've been teasing them that they should have carried incense burners." Jacques Cinq-Mars, an archaeologist at the Canadian Ministry of Civilization, agrees: "There's a paradox there. You're glad it's been done. At the same time, it's a bit irritating that the site has now been blessed by the Inquisition." It's especially irritating to those who disagree. Despite the publicity, insists Lynch, "these things aren't proven overnight."

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5519 - replied 2/3/2008 4:15 PM

Charlie Hatchett

August 25, 1998

New York Times

Chilean Field Yields New Clues to Peopling of Americas

UERTO MONTT, Chile -- The clear, burbling waters of Chinchihuapi Creek flow out of misty hills, past dark stumps of an ice-age forest and through green pastures, where cattle graze and from time to time a farmer still finds a huge mastodon tusk eroding out of the peat. No one standing by the creek today would suspect that this bucolic place, known as Monte Verde, was so recently the scene of a pitched intellectual battle among archeologists over when people first inhabited the Americas.
The scars of excavation have disappeared. Lush grass grows over the filled-in trenches, where archeologists had found the amazingly preserved wood, tied and knotted strings, hearths and even leftover mastodon meat of an ancient hunter-gatherer camp. The cookhouse and tent sites of the excavators are also gone without a trace.

Even the scars of battle seem to have healed. Last year, after two decades of acrimony, a blue-ribbon group of archeologists reached a kind of peace treaty acknowledging the triumph of the Monte Verde excavators. Their evidence had indeed established the site as the earliest firmly dated place of human habitation in the Americas. People had lived here 12,500 years ago, some 1,300 years before the previously accepted date for earliest known Americans, derived from stone spear points found in the 1930's near Clovis, N.M.

On a recent visit to Monte Verde, east of this seaport in southern Chile, Dr. Mario Pino, a geologist at the Southern University of Chile in Valdivia, leaned into the north bank of the creek and stabbed the dark soil with the pick end of a geology hammer. He exposed more pieces of wood from the camp where prehistoric humans once lived.

But the wood held less interest to him than a green knoll several hundred feet away, south of the creek. Pointing with the hammer, Pino said that cursory excavations there had turned up possible remains of human habitation at Monte Verde 20,000 years earlier than the camp north of the creek. Should this prove true, it would revolutionize research into one of the most intractable mysteries in American archeology: Just when were the Americas first truly a New World, and how did people get here?

Pino and Dr. Tom D. Dillehay of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the archeologist who has directed the Monte Verde explorations, are planning more extensive excavations of the knoll site in January 2001. They plan to strip away six feet of topsoil with a bulldozer, then begin fine-tooth digging in the lower layers where evidence of human activity has emerged.

"There's no doubt about the age -- it's 33,000 years old," Pino said of the sediment layers bearing the apparent artifacts under the knoll.

The date, which would put the occupation during a warm interlude in the ice ages, is based on radiocarbon examination of burned wood that scientists suspect came from hearths at the hunting camp. Archeologists found the charcoal in three shallow depressions lined with scorched clay. Other hints of human occupation include 24 fractured pebbles, several of which were probably flaked by people using them to cut and scrape meat, hides and plants.

When independent archeologists visited Monte Verde last year and authenticated the younger camp site, Pino said, they also examined the material from the deeper, 33,000-year-old layer. "They said there is no doubt these are real human artifacts," he said. "We were surprised. We expected another fight."

Dillehay is somewhat more circumspect. In an interview by telephone, he said: "We'll open up that level and see what's there. If the results remain ambiguous, we will have done the best we could. But I'm leaning toward accepting the antiquity of the level and the traces of human activity."

Dr. David J. Meltzer, an archeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who was a member of the review committee that endorsed the younger site, welcomes the new excavations. The older layer is "really intriguing," he said, "but we can't conclude anything about it until we have a better sense of what's there."

What is needed, Meltzer said, are excavations over a much larger area to increase the chances of finding many more artifacts and samples for radiocarbon analysis. If these support the early presence of humans at the site, he predicted, other archeologists will be quicker to accept the findings than they were with the first Monte Verde site.

"Of course, it depends on what they find," he said, "but this time archeologists wouldn't be as resistant because now they are not operating within the framework of Clovis history."

Since the 1930's discovery of distinctive spear points of the so-called Clovis hunters, nearly all archeologists staunchly held the view that the first Americans were big-game hunters who crossed the ice-covered Bering Straits between Siberia and Alaska some 12,000 to 13,000 years ago -- that is, not long before the 11,200-year-old dates of the earliest Clovis weapons. Prior to the Monte Verde breakthrough, several other presumed pre-Clovis sites had been reported, but none has yet met all the requirements to be judged an authentic human site dating earlier than the Clovis people.

Once archeologists accepted the 12,500-year date for the younger Monte Verde camp, they were forced to rethink how long people had already been in the Americas for them to have made it all the way from North America to southern Chile, 500 miles south of Santiago.

Archeologists are also puzzled by the absence so far of any confirmed human sites in North America that predate Monte Verde. The numbers of migrating human bands must have been so small, and their movements so nomadic, that they left no impression on the land -- they were "archeologically invisible."

No scholars seriously consider the possibility that the early Americans landed first in South America. All linguistic, genetic and other evidence points to the Bering Strait as the most likely point of entry.

"But now we realize we don't really know when the human entry time was," Meltzer said. And Dillehay said he did not even want to speculate on the implications for early American migrations if he should establish that people were at Monte Verde as early as 33,000 years ago.

If it had not been for a quirk of nature, Pino pointed out, archeologists would probably never have known that some hunting-and-gathering people occupied the banks of the Chinchihuapi at least 12,500 years ago. The land covering the site is a water-saturated peat bog, which isolated the wooden poles and tent-pegs, animal hides and other perishables of the old camp from oxygen and thus decay. Otherwise such materials rarely survive the centuries.

The attention of archeologists was first drawn to Monte Verde by the chance discovery of some mastodon bones. The owners of the land, Juan Barría and his son, Sergio, led Pino across the squishy bog to a shed to show him their latest find. It was a piece of mastodon tusk, which would have been 6 to 10 feet long and 6 inches in diameter.

"This animal would have weighed two tons," Pino said, rubbing the tusk. "Enough food for two or three months for a prehistoric family living at Monte Verde."

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5520 - replied 2/3/2008 4:16 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Until a few years ago, most archaeologists believed that the Clovis people were the first humans to reach the Americas, spreading across North America shortly after 12,000 years ago. Such a belief no longer seems tenable in light of the Monte Verde site in Chile, which was occupied at least a thousand years before the oldest Clovis settlement (about 11,500 years ago). Furthermore, the Monte Verde site gives us a picture of Paleo-Indian lifestyles very different from that of the broad-spectrum big-game hunting Clovis people. Most Clovis sites are not habitation sites but kill sites, places where game was killed &butchered. Consequently, we know little about Clovis lifeways apart from their hunting and butchering abilities. But at Monte Verde, the situation is very different.

For reasons not yet clear, about 13,000 years ago the watertable at Monte Verde rose and flooded the campsite, forcing the people to leave. A peat bog then formed and smothered the site, protecting the site from bacterial attack (peat provides a water-logged, oxygen-free environment) and destructive changes in humidity. The peat also preserved amost everything the people left behind:

Hundreds of artifacts. In addition to several kinds of stone tools, a wide variety of wooden artifacts were found including: digging sticks, spears, and a mortar. Artifacts made from stone were also recovered including spherical stones with an encircling groove. These may have been used as bola stones, a South American throwing weapon with 3 leather thongs weighted at each end. The bola is thrown in a spinning fashion and the stone weights wrap the thongs around the prey.
Wooden house foundations. The timber and earthen foundations of at least 12 structures were preserved at the site. The foundations, made of logs and planks held in place with stakes of a different type of wood, supported rooms 3 to 4 meters long on each side. At intervals along the foundation timbers upright posts were placed to support a sapling framework, which was covered by animal skins. Small pieces of what may be animal hide were preserved next to the timber foundation.
Food plants. Plants were extremely important in the diet of the Monte Verde people. Some 42 edible species of plants have been identified at the site, including wild potatoes, bamboos, mushrooms, juncus seeds, berries from various plants, nuts, and fruits. Also, because many of these plants are from species that ripen throughout the year, it's likely that the site was occupied year-round. Further evidence of the important of plants in the diet of the Monte Verde people is the large numbers of grinding stones found there.
Exotics. A wide variety of items not locally available were imported by the Monte Verde people: plants, beach-rolled pebbles, quartz, and bitumen (an adhesive tar).
Medicine plants. The remains of some 22 species of plants were recovered from the site; analysis revealed them to be non-food types but identical to plants used today by local native peoples in curing. Perhaps the Monte Verde people also used these plants for curing.
Meat. Animals bones were well preserved. Most came from mastodons (a close but extinct relative of the mammoth &elephant). One of the bones still had a piece of meat attached to it.
Human footprint. Preserved in the sandy mud, only about five inches long, it was probably made by a child.
Taken as a whole, the Monte Verde site gives us a picture of life in the Americas heretofore unexpected, as well as forcing a reconsideration of the theories and interpretations concerning the first occupation (and occupants) of the Americas. As noted above, the traditional paradigm states:

People first entered the Americas after 12,000 years ago.
The first Americans, the Paleoindians, were believed to have lived primarily as small, mobile groups of broad-spectrum big game hunters.
The evidence at Monte Verde contradicts the first point and differs markedly from the second point. The radiocarbon dates of 11,000 B.C. (or 13,000 years ago) from Monte Verde indicate that humans had already crossed the Bering Strait at some earlier time. Also, the organic materials from Monte Verde indicate that plants were extremely important in their diet and that they lived in one place year round, contrasting with the traditional image of the Paleoindians as primarily mobile hunters of big game.

Pictured below are several of the artifacts recovered from Monte Verde. The pictures come from Rick Gore's article, "The Most Ancient Americans," published in the October 1997 issue of National Geographic, pps. 92-99.

Artifacts from Monte Verde, Chile

Bone gouge

Digging stick - fragment

Twine made from plant fiber

Possible bola stone with cordage

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5521 - replied 2/3/2008 4:19 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Monte Verde Revisited
From the Editors of Scientific American Discovering Archaeology


Monte Verde, near the southern tip of Chile, is arguably the most important archaeological site in the New World -- a landmark excavation that shattered a paradigm that for 70 years had explained the peopling of the Americas.

Conventional wisdom had been that the first humans to enter the Americas were hunters of the Clovis culture who crossed the then-dry Bering Strait into Alaska about 13,500 calendar years ago. They are named for the New Mexico site where their trademark fluted spear points were first found. Before them, the New World was untouched by humanity.

But the ancient settlement that archaeologist Tom Dillehay found on the banks of Chinchihuapi Creek, more than 10,000 miles south of the Bering Strait, yielded radiocarbon dates about 1,000 years older than the oldest Clovis sites. He reported evidence of wood-framed, hide-covered structures, along with stone tools, hearths, wooden implements, butchered mastodon bones, knotted twine and cordage, and other artifacts.

(Dates in archaeology typically are presented in radiocarbon-dated years before present: "rcbp." They can be calibrated to calendar years before the present, which are identified as "cal BP." Thus, the Clovis barrier is at 11,500 rcbp or 13,500 cal BP.)

The question of who were the New World's first immigrants and when they arrived was thrown wide-open for the first time since 1927.

But most scientists hate to walk away from a paradigm, particularly one that has served as long and as well as the formidable "Clovis Barrier." Those who would challenge such a paradigm face prolonged, meticulous examination and occasionally stubborn resistance. That is exactly what Dillehay, now of the University of Kentucky, met when he reported results of the Monte Verde excavations he began in 1977.

But in 1997, a panel of 12 eminent experts in early American archaeology studied Dillehay's evidence and visited the site. They concluded Monte Verde was indeed a habitation site and that it predated the Clovis culture. The long debate was over, and the Clovis paradigm was shattered.

But now the Monte Verde site is being challenged again -- in considerable detail. Stuart J. Fiedel, an archaeologist with John Milner Associates who has published widely on the prehistory of the Americas, analyzed the two epic volumes in which Dillehay documented every aspect of his site. Fiedel's conclusion: Problems with Dillehay's documentation raise questions about the provenience (the location, in both space and time, from which it came) of virtually every "compelling" artifact Dillehay cites. Fiedel considers the alleged shortcomings crippling if not fatal to the Monte Verde site.

Scientific American Discovering Archaeology is publishing, in this special section, the full text of Fiedel's report. Dillehay (and many of his colleagues) and Michael Collins, an important co-author with Dillehay on some Monte Verde reports, accepted our offers to write formal responses to Fiedel's paper. We also invited seven widely acknowledged experts to comment on the renewed debate. This is a highly unusual venue for the initial presentation of such a scientific disagreement, and we at Scientific American Discovering Archaeology did not take this step lightly. We acknowledge that publishing these papers bypasses the tradition of peer review, which is required for publication in scientific journals, and we accept that we may be criticized for doing so.

However, after a great deal of discussion among our staff and after seeking the advice of trusted experts, we concluded the issue is of overwhelming importance to our understanding of the peopling of the Americas, and that rumors of the work inevitably would lead to informal and perhaps misguided discussions without input from all parties. Here are the arguments, the responses, and the discussions.

Additionally, one of the most important conferences on New World prehistory in more than 50 years -- the Clovis and Beyond symposium in Santa Fe October 28-31, 1999 -- will assemble most specialists on the topic to discuss the state of knowledge about when and how the New World was settled. We felt it was extremely important that participants in that conference have this information available in its entirety.

Scientific American Discovering Archaeology has absolutely no position on the issues raised in this special section, and publishing it in no way implies confidence or doubt about any opinions expressed. Our only purpose is to present this information accurately, fairly, and quickly.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5522 - replied 2/3/2008 4:20 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Monte Verde Under Fire October 18, 1999

The validity of the earliest site in the Americas is called into question.

Monte Verde, Chile
(Tom Dillehay)

Until 1997 no site was widely accepted as pre-dating the Clovis culture (11,000 to 11,500 radiocarbon years before present). That year, a blue-ribbon commission of Paleoindian specialists visited Monte Verde, a site in Chile with dates averaging 12,500, and declared it to be valid. Other possible pre-Clovis sites include Hebior and Schaefer, Cactus Hill, and Topper. Meadowcroft and Pedra Furada have also been proposed as pre-Clovis. Additional early sites include Taima-Taima, Pedra Pintada, Santa Barbara in the Channel Islands, Quebrada Tacahuay, and Quebrada Jaguay. (Map by Joe LeMonnier)

Acclaimed in 1997 as the earliest known site in the Americas and the first undoubted pre-Clovis site, Monte Verde, in southern Chile, is now being questioned. Radiocarbon dates place the site at about 12,500 years before present, a millennium before the Clovis culture--named for a New Mexico site where distinctive fluted points were found with mammoth bones--which was long thought to represent the first people in the New World. The challenge throws the debate about the colonization of the Americas wide open.

According to Stuart Fiedel (1999), an archaeologist with John Milner Associates, close scrutiny of the various reports on Monte Verde--especially the 1,100-page final monograph--raises "troubling doubts." Ambiguities, inconsistences, and missing information, he says, make it impossible to demonstrate that artifacts at the site are associated with the plant and animal remains that were dated. Monte Verde, he concludes, is not proof that people were in South America before the advent of Clovis (11,500). Fiedel's criticisms are sure to ruffle feathers of the site's excavators and members of a blue-ribbon delegation of Paleoindian specialists who visited Monte Verde in 1997 and declared it valid.

Mastodon tusk fragment with polished and probably worked edge (Tom Dillehay)

Two lanceolate basalt points and a slate perforator (Tom Dillehay)

Michael B. Collins of the University of Texas at Austin, who studied the stone tools from Monte Verde, admits that Fiedel has identified "errors and inconsistencies that all of us need to be aware of as we use the [Monte Verde site] reports" but maintains that "Fiedel's review is clearly biased and negative in tone. He ignores material that does not support his critical thesis and takes the more negative or improbable of alternative views of each case that he discusses." According to Collins, Monte Verde is "a bona fide archeological assemblage, it is very old, and it has profound implications for American prehistory."

Tom Dillehay of the University of Kentucky, director of the Monte Verde excavations, told ARCHAEOLOGY that some of the questions raised by Fiedel are, in fact, answered in the chapter on research design. For example, Fiedel is concerned that a single artifact may in different publications have different inventory numbers. This, says Dillehay, is because test pits from early in the excavations were sometimes incorporated into larger block excavations, resulting in a renumbering of artifacts. In some cases a computer mapping program required adding zero's to numbers. Thus one artifact could end up with three numbers in the publications over the years. According to Dillehay, this type of problem accounts for 85 percent of Fiedel's criticisms, and the remainder are typos and errors that justifiably warrant mention like in any errata sheet. Dillehay and his research team feel that their publications provided more information than any other reports on a Paleoindian site, and this higher level of detail has made possible a degree of scrutiny never before possible. They are irked that by going the extra mile in an attempt to demystify the site, they have left themselves open to microscopic examination.

"Fiedel asks many questions about our work at Monte Verde," says Dillehay, "one of which relates to the absence of radiocarbon dates on cordage. Fiedel obviously does not comprehend the nature of long-term, interdisciplinary research at a wet archaeological site like Monte Verde. Excavation at wet sites is slow and tedious, often requiring immediate chemical treatment of such perishable remains as wooden tools, cordage, and other organic remains. Because some knotted cordage and other perishables at Monte Verde were very fragile, stuck to wooden poles or stakes, and overlaid by a sticky peat lens, we had to submerge them in chemical baths in order to preserve them and to loosen them from the adhering peat. Many other less fragile organic materials, such as wooden tools and chunks of charcoal in hearths, were thus chosen for dating. Obviously, once the cordage was contaminated by chemicals, it could not be dated by radiocarbon means. The answers to this and many other questions raised by Fiedel are in volume two of the site report." (See Dillehay [1999] for additional comments.)

Bifacially worked stone tool, a bola stone, and two cobbles with flakes removed to produce simple tools (Tom Dillehay)

A chewed cud of two types of seaweed and one type of tree leaf, and a dried potato bulb (Tom Dillehay)

Brian Fagan, then a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY, reviewed volume 2 of the Monte Verde monograph in glowing terms, saying it "does far more than record and authenticate an archaeological site of international significance. Dillehay and his colleagues have set the standards to be expected when documenting a site which purports to chronicle early settlement. Not only have they left no stone unturned to document their findings; they have published them in full with commendable promptness and carried out both field and laboratory research with a thoughtful, long-term perspective." Before the volume appeared Fagan had been skeptical of Monte Verde's antiquity, it was, he said, "so unexpected that some archaeologists, this reviewer among them, wondered if the site really was an undisturbed cultural layer. We were wrong. Dillehay has proved Monte Verde is a settlement, probably at the threshold of colonization of the Americas."

Human footprint (Tom Dillehay)

If Fiedel is correct and the site is thrown into doubt as pre-Clovis, where does that leave us? Results of radiocarbon testing published in American Antiquity earlier this year by R.E. Taylor, a University of California-Riverside dating specialist; C. Vance Haynes Jr., an archaeologist and geochronologist at the University of Arizona; and others seemed to support Monte Verde, in that it revealed nothing that might undermine the dating of the site. Monte Verde was a breakthrough, but if the association between the undoubted artifacts from the site and the materials dated is shaky do we revert to the Clovis paradigm, in which Clovis equals the first people south of Beringia? In the following articles, ARCHAEOLOGY explores the importance of Monte Verde, the controversy, and the implications for the search for the first Americans.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5523 - replied 2/3/2008 4:20 PM

Charlie Hatchett

The Site of Monte Verde "Monte Verde Under Fire"
October 18, 1999
by Michael B. Collins

Stuart Fiedel (1999) has thoroughly and carefully reviewed the two-volume monograph series on Monte Verde as well as many other publications relating to the site. This was a prodigious task because much has been written by scores of contributors over the 20 years of investigations of this site and its data. Few readers of this material would look as closely as Fiedel has, and he provides a useful critique of the work and the publications derived from that work. One value of his effort is identification of numerous errors and inconsistencies that all of us need to be aware of as we use the reports. However, Fiedel incorrectly concludes that these errors and inconsistencies nullify the validity of Monte Verde as an early site. He also suggests, again incorrectly, that the investigators deliberately misrepresent evidence from the site. I worked with the lithic collection from Monte Verde intermittently over an 18-year period and spent a week at and near the site in 1985. My fieldwork was specifically directed toward understanding the natural occurrences of stones like the ones found in the site. The insights gained in this endeavor proved absolutely invaluable to my studies of the Monte Verde lithics. I did no archeological excavation. I did, however, closely examine the stratigraphic sections for both the MV-I and the MV-II components and had the opportunity to see ongoing excavations in MV-II. I can say from my observations that the stratigraphic contexts of both cultural horizons are of excellent integrity and are well and accurately depicted in the reports. There is no potential for artifact mixing or intrusion in either MV-I or MV-II.

Fiedel's review is clearly biased and negative in tone. He ignores material that does not support his critical thesis and takes the more negative or improbable of alternative views of each case that he discusses. An even, balanced review of the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the material would have been more appropriate. In regard to his critique of the lithics, Monte Verde is not dependent upon a handful of artifacts for establishing its status as a site. The presence of many of the stones at the site cannot be explained except as the result of human activities--rock types that only occur in remote geologic outcrops, stones larger than those occurring in the natural gravels of the region, and rocks found locally but non-randomly selected for their sizes, shapes, and lithologies. Fiedel expresses doubt that the rhyolitic core is cultural, basing his opinion on a photograph. The flat, almost featureless flake scars characteristic of rhyolite are not apparent in the photograph, but they are clearly depicted in the accompanying line drawing which Fiedel does not mention. Nor does he mention the unequivocally cultural quartz chopper that has counterparts among stone-tool industries throughout the world.

Two other examples of the biased approach in Fiedel's review are his discussion of the lack of evidence for flaking at the site and differences between assessments of stone tool use by [excavation director Tom] Dillehay and me. In the first instance, it is not unusual at prehistoric sites to find stone tools but little debris from their manufacture. Fiedel is bothered by this in the case of Monte Verde. He also views Dillehay's notion that a large rib fragment might be a flaker as illogical since so little flaking debris was found at the site. In fact, there is no reason why a flaking tool has to remain at the area where flaking took place because it, like the finished stone tools, can be taken to another place. The assemblage at Monte Verde consists of a small number of highly curated flaked stone tools and a large number of minimally modified expedient tools, precisely the kind of tool assemblage likely to be found away from the place where the flaked stone tools were manufactured.

Dillehay examined lithic specimens microscopically for use wear, and I examined them without magnification for evidence of use. Our results are not particularly concordant, but that does not invalidate them. It simply reflects the fact that the kind of use producing wear that can be seen microscopically does not necessarily show up macroscopically. It probably also results from difficulties in microscopically assessing crystalline metamorphic and igneous rocks for use wear, from limited macroscopic effects from use that could be expected on hard stones that were not used extensively, and from the fact that one of the best macroscopic clues that a tool has been used is evidence for reworking. Reworking rarely occurs on expedient tools. Dillehay and I made and reported our separate examinations independently and did not force them into agreement; it seems that Fiedel takes our honesty on this point as an indication that our results are not valid.

Contrary to Fiedel's twisted presentation of my views, I see the lithic assemblage from Monte Verde as an effective, though largely expedient, set of tools that mostly were gathered selectively from nearby gravels, used in various ways, and discarded in the site. This is a bona fide archeological assemblage, it is very old, and it has profound implications for American prehistory. Problems exist in the reporting--as they do in any large report--and these must be addressed. We must not, however, take these to mean that the site and its investigation are invalid.

For additional comments, see Collins (1999).

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5524 - replied 2/3/2008 4:21 PM

Charlie Hatchett


Tom D. Dillehay (University of Kentucky), Michael B. Collins (University of Texas), Mario Pino (Universidad Austral de Chile), Jack Rossen (Ithaca College), Jim Adovasio (Mercyhurst College), Carlos Ocampo (Universidad de Chile), Ximena Navarro (Universidad Catolica de Chile), Pilar Rivas (UCA, S.A.), David Pollack (Kentucky Heritage Council), A. Gwynn Henderson (Kentucky Archaeological Survey), Jose Saavedra (Casa de la Cultura, Chile), Patricio Sanzana (Consejo Nacional de Desarollo Indigena, Chile), Pat Shipman (Penn State University), Marvin Kay (University of Arkansas), Gaston Munoz, Anastasios Karathanasis (University of Kentucky), Donald Ugent, (Southern Illinois University), Michael Cibull (University of Kentucky), and Richard Geissler (University of Kentucky).

In October 1999, the Editors of Scientific American Discovering Archaeology, a new popular magazine, published a lengthy unjuried SPECIAL REPORT, entitled "Artifact Provenience at Monte Verde: Confusions and Contraditions," by Stuart Fiedel of John Milner Associates, a private archaeological contract firm in Alexandria, Virginia. His lengthy review of the second volume on the Monte Verde site in Chile is full of accusations, errors, and misrepresentations of the scientific evidence. Fiedel's review was accompanied by short commentaries by several Paleoindian specialists and short responses by Dillehay et al. and Collins.

By publishing his review in a non-refereed magazine, Fiedel was able to make many unfounded accusations and to lead the reader to believe that the scientific evidence in the Monte Verde volumes is inadequately documented, inconsistent, and confusing. Fiedel seemingly attempted to discredit the compelling archaeological evidence from Monte Verde in defense of the Clovis model. His review is inflammatory, with "a belligerence rarely seen in scientific spats" (Science 286:657). We strongly encourage fair and constructive criticism, but our objection in this case is that Fiedel's review is neither fair nor constructive--and is often highly misleading. In this website, we respond to Fiedel's allegations and correct his numerous factual and interpretive mistakes.

The Editors of Discovering Archaeology rushed Fiedel's review to publication, because:

one of the most important conferences on New World prehistory in more than 50 years--the Clovis and Beyond symposium in Santa Fe October 28-31--will assemble most specialists on the topic to discuss the statement of knowledge about when and how the New World was settled. We felt it was extremely important that participants in that conference have this information available in its entirety.

Scientific American Discovering Archaeology has absolutely no position on the issues raised in this special section, and publishing it in no way implies confidence or doubt about any opinions expressed. Our only purpose is to present this information accurately, fairly, and quickly. (The Editors of Discovering Archaeology 1999:1)

A more detailed response to Fiedel was not written at the time of his review, because the editors of Discovering Archaeology limited us to 700 words. The editors of Discovering Archaeology would not publish the long response provided below. Since Fiedel's review was published in Discovering Archaeology and avoided peer review, we have been unable to make this reply available through conventional avenues (i.e., technical scientific journals). In addition, Fiedel's factual and interpretive errors are so numerous, the response we've had to produce to rebut him is prohibitively long for most journals. Thus, this website.

If Fiedel had applied his critical eye to his own review, we would not have to correct his numerous mistakes. Nor would we have to respond to the remarks of some commentators. Provided below is our response and an errata list that corrects our editorial oversights in Volume 2. We do not present a point-by-point rebuttal to all of Fiedel's accusations. In order to do this, we would have had to have written an even longer response than the current forty-nine single-spaced page report. Additional co-authors, who worked on the Monte Verde project and who currently are in the field on other projects, will add their comments as they have the time to read and respond to Fiedel's review.

This webpage is divided into six parts. Part 1 is an introduction. Part 2 addresses general issues in Fiedel's review. Part 3 is our long reply to Fiedel's accusations and to those of some commentators. Part 4 is an errata list for Volume 2 (Dillehay 1997). Part 5 is a brief conclusion. Part 6 shows nine photographs of in situ projectile points and excavation procedures.

Detailed Response to Fiedel: Parts 1-5

Part 6

Below are some photographs that illustrate in situ projectile points and excavation procedures.

This figure shows the south wall of Test Pit 15 in Zone D where projectile point X-15-0001 or D-10-1-1 was excavated. The arrow shows the in situ location of the point close to the pit wall and resting on the gray sandy surface of stratum MV-7.

In situ location of the point in Test Pit 15 (arrow is used as a scale, not as a direction indicator). Note the plant fibers of the basal and overlying MV-5 peat layer.

The Wishbone Structure in Zone A. Point A-1-26 or A0100026 is located in the MV-7 use floor next to the northwest corner of the structure (see arrow).

In situ location of point A-1-26 in the MV-7 use floor.

Polyhedral Core A0104001 or A-1-41 showing the flaking facets and burning. This core was recovered from the burned fill below and around Brazier or Feature A-1-4.

In situ shots of a specimen of scraped wood and the percussion struck flaked probably used to work it, located next to a burned and chopped fragment of wood in Zone D, Areas 10 and 11.

In situ shot of a wooden stake in Zone D. Note the diagonally cut tip, the straight and flattened head and the knotted cordage wrapped around it (arrows). This stake was found slightly dislodged against a timber (to the right) which formed part of the wooden architectural frame of the tent like structure in Zone D.

Excavation of one area in Zone D, showing the use of propanol alcohol and other chemicals used during the field work to conserve the wood and other perishables materials. When an area was not undergoing excavation, all perishable materials were covered by plastic to prevent solar radiation and wind from dehydrating the perishables.

All perishables, especially the wooden artifacts and the soft tissue remains of animals, were placed in chemical baths to preserve them in the field. This photograph shows wooden artifacts from Zone A being placed in baths and sealed in containers for transport to the laboratory for further processing.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5525 - replied 2/3/2008 4:22 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Artifact Provenience at
Monte Verde: Confusion
and Contradictions
John Milner Associates
5250 Cherokee Avenue, Suite 410
Alexandria, Virginia 22312

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5526 - replied 2/3/2008 4:23 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Reply to Fiedel, Part II

Michael B. Collins,
University of Texas at Austin

Monte Verde is not dependent upon a handful of artifacts to establish its status as a site. Because of unusually good preservation, organic and inorganic materials of macroscopic scale to submicroscopic traces occur in forms, patterns, and relationships that cannot be parsimoniously explained except as the result of human activities. Fiedel correctly identifies a number of problems that have manifested themselves over the long course of the investigations, analyses, and reporting of this complex site, but incorrectly concludes that these nullify the validity of the site and imply deliberate attempts on the part of the investigators to misrepresent evidence from the site. His comments are negative — even hostile — in tone rather than constructive (saying, for example, that certain pieces were "allegedly" utilized, and so forth throughout his paper). He ignores data that do not support his critical position and takes the more negative or improbable of any alternative views of each case that he discusses. A balanced, critical assessment of all of the evidence would have served a far better purpose. In their response to Fiedel, Dillehay, et al. have addressed a number of the technical provenience and distributional concerns raised by Fiedel's review, so my comments will be restricted to other issues, particularly as regards the lithic specimens from the site.
It is important at the outset to consider the context of the research at Monte Verde. The site had no investigated precedents; much of what was there was unfamiliar to the discipline, and logistically it presented numerous challenges. As a result, field objectives, research questions, techniques, and theoretical implications evolved as field and analytical efforts continually encountered additional and mostly unfamiliar kinds of deposits containing a baffling array of organic and inorganic materials. In retrospect, we can see a number of improvements that could have been made in what was done — the kind of insight that grows as one sequentially investigates similar sites. I am acutely aware of more efficient ways that I might have approached the lithic analysis; for example, some of the problems discussed by Fiedel (including the inadvertent dropping of one of the projectile points from Table 14.4 [Collins 1997:405]) resulted from last minute refinements that I made in my classification that did not get fully integrated into the published version.

No question is raised concerning human authorship of the 4 bifaces and the slate perforator from MV-II nor of the basalt core from MV-I. Fiedel does, however, imply doubt about the rhyolitic core A-1-4-1 when he states that the "photograph of this artifact is ... less than convincing" while ignoring the accompanying drawing depicting the sequence of flake scars around a portion of the perimeter of this stone. Rhyolite yields very flat flake scars without noticeable negative bulbs of percussion and no ripple marks; however, there is no doubt that this is a culturally flaked piece.

Fiedel chooses to ignore the equally unequivocal quartz chopper DW120410. This specimen was flaked bifacially to a sharp edge opposite a cortical butt in a manner common to chipped stone industries the world over (Collins 1997:427-428). Also, there is no parsimonious, natural explanation for all or some of the specimens in such stone categories as the notches, grooved stones, edge-battered stones, and manos. Yet Fiedel dismisses these as "dubious."

One distinctive aspect of the chipped stone lithics from Monte Verde is that chipped stone tools are almost equally as numerous as are macroflakes, clearly indicating as reported (Collins 1997:429-430) that the chipped stone tools were produced outside of the area sampled. This view has little to do with whether or not the rib fragment that Dillehay considers to be, or to resemble, a flaker. There is absolutely nothing that requires flaking tools to remain at the locus of flaking any more than the flaked stone tools that were produced there. Fiedel is bothered by the small number of flakes of any kind and the absence of bifacial thinning flakes at Monte Verde. Basalt, quartz, quartzite, and rhyolite are the raw materials of the most distinctively flaked pieces from the site. Indirect percussion may have been the technique used to produce the bifacial projectile points of basalt (Collins 1997:424). My knapping experience with basalt is limited, but it suggests to me that basalt flakes often break as they detach. The same can be said for rhyolite and for quartz with the coarse, irregular texture of the quartz chopper. Flakes of quartzite of the kind the large biface is made may or may not detach intact. It is possible that with further examination of the small angular pieces of quartzite, basalt, rhyolite and other kinds of rock found on the habitation surface of the site (Collins 1997:431-434), multiple examples of small fragments of flakes would be identified. This entire line of evidence is not considered by Fiedel.

Although Fiedel notes that "the peculiar suite of plant remains ... [are] the most convincing proof of human occupation" and then proceeds to suggest instead that proboscideans could have introduced most of the exotic plants into the site area, he ignores the equally peculiar suite of exotic stones found there (Collins 1997:482-498, Table 14.24, and Figure 14.87). At least 41 (and perhaps as many as 56) stone specimens from MV-II are of exotic raw materials; besides this petrographic evidence, the sizes and shapes of stones found in the site area differ in statistically significant ways from those found in the local gravels. Human importation of stone from remote sources as well as selective collecting from local gravels are the most parsimonious explanations for these data. This inference would hold even if the collection were derived from a surface context.

In his review, Fiedel attaches particular significance to several quoted passages that he either misconstrues or misrepresents. These are in reference to the confidence that Dillehay and I have in the MV-II and MV-I components or to differences in our views on the evidence for use on certain tools. These I address individually.

Fiedel states that "Despite the discovery of clay-lined hearths and associated lithics that include at least one obviously human-made artifact, Dillehay has been reluctant to accept MV-I as a human manifestation." That is flatly wrong. What Dillehay and I have been reluctant to do is take a dogmatic stance on what we consider absolutely to be a cultural manifestation, but one of such age that its implications go far beyond what we are willing to engage on so little evidence. We felt it better to simply report what was found.

Fiedel states, in reference to experimental effort discussed by Dillehay and others, that "this level of effort leads one to question Collins' (1997:468) admittedly reluctant conclusion that the Monte Verde lithic assemblage reflects 'effective, sophisticated use of available lithic resources' and only 'looks clumsy and ineffective'." There is no such "admitted reluctance" in that statement. I was simply making the point that, to everyone who casually observes the igneous and metamorphic stones in the Monte Verde assemblage, there is the perception that these would make clumsy, ineffective tools when, in fact, experimentation demonstrated their effectiveness.

Another example is Fiedel's comment that "this is only one case of a general lack of fit between Collins' and Dillehay's analyses of supposedly utilized, faceted stones: '... Dillehay's microscopic use-wear evidence did not correlate closely with observed macroscopic features that I considered to be evidence of use. ...'" As Dillehay and I both made clear, we attempted to bring use-wear methods developed for studying chert to bear on the diverse igneous and metamorphic rocks from Monte Verde. It is common for artifacts of chert, obsidian, or other relatively homogeneous stones to yield inconsistent use-wear interpretations based on macroscopic and microscopic levels of observation. This is simply a fact that is reflected in our reporting of what we could discern at these two different scales of observation. It is also important to note that the particular approach employed by Dillehay (and derived from the work of Keeley [1980]) is primarily based on interpretations of polish seen by incident light reflected from surfaces of the stone. This works best on relatively smooth, homogeneous surfaces, but is more difficult on irregular, heterogeneous surfaces of crystalline rocks. Rather than force a concordant interpretation of use on any given specimen, Dillehay noted his microscopic, and I my macroscopic, observations; that they did not always agree probably says more about limitations in our techniques than about the use histories of the stones. The alternative approach used by Kay (1997:649-660) adds considerable efficacy to microscopic-use wear studies, but his involvement came too late in the project to allow examination of more than a few specimens.

Finally, Fiedel imparts "lingering uncertainty" to my views on the lithic assemblage from Monte Verde and misrepresents my statements that the stones "superficially appear to be natural" and "in fact, except for one small grooved stone and the large quartzite biface, I initially saw nothing unquestionably cultural about the stones he [Dillehay] showed me. ... This has been a gradual change of mind punctuated by moments of grave misgiving when I wondered if, by being too close to these stones for too long, I was building an interpretive sand castle. Ultimately, this concern will be resolved by the degree of acceptance our interpretations receive among our colleagues and by future discoveries bearing on the issues. ... I truly understand the skepticism with which some will receive the lithic assemblage. ..." The first statement is correct, many of the unshaped stones superficially appear to be natural, but, as I stressed, my analysis removed my "lingering uncertainty" that these had been selectively collected for both form and lithology and that they were effective as tools. The second statement, too, is correct — I understand the skepticism some will have regarding these stones. That does not mean I share that skepticism.

It is clear from his tone and his selective approach that Fiedel was not objective in his review of the Monte Verde work. All of us connected with the project need to consider and address the legitimate issues that he raises, but we should not, as he urges, disregard the overwhelming bulk of evidence for an early presence of hunters and gatherers in southern Chile.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5527 - replied 2/3/2008 4:24 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Early cultural evidence from Monte Verde in Chile

Dillehay, Tom D.; Collins, Michael B.

The entry of the first Asians into the New World is generally thought to have occurred no earlier than 12,000 years ago1,2. Recent archaeological evidence from South America suggests that the migration from Asia to North America might have taken place much earlier. This evidence comes from the Brazilian site of Boqueirao do Sitio da Pedra Fur ad a3,4, with a long cultural sequence possibly extending as far back as 32,000 yr BP, and the Chilean site of Monte Verde5,6. This latter site has one well-documented cultural episode radiocarbon dated at 13,000 yr BP7 and another possible one at 33,000 yr BP. We report here two carbon-14 dates from charcoal taken from cultural features associated with the older materials of ~33,000 yr BP. These findings provide additional evidence that people colonized the Americas much earlier than was previously thought.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#5623 - replied 2/7/2008 12:50 AM

Charlie Hatchett

Monte Verde is an archaeological site in south-central Chile, which is suspected to date 12,500 years before present, making it one of the earliest inhabited sites in the Americas. Monte Verde pre-dates the earliest known Clovis culture site of Clovis, New Mexico, by 1000 years. This find challenges the generally accepted "Clovis" theory that states that people did not begin to colonize the Americas until after 11,500 years before present. However, these dates are disputed by many in the scientific community. Another layer at Monte Verde has been radiocarbon dated to 33,000 B.P., although some archaeologists have questioned the methodology used to determine the older date, and these claims are currently considered wholely innaccurate. It is currently believed that the coastal migration by Paleo-indian people preceded the Eastward migration across the continent, which can account for the spread of early artifacts spread across the Western Pacific Coast of the Americas. As during this period, the sealine was considerably lower than our current level, it is believed that a considerable amount of archaelogical evidence is submerged along the coastline.

The site was discovered in late 1975 when a veterinary student visited the area of Monte Verde and found a strange "cow bone" that showed to be from a mastodont. Mario Pino, a Chilean geologist and Tom Dillehay both teachers of Universidad Austral de Chile at the time started excavating Monte Verde in 1977. The site is situated on the banks of Chinchihuapi Creek, a tributary of the Maullín River located 36 miles from the Pacific Ocean. One of the rare open-air prehistoric sites found so far in the Americas, Monte Verde was preserved as the waters of the Creek rose a short time after the site was occupied and the peat-filled bog that resulted inhibited the bacterial decay of organic material and preserved many perishable artifacts and other items for millennia.

According to Dillehay and his team, the site was occupied around 12,000 – 11,800 B.C. by about twenty to thirty people. A twenty-foot-long tent-like structure of wood and animal hides was erected on the banks of the Creek and was framed with logs and planks staked in the ground, making walls of poles covered with animal hides. Using ropes made of local reeds, the hides were tied to the poles creating separate living quarters within the main structure. Outside the tent-like structure, two large hearths had been built for community usage, most probably for tool making and craftwork.

Each of the living quarters had a brazier pit lined with clay. Around those hearths, many stone tools and remnants of spilled seeds, nuts, and berries were found. Remains of forty-five different edible plant species were found within the site, over a fifth of them originating from up to 150 miles away. This suggested that the people of Monte Verde either had trade routes or traveled reguarly in this extended network. Even some kind of potatoes were found, but according to a specialist they were not edible.

Other important finds from this site include human coprolites, a footprint, assumed to have been made by a child, stone tools, and cordage. The date for this site was obtained by Dr. Dillehay with the use of radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone found within the site.

Post ID#7367 - replied 5/8/2008 11:27 PM

Charlie Hatchett

In addition to what AD posted, here are a few more articles on the recent Monte Verde paper:

Earliest Known American Settlers Harvested Seaweed, National
Geographic, May 8, 2008,

US anthropologists detail discovery of earliest American remains
The Canadian Press,

Monte Verde, Seaweed, and the Pacific Coast Migration Model,
Kris's Archaeology Blog,

The paper discussed in the above articles is:

Dillehay, T. D., C. Ramírez, M. Pino, M. B. Collins, J. Rossen,
and J. D. Pino-Navarro, 2008, Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine,
and the Peopling of South America. Science. vol. 320, no. 5877,
pp. 784-786.

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#7386 - replied 5/10/2008 4:41 PM


Guy's & Gal's, I just dont get this stuff, as you all no I am just an ordinary guy that enjoys the story's and finds of our prehistoric men and women & Children.

Is this all about reputations or who found what first, or what, what am I missing, it truely bothers me.
And thanks Charles vary interesting reading.

By publishing his review in a non-refereed magazine, Fiedel was able to make many unfounded accusations and to lead the reader to believe that the scientific evidence in the Monte Verde volumes is inadequately documented, inconsistent, and confusing. Fiedel seemingly attempted to discredit the compelling archaeological evidence from Monte Verde in defense of the Clovis model. His review is inflammatory, with "a belligerence rarely seen in scientific spats" (Science 286:657). We strongly encourage fair and constructive criticism, but our objection in this case is that Fiedel's review is neither fair nor constructive--and is often highly misleading. In this website, we respond to Fiedel's allegations and correct his numerous factual and interpretive mistakes.

Post ID#7388 - replied 5/10/2008 5:31 PM

Charlie Hatchett

[quote:="Jeff"]Guy's & Gal's, I just dont get this stuff, as you all no I am just an ordinary guy that enjoys the story's and finds of our prehistoric men and women & Children.

Is this all about reputations or who found what first, or what, what am I missing, it truely bothers me.
And thanks Charles vary interesting reading.

By publishing his review in a non-refereed magazine, Fiedel was able to make many unfounded accusations and to lead the reader to believe that the scientific evidence in the Monte Verde volumes is inadequately documented, inconsistent, and confusing. Fiedel seemingly attempted to discredit the compelling archaeological evidence from Monte Verde in defense of the Clovis model. His review is inflammatory, with "a belligerence rarely seen in scientific spats" (Science 286:657). We strongly encourage fair and constructive criticism, but our objection in this case is that Fiedel's review is neither fair nor constructive--and is often highly misleading. In this website, we respond to Fiedel's allegations and correct his numerous factual and interpretive mistakes.

Some archeologists, especially in the near past, become "married" to their pet models. Fiedel, to this day, is a staunch supporter of the "Clovis-first" model. Monte Verde is a huge thorn in his hide because it has produced very strong evidence of people occupying the Americas prior to Clovis. What Fiedel doesn't seem to understand is researchers are very much allowed to change their minds as new data becomes available. There's no dishonor in this, and it's actually how the scientific method is supposed to work.

Post ID#7389 - replied 5/10/2008 7:48 PM


Thanks Charlie, thats what I was afraid of, and those last two sentence's
I could not agree with more.

Thanks for responding.


Post ID#7390 - replied 5/10/2008 11:06 PM

Charlie Hatchett

I am irked at the carping tone of Fiedel’s commentary,
and the ferreting out of meaningless conflict in interpretation
over two decades of reporting on Monte Verde. Fiedel cops
an attitude, which, in my opinion, is entirely inappropriate...
I don’t see multiple artifact numbers as much of a problem--
having done this myself many times--but maybe a concordance
on critical pieces would have been helpful. And I think it’s a
cheap shot to dredge up preliminary assessments and press
reports to attack the Monte Verde project. I still think it’s a
good thing to change your mind (so long as you’re honest about it).

(Thomas 1999:2)

Charlie Hatchett

Post ID#7391 - replied 5/11/2008 2:09 AM


Hi Jeff - good to see you back in here...

On the subject of Stuart Fiedel, I might add an observation. I actually met the guy at the "Clovis in the Southeast Conference" in 2005 in Columbia, SC when we were in a group of people going out to dinner. He is by no means completely evil, and in terms of raw mental acuity is probably more intelligent than several of us put together, with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the archaeological record. But for some reason he seems to have adopted preservation of the old Clovis First paradigm as a sacred mission. Since argument does not go well with food, I mainly just listened as Monte Verde was discussed. I was rather shocked to hear him state flat out that Dillehay has been fudging the artifact data for the purpose of self-promotion. This sounded a bit desperate on Fiedel's part, not to mention unprofessional.

Regards, AD

Post ID#7396 - replied 5/11/2008 3:49 PM


[quote:="DesertRat"]Sure, Sandia was bogus, there were some issues with old carbon at Meadowcroft, Pendejo Cave is meaningless, and Calico is a roadside attraction that's fun for the whole family...

Man, I've gotta read one of your reports one of these days; it's got to be a laugh a minute.


Post ID#7397 - replied 5/11/2008 4:25 PM

Charlie Hatchett

[quote:="FireArch"][quote:="DesertRat"]Sure, Sandia was bogus, there were some issues with old carbon at Meadowcroft, Pendejo Cave is meaningless, and Calico is a roadside attraction that's fun for the whole family...

Man, I've gotta read one of your reports one of these days; it's got to be a laugh a minute.


Poke noted. :wink:


We have unfinished business:


Funny how his work in Africa is generally accepted, while his work at Calico is ignored. Smacks of a theory-driven versus evidence-driven mindset, imo.


That is why Leakey's Calico "work" is "ignored." As for the bias, that's bunk.


That is why Leakey's calico "work" is "ignored."


Because of a theory-driven versus evidence-driven mindset?


There are indeed some artifacts there, as one would expect to see in a gravelly alluvial deposit rich in knappable material.


And that's all that is needed to demonstrate preWisconsin colonization of North America. All the Calico artifacts were recovered, in situ, from strata dated from 80,000 B.P. - 200,000 B.P.:


“… Lithic specimens identified as artifacts have been recovered from near the base of the Yermo fan deposits at Calico, California. The soil on the fan surface is a strongly developed relict paleosol. Comparison of this soil with dated paleosols elsewhere in the southwestern United States suggests that the surface is about 80,000 to 125,000 yr old. Clasts near the base of the deposit are well cemented by laminated CaCO3 that probably formed from groundwater action while the fan was still active. Uranium-thorium assays on the CaCO3 indicate an age of 200,000 yr…” Uranium-series and soil-geomorphic dating of the Calico archaeological site, California James L. Bischoff, Roy J. Shlemon, T. L. Ku, Ruth D. Simpson, Robert J.


Lithic specimens identified as artifacts


I think you missed it Charlie; the relevant phrase is noted above. It isnt a question of age, it's a question of what is an "artifact," and given the setting that Bob has described, many have questioned the Calico "artifacts" just like they questioned those found in England and Europe in exactly the same settings.


Explain to me why these aren't artifacts:

While at the same time these are:


...The living sites in Beds II-IV are normally found in what would have been river and stream channels. Therefore, many of the sites were displaced by water action...

In other words, the Olduvai Gorge site is fluvial/ alluvial in nature, just like Calico.

Please explain to me why you accept the Olduvai assemblage, empirically, while you reject the Calico assemblage, empirically.

Post ID#11667 - replied 11/6/2008 12:46 PM


Thanks for the nice photos from Monte Verde Charlie.I recognise the most of them that are from the book that Dillehay published in 2004:Monte Verde: Un asentamiento humano del pleistoceno tardío en el Sur de Chile,right?i cant find from where are some others though.Could you informe me where excactly you have found them?


Post ID#11675 - replied 11/6/2008 4:42 PM

Charlie Hatchett

Hi Jarawa.

If you'll look at the bottom of each post there is a link to the source of the images.


Post ID#13547 - replied 3/28/2009 4:51 AM


Genetically, the pre-Clovis inhabitants of Monte Verde were surely part of the "Q-clan" of Y-Chromosome lineages*. They surely spoke the earliest form of today's pan-American Amerindian Language Family, which is but part of the larger Nostratic Language Superfamily, which also includes the Eurasian Steppe Languages [color=gray:](Aryan [Indo-European], Turko-Mongolic, Uralic, Altaic)**.
    * National Geographic Genographic Project ; Spencer Wells. Deep Ancestry.
    ** PBS NOVA -- In Search of the First Language (VHS)

Post ID#13561 - replied 3/29/2009 7:20 PM

Charlie Hatchett

[quote:="Widdekind"]Genetically, the pre-Clovis inhabitants of Monte Verde were surely part of the "Q-clan" of Y-Chromosome lineages*. They surely spoke the earliest form of today's pan-American Amerindian Language Family, which is but part of the larger Nostratic Language Superfamily, which also includes the Eurasian Steppe Languages [color=gray:](Aryan [Indo-European], Turko-Mongolic, Uralic, Altaic)**.
    * National Geographic Genographic Project ; Spencer Wells. Deep Ancestry.
    ** PBS NOVA -- In Search of the First Language (VHS)

The oldest ancient mtDNA hgs recovered in the Americas, and on the west coast, are mtDNA Hgs A and B. No non-American mtDNA Hgs A and B have been recognized in Beringia or northwest Siberia. According to Gisele Horvat, an expert on Native American mtDNA, mtDNA Hgs A and B are derived from Southeast Asia (India, Southern China, Tibet and Sundaland). I don't know much about yDNA. Is yDNA Hg Q derived from Southeast Asia?

As far as linguistics go, I haven't come across a linguist that has much confidence in linguistic matters greater than 8,000 years old.

Post ID#19953 - replied 2/2/2013 6:12 PM

Charlie Hatchett


The identification of human artifacts at the early archaeological site of Monte Verde in southern Chile has raised questions of when and how people reached the tip of South America without leaving much other evidence in the New World. Remains of nine species of marine algae were recovered from hearths and other features at Monte Verde II, an upper occupational layer, and were directly dated between 14,220 and 13,980 calendar years before the present (∼12,310 and 12,290 carbon-14 years ago). These findings support the archaeological interpretation of the site and indicate that the site's inhabitants used seaweed from distant beaches and estuarine environments for food and medicine. These data are consistent with the ideas that an early settlement of South America was along the Pacific coast and that seaweeds were important to the diet and health of early humans in the Americas.

Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America
Tom D. Dillehay, C. Ram�rez, M. Pino, M. B. Collins, J. Rossen, J. D. Pino-Navarro

Science 9 May 2008:

vol. 320 no. 5877 pp. 784-786

DOI: 10.1126/science.1156533

Charlie Hatchett


Visit our Employment Network websites: - - For information on advertising on this website, contact