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A Journey to a New Land

First people
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Paul Goldberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Archaeology, Department of Archeology, Boston University

Murray Springs

In Murray Springs in Arizona which was dated to about the younger dry outs about twelve thousand years ago, it turns out there were many different kinds of black mats that exist. Black deposits that seem to be probably stagnant water deposits or something like that. And in this documentary they kind of looked at material that they claim came from outer space in the form of an extraterrestrial comet or something like that hit the western part of the United States. As a result, fauna became extinct.

In all these examples, these three examples, I always find that being a geologist which I’ve done for thirty-five years, that people again they look at stuff and they analyze it as in the case of this black mat they’ve spent hours on the high resolution electron microscope looking for hexagonal diamonds which do come from outer space and they use this as evidence that a comet came, exploded and basically provided conditions that were not sustainable for large mega fauna. But no one ever really looks in detail or destructures the material that they are looking at.

So, in the Paisley Cave coprolite, for example, they never really looked at the coprolites to see what it is and it turns out if you look at the science paper that was published in May of 2008 there is a big feather sticking out of this coprolite which is very odd. I don’t know too many humans that eat feathers. This is a feather this big (about the length of an index finger) and no red flags came up.

This is the same thing with the Murray Springs. As far as I know, no one has actually looked in detail at one of these black mats. Just today, I received in the post some thin sections from a former student of mine who is now at the University of Arizona. She sent me some thin sections that one of her colleagues collected in Arizona. What they did is they collected sediment right there at Murray Springs across the boundary that represents the time period which this extraterrestrial would have hit the surface of the earth then would have wiped out the fauna there. And so, what they did was, they collected some intact boxes of this sediment across the boundary, took it back to the laboratory, hardened it in resin and sliced it up and made these thin sections of which I have one here of one of these thin sections of the Murray Springs black mat that you might be able to see. The upper part is the black part and at the bottom there it’s much lighter in colour and the contact is right in the middle of this thin section.

What we are going to do now is look at it and try to say gee what is the black mat and sort of go back several levels, sort of intellectually and scientifically, and just establish what this stuff is. And then when we can’t see anything else, go and actually try to appreciate what the context of, let’s say, these hexagonal diamonds come from. What’s the microcontext within this in situ, intact block of undisturbed sediment or where this stuff comes from.

I think until we really start looking very carefully at the microstratigraphy sort of the layers that these sites and the objects themselves that are dated whether it’s a coprolite or it’s a shell or whatever and establish the context and really know exactly what we’re looking at then in a way we’re always going to have these kind of unclear discussions about gee is it that old or isn’t it that old without being sure right off the bat that this thing is what it’s supposed to be.

In Paisley Cave, it was claimed to be human, but probably it’s more likely a herbivore. So the message is clear; deconstruct what we have in the beginning and then go further after that. Then I think we can feel more comfortable in any interpretations we make about the peopling of the New World and how people lived while they did cross the continent.