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A Journey to a New Land

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Paul Goldberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Archaeology, Department of Archeology, Boston University

Peopling of the New World

Peopling of the New World is a hot topic. And it’s similar kinds of issues showing up for peopling of, let’s say, Australia as well. Wherever a large continent has basically been graced by homo sapiens the question always is when did they get there and how did they get there and what’s the timing and distribution of people through time and how did they expand over this large expanse to occupy the continent itself.

The evidence that people have used in the past, typically, is based on archaeological evidence and it’s a very controversial topic. Some of my own personal experience of working on sites, I don’t do it as a sort of a subject matter or as a living just working on the colonization of the New World, but I’ve had the chance as a geologist to work on some sites that figure strongly into how we evaluate the arrival of new people into the New World. The two sites that I’ve worked on in particular are Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania and Paisley Cave in Oregon.

Both at Meadowcroft and Paisley Cave the dates are thirteen thousand maybe a little bit before that which would definitely be pre-clovis. As a geologist, I tried to help evaluate the sedimentary record there and evaluate the effect of contamination, if at all, and it turned out that based on what we did, the analysis that we did which is based on soil micromorphology, that we couldn’t see any evidence for contamination of a particular matter of coal or even organic matter that seeped into the sediments themselves that would produce ages that people recovered from the site.