Artifact styles…do not always match genetic data

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

SGA 0160 RJL PIDBA

PIDBA Georgia image SGA0160.jpg, available online here. Mr. Ledbetter’s sketch drawings show each flake scar, and help the viewer understand how the stone tool was made and used.

Are you interested in the earliest human settlers in North America?

If so, you may enjoy browsing the information offered online in The Paleoindian Database of the Americas (PIDBA).

SGA 1757 RJL PIDBA

This color image allows you to discern details about the kind of stone used to make the tool, and other details. PIDBA Georgia image SGA1757.jpg, available online here.

The Georgia section now includes thousands of photographs and drawings of Paleoindian and Early Archaic projectile points, and metric data for the points, too. This information is courtesy of R. Jerald Ledbetter, who collected these data as part of the Georgia PaleoIndian Recordation (sometimes Recording) Project, which is affiliated with the SGA.

For a very long time, we only knew about these ancient peoples from the tools and other artifacts and evidence of their activities they left behind. In particular, archaeologists would examine the styles of, for example, stone tools, and hypothesize what the temporal and spatial distributions of certain styles meant about the peoples who made and used them.

Now, archaeogeneticists are beginning to develop databases about ancient peoples that sometimes contradicts the hypotheses researchers had developed based on, for example, the styles of stone tools like these archived in PIDBA.

This July 2012 article by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times, “DNA and Fossils Tell Differing Tales of Human Origins” notes that geneticists hypothesize, based on DNA, that “a previously unknown archaic species of human, a cousin of the Neanderthals, may have lingered in Africa until perhaps 25,000 years ago, coexisting with the modern humans and on occasion interbreeding with them.” Researchers studying artifacts and other remains have not, at least so far, seen stylistic or other data that suggest this.

Your Weekly Ponder assignment: Consider how genetic data can upset previous theories about ancient peoples.

PIDBA information has been mentioned elsewhere on this website, as part of this post, “Collective learning, baseball caps, and Clovis points.”