October 6, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Animals Can Skew Archaeological Dates

Archaeologists date stone age artifacts by the depth of the layer.  They may not have paid sufficient attention to one factor that could have shoved them deeper down: animals trampling over them.  “Animals push human tools into ground�and back in time, study says,” was a subtitle of a report in National Geographic News.  This factor could cause mis-dating of stone tools and other artifacts, “making them seem older than they really are�in some cases, thousands of years older,” experiments have demonstrated.
    The assumption has been, “The deeper the object, the older it is, generally speaking.”  A team from Southern Methodist University tested that assumption by placing artifact replicas on the ground in India, having local herdsmen walk their livestock over them, letting the ground dry out, and then excavating the plot like it was a real archaeological site.  “To our amazement,” lead author Metin Eren said, “the disturbance was much greater than we had anticipated.”
    The misdating is especially pronounced in wet ground.  But it is precisely in wet areas where stone age people most likely settled.  What’s more, archaeologists typically date carbonaceous material next to stone artifacts to corroborate the date, unaware that the two types of material may not have been contemporaneous.
    Eren believes that evidence of trampling can be detected by the random orientations of artifacts.  In some cases, artifacts might even be pushed upward and yield younger ages.  Sorting out what happened could be tricky, though.  “Trampling could even create the illusion of ancient sites where none really existed,” Eren said.  For example, “you could have artifacts washing into a valley from somewhere else and herds walk over them, pushing the artifacts into the ground.
    Is this a minor matter?  Anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado Denver said, “Pretty much any open-air site located near a water source will potentially be very seriously affected by some of these conclusions.”

Apparently no one ever tested the effects of trampling by animals before, even though some of them were aware of it.  The follow-up question we should be asking is, what other factors are they not considering about the unobservable past?  Don’t be so sure that archaeologists are able to separate trampled sites from non-trampled sites.  A herd of elephants walking over a site might not leave it the same as a herd of wildebeest.  Or a herd of supersaurus, either, but we say that just to irritate the Darwin dogmatists.
    The article said, “Scientists often date artifacts of the Stone Age, which began about two and a half million years ago, based on the depths at which the items are found: The deeper the object, the older it is, generally speaking.”  The 2.5 million number is based on evolutionary reasoning – i.e., how long did it take monkey-men to come out of their trees, develop a taste for meat, reorganize their anatomy for long-distance running (11/18/2004), figure out it was easier to carve the meat with a stone than by hand, and decide cooking was women’s work, and getting impaled and trampled by mammoths was men’s work?  How many times did a site get trampled before it dried up?  Say the site was wet for just a million years – less than half the assumed age.  Say that it got trampled once a month.  That’s 12 million tramplings.  OK, cut that in half, or a tenth – it’s still an outrageous amount of time for the artifacts to just sit there undisturbed by large animals, to say nothing of worms and burrowing creatures.  Does the possibility dawn on you that many of these claimed ages, which no scientist ever experienced, could be flawed?

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Categories: Early Man

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