Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Conjunction of Ancient Oral Tradition and Science

"[There is a] growing body of evidence that people who used watercraft were able to thrive on the Pacific Coast of Canada at the end of the last Ice Age."
"It is possible that the coast was one of the means by which people entered the Americas at that time."
"We are working to collect more information on areas that were ice-free during the last Ice Age and reconstructing where sea level was at different times in different places."
Duncan McLaren, anthropologist, Hakai Institute, University of Victoria
Calvert Island, B.C. dig site (Grant Callegari, Hakai Institute)

A line of research still "in its infancy" is being pursued by a team of archaeologists studying a prehistoric settlement on the coast of Calvert Island, British Columbia. The researchers discovered footprints etched in soft clay that date to the end of the last Ice Age, 13,000 years old, making them the earliest such findings in North America. Radiocarbon dating of two pieces of pine wood lodged in the foot imprints place the footprints in the middle Stone Age.

Published in the journal PLOS One, these findings serve to corroborate a theory holding that some of the earliest settlers in North America arrived by boat. The 29 distinct footprints were discovered beneath a muddy surface, coated with a layer of sand, itself covered by a layer of gravel and more clay, all of which levels shielded them from erosion.

Researchers identified the footprints as those of at least two adults and one juvenile. The site was originally investigated in 2014, where the researchers hoped to find "Ice Age sediments with archaeological remains". What they discovered appeared to be a track mark covered with bogs and dense forest. Returning in years that followed they found the buried footprints and theorize they were of people gathered around a hearth.

The sea level was six to ten feet lower, at the close of the last Ice Age -- from 11,000 to 14,000 years ago -- the footprints possibly left just above the high tide line. As popular theory has it, humans first reached North America through an ice bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age. These first people, according to the theory, entered through the small corridor that became the passage to the new world. But the new research indicates ocean-faring represented another viable path.

The remote location surrounded by thickets was reached by ferry boats since the closest road was about 40 kilometers' distance. Oral history common to the area for thousands of years where Heiltsuk Nations hold the stories of arrival since "time immemorial" has resulted in a melding of science and archaeology matching and validating these ancient stories of arrival in a new land.

Duncan McLaren and Daryl Fedje excavate one of the footprints on Calvert Island, B.C. (Grant Callegari, Hakai Institute)

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