Museums with illustrations of early North American human inhabitants often assert that the first peoples on the continent were the Clovis natives who lived during the Ice Age. But a handful of archaeological sites have shown evidence of human occupation found in soil layers that are below, and hence earlier than, Clovis remains.
However, museums have not jettisoned their “Clovis hunters were first” displays because the pre-Clovis evidence from these sites was not compelling enough. A new report in the journal Science may change that, opening the question of how and when North America was first inhabited.
Archaeologists from various universities have been excavating a site beside Buttermilk Creek west of Salado, Texas. In the past, the creek periodically overflowed, covering an inhabited site with clay-rich sediment. Careful sifting of this sediment has turned up over 15,000 stone artifacts, most of which are tiny chipped flakes left over from making tools. However, some of the obviously human artifacts were completed and show signs of use, including a chert knife rounded for use in scraping hides.
The team found evidence of the Clovis culture about halfway down the excavated layers, but then they found more stone tools buried below that. The artifacts were in layers that corresponded to a succession of peoples, with the most recent at the top.
Thus, the data would seem to indicate that people were living in Texas and in other North American locations before the Clovis peoples.
The soil layering and artifacts comprise straightforward evidence, but the dates assigned to the various layers contradict the Bible’s eyewitness accounts. In museums, Clovis peoples are typically assigned an age of 13,000 or so years ago. The putative pre-Clovis artifacts found in Texas were dated at up to 15,500 years ago. But according to the Bible, the whole world has only existed for about 6,000 years. How long ago did these people actually live?
It is apparent that an ice age followed the global Genesis Flood. During this period, which lasted about 500 years, massive glacial ice covered huge portions of continents in northern latitudes.1 Vast quantities of water from melting ice built up behind dams and were sometimes catastrophically drained, carving new landscapes like the Grand Canyon and the English Channel, and depositing new sediments like those in South Dakota’s Badlands and Wyoming’s Green River Formation. All this drainage added volume to the seas, which rose by over 300 feet compared to the level at the beginning of the Ice Age.
The Ice Age was also characterized by distinctive animals, such as saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths. Their fossils are found in deposits near the top of earth’s surface, above the larger regional-extending Flood deposits. Apparently, Ice Age animals, plants, and peoples were caught, buried, and fossilized by some of the residual ice-melt floods and other catastrophic Ice Age events.2
Clovis people remains, for example, have been found buried alongside those of wooly mammoths. Since the Flood occurred around 4,400 years ago according to chronological records in the Bible, the Ice Age probably lasted until 3,900 or so years before the present day. This time range frames the Ice Age remains, including Clovis and any pre-Clovis peoples. But this timing is apparently challenged by the “optically stimulated luminescence” (OSL) technique that was used to date soil crystals from the Texas site. The authors even reported that “the dates correlate in time and depth,” and that this correlation helps verify the ages they have assigned.3
However, the technique does not measure years, but electrons. The Science “News Focus” feature that summarized the research gave a false impression when it stated:
The team opted to use optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a technique that measures the amount of light energy trapped in quartz and feldspar grains in the clay and dates the last time they were exposed to sunlight. The lowest tool-laden horizon dated to 15,500 years ago—more than 2 millennia before the first Clovis sites.4
According to the sentence structure, the “technique…dates the last time.” But in reality, the measured light-energized electron values have to be converted to dates, and this requires assumptions. For example, OSL assumes that the electrons have been losing energy at a constant rate since their last exposure to light, that no other process could add to or take away the measured energy in the intervening time, and that the data must adhere to the standard dates provided for the Ice Age, which according to the evolutionary model ended 10,000 years ago instead of 3,900.
No standard dating technique is immune to revision, and OSL is no exception. The history of disputes over the age of Australia’s oldest human remains, called Mungo Man, shows that OSL is fallible. In this case, carbon dating, uranium dating, stratigraphy, and thermoluminescence have all provided different “ages,” ranging from 28,000 to 63,000 years, for Mungo Man. The remains may have been authoritatively “dated” at 40,000 years old by evolution-only consensus—but not by direct measures.5
If these OSL-stamped evolutionary dates for the Texas deposits are reliable, then why would archaeologist Gary Haynes suggest that more dating is needed? According to Science, “Haynes isn’t sure the tools date to pre-Clovis times and would like radiocarbon dates to be certain.”4 The site didn’t have appropriate material for radiocarbon dating or the study authors would have used that technique.
Within hundreds of years of the end of the Flood, right amidst the Ice Age, Genesis recorded that the people of the earth had gathered themselves in one place, and that “the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.”6 Therefore, one would expect that people traveled from the Middle East to North America, which is within “all the earth.” The Bible indicates, and archaeology shows, that people pioneered this continent during the Ice Age.
- Vardiman, L. 2008. Rapid Surging of Glacial Ice Lobes. Acts & Facts. 37 (12): 6.
- Vardiman, L. 2003. Hypercanes Following the Genesis Flood. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. L. Ivey, Jr., ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 17-28.
- Waters, M. R. et al. 2011. The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins of Clovis at the Debra L Friedkin Site, Texas. Science. 331 (6024): 1599-1603.
- Pringle, H. 2011. Texas Site Confirms Pre-Clovis Settlement of the Americas. Science. 331 (6024): 1512.
- Bowler, J. M. et al. 2003. New ages for human occupation and climatic change at Lake Mungo, Australia. Nature. 421 (6925): 837-840.
- Genesis 11:8.
Image credit: Copyright © 2011 AAAS. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holders.
* Mr. Brian Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
A vintage reproduction of this famous illustrated timeline of earth history first published in 1871.
The foldout chart features detailed, full-color drawings of various stages of history, from Adam and Eve to the late 19th century, with handwritten commentary throughout. Perfect for educational settings or Sunday School walls, it includes the descriptive booklet that was originally published with the chart. Follows James Ussher’s time-line from The Annals of the World (also in paperback), the inspiration for Adams’ monumental work.