Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Push Backward Equals a Great Leap Forward


I am always amazed by science. The idea that we question our own facts and dogma in the pursuit of inquiry and truth provides me with deep and optimistic hope for our species. This, because unlike theology which starts and at end point, god the creator, and goes forward (or backwards really), hoping to find evidence to justify a specific set of theistic ideas, science has no fixed ideas. And if science does have fixed laws, it is because there exists research and evidence to back them up.

But the false and vacuous nature of religion has no such intellectual tradition. At its core, faith is counter-intuitive to reason, the scientific method and our human understanding of life in the cosmos.

Remember how Galileo was made to pay for his "sins" by challenging Church doctrine by concluding that the sun rather than the Earth was the center of our solar system?

Even today, while the RC church officially concedes evolution is a fact, it still places a pox on anyone considering any idea other than god put the whole universe into motion. Same goes for all the other modern faiths, many of which still deny the fact of evolution and natural selection are both real and provable. The faithful and their leaders favor biblical mythology, to the point of inter-personal or global violence to hush critics, to ensure their power and maintain their economic and social status.

While this isn’t a post that could equally discuss the Higgs boson experiments at CERN, it does confront our knowledge about what is knowable and understandable regarding other origins. So no, this post will not look at the universe per se, but it will look closer to home at the new finds regarding early human migration patterns from Asia into what would come as North, Central and South America.

The NYT reported on July 13th, that archaeologists have found new evidence which supports the idea that people came across the Bering Land Bridge much earlier than previously concluded.  In fact, much like the idea that there were at least three separate hominid migrations out of Africa (the last being our species some 175,000 years ago), that the same now holds true for the number of separate migrations into North America by Asians some 15,000 years ago.

The article, written by John Noble Wilford, reports on research published this month in the journal Science and notes:

“Stone spearheads and human DNA found in Oregon caves, anthropologists say, have produced firmer evidence that these are the oldest directly dated remains of people in North America. They also show that at least two cultures with distinct technologies – not a single one, as had been supposed – shared to continent more than 13,000 years ago.”

What this means is that the Clovis people, those attributed with hunting and gathering in North America thousands of years ago and who produced finely made arrows and other tools, were not the only people to come onto the land and leave significant remains behind.  The new finds indicate that other people, not connected with Clovis traditions and techniques, were either contemporary or perhaps competing with these already known people and creating their own artifacts.

And aside from the physicality of the projectile points, they left a trove of other stuff behind,  namely their feces (technically known as coprolites). Archaeology is typically considered the branch of anthropology that examines people’s junk and the stuff we leave behind. In many cases, what is left behind is the refuse - both organic and inorganic - of a people or culture.  So aside from the physical material at this site, the archaeologists have radiocarbon dated the feces of the inhabitants back more than 13,000 years. Although, I must admit it isn’t just archeologists who play with ancient poop. Paleontologists have been finding and analyzing dinosaur coprolites for decades. 

Wonderfully, the researchers have found rather clean DNA, specifically mitochondrial DNA, which is the DNA passed down from mother to daughter within the sample remains.  And in those specimens, the scientists have found that the ancestors who eventually would give rise to many Native American cultures and languages on two continents, were most certainly originally from Asia.

I guess ultimately what this means is if you’re of white European heritage, you’re the one who should be showing your papers in Arizona or elsewhere. Since as far as immigrants go, Europeans have only been in the Americas for about five hundred years by any measure. While those who came before had there antecedence arrive many thousands of years ago. Food for thought? Or perhaps just another intellectual coprolite?

No comments:

Post a Comment