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Prehistoric Cavemen of North America

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Paleo-Indians, Clovis, Folsom and pre-Clovis... the American cavemen

(8th edition - October 2012) by A.O. Kime
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While little is known about human antiquity in North America, perhaps a few things could be added which can further characterize the earliest peoples on this continent... who they were and where they came from. Since the term 'cavemen' commonly refers to any unidentified group of ancient people existing before recorded history, as is the case when referring to the Stone Age in Asia, Europe and Africa, it seems appropriate the term 'cavemen' be applicable to North and South America as well. After all, even though the term is somewhat misleading, suggesting an unwavering lifestyle, it is flexible enough to mean humans... not races as the archaeological term 'Paleo-Indians' suggests when referring to North and South America.

Even though the term "Paleo-Indians" doesn't conjure up visions of perennial cave-dwellers - effectively dispensing with the mistaken idea - it can only embody 'indians'. In any case, by whatever name, it seems doubtful there was much difference in their daily lives. While assuredly both resorted to living in caves during foul weather... but due to the smoke from heating and cooking fires, it is doubtful caves were their first choice as a primary residence. In this respect, the Neanderthal were likely no different. Of course, one can always create more appropriate terms to accommodate new revelations which seem looming on the horizon.

While the indigenous inhabitants of North American were first thought to be Indians (of India), it was only because the 15th century Spanish and Portuguese explorers initially thought America was India. Nonetheless the name stuck and these people have been called 'indians' ever since. Yet, even though we know better today... that these 'indians' are of Asian descent (not from India), it isn't known for certain whether all the indigenous peoples of North America were of Asian descent or closely related enough to be lumped together. It was perhaps premature for science to call them all 'Paleo-Indians'.

Considered by most anthropologists as the first group of arrivals, it is believed the 'Clovis people' came from Asia about 11,500 years ago (circa 9,500 B.C.) and their culture lasted for about 500-1000 years. They are associated with the large fluted spear-points which were occasionally found... the first being near Clovis, New Mexico in 1932. Following the Clovis were the 'Folsom people' (circa 8,000 B.C.) who were noted for their smaller and thinner fluted spear-points first found in 1926 near Folsom, New Mexico.

However, there should be some skepticism the Clovis and Folsom were different peoples. Since the older and larger spear points closely coincide with the disappearance of the mammoth towards the end of the Ice Age... the absence of these particular Stone Age tools (weapons) seems only to say they were no longer needed. Yet, overshadowing any disagreement is the fact there may be older prehistoric groups who trekked into North America before the last Ice Age.

Due to some recent discoveries by amateur archaeologists thought to be very ancient (older than Clovis), currently in vogue among them is the term 'pre-Clovis'. In 1987, several bird-shaped artifacts were found not yet associated with any known civilization. However, in what should be exciting news for any archaeologist, a revelation, being a possible breakthrough in discovering more about antiquity in North America, unfortunately these finds have been ignored by the archaeological community. Knowing of no other explanation, their lack of cooperation is seemingly because they weren't in charge of the excavation. It wasn't their baby. In the meantime, radiocarbon-dating of these finds goes begging.

Whether this is typical conduct or not is unknown but it took seven years before the partially mummified hadrosaur found in North Dakota by a teenager in 2000 was revealed. It turned out to be the most complete dinosaur yet known. Suggesting perhaps it is typical, but not necessarily exclusively so, standing by the teenager's side in a TV interview was a paleontologist from the University of Manchester in Britain (conspicuously absent and gone unmentioned in this TV interview were any of his counterparts from America).

At any rate, it has been commonly accepted as scientific fact that the earliest inhabitants of North America migrated here from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge once connecting, or closely connecting, Asia and North America. Until recently, it was unanimously thought this occurred during the last Ice Age, or about 11,000 years ago... but increasingly we hear of renegade archaeologists who believe people (or Paleo-Indians) arrived in North America much earlier, or about 35,000-40,000 years ago. However, there is little evidence of this beyond the human footprints in central Mexico believed by some to be 40,000 years old. Due to the perils which assuredly kept the ancient populations low, it may be awhile before evidence is found to substantiate this older date. Yet, if for not being ignored, perhaps the bird-shaped artifacts could.

Recent Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome studies seem to suggest these ‘Asian origin’ theories are correct but anthropological genetics is a fairly new field and more research and a larger data base is admittedly needed. Uncertainty remains because of the variables involved, especially because of the unknown mating habits in ancient times. While we’ve been cautioned not to draw too much from DNA findings just yet, so far it appears American Indians have five distinctive DNA differences suggesting they came from five different areas within Asia... also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_American_genetic_studies

Despite these findings there is now a growing belief among some scholars that at least some of these ancient peoples were Caucasians. The 8,400 year-old Kennewick Man discovered in 1996 in Washington State was thought by many to be Caucasian but, in that scientists were unable to retrieve DNA for analysis, by default it was determined by the Secretary of the Interior that he was an 'American Indian'. Since this was seemingly done for political reasons to satisfy tribal interests, it didn't squash the contrary belief. The tribal desire to possess the remains for re-burial purposes was seemingly to thwart any chance of a reassessment. It might put their 'native' status in jeopardy... of many benefits.

Getting at the Stone Age truth

In order to determine the true origins of these 'prehistoric cavemen' in North America, it has been suggested one should use a combination of information sources and not just rely on one or two. One such information source would be the surviving language (or particular words) of a people but science has never established linguistic phyla (its origins) as certain. It is based largely on 'best guess'. It is interesting to note that if based on linguistics alone, it could be said some American Indians were indeed ‘Indians’ after all... from the subcontinent of India. On the Viewzone website it is claimed by the author of the book "Journey to Baboquivari" that some southwestern tribes have words suggesting Hindu origins. This ties in, he states, with the Hindu belief that in 1,500 B.C. the Indians (from India) traversed the world and 'conquered' North and South America.

There is also a very good article written about the Paleo-Indians on the Desert USA website even though it is largely speculation (although typical of a pre-historic analysis by anyone). It could be fairly accurate in many respects but may have underestimated the sophistication of these ancient people. Likewise their well-written article entitled Mogollon - Their Magic. While it references a people called 'Mogollons' who, the article claims, once lived around the Mogollon Rim (pronounced 'mug-eon' locally) in central Arizona, one should keep in mind that no such tribe called the 'Mogollon' ever existed. As is the case with the Clovis and Folsom peoples who were named after towns, they were peoples (otherwise unknown) named after the Mogollon mountain range which was earlier named after Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon, a Spanish colonial governor (New Mexico, 1712-1715). Their article wasn't meant to be misleadingly however, it was just using anthropological terminology. However, as was the case surrounding the builders of Montezuma Castle, most all ancient tribal names were 'invented' by the archeological community (largely dismissing tribal accounts).

As to the spiritual side of these Paleo-Indians, in a colorful fashion an unknown author wrote:

" While the ruins of their villages and the flotsam and jetsam of their lives tell us much about how the Mogollons sheltered, clothed, provisioned and defended themselves, the images on stone, the sites for celestial watches, the caches of sacred objects, and the paintings on ceramic vessels give us only the vaguest notion about how they nourished their souls."

While not nearly as colorful, perhaps the following will help characterize it further. The spiritual relationship prehistoric cavemen had with nature - and thus with the pervasive Divine presence - was exceedingly intense. One might say it was similar to the intenseness of a bodhisattva or as required in order to be in contact with divine intelligence. Cavemen had to contend with the harshest of conditions which further enables one to acquire and maintain a spiritual relationship. While a harsh environment isn't absolutely necessary, no more than depression or hopelessness, it serves as the catalyst. An American Indian 'sweathouse' is an example of one way to invoke this particular frame-of-mind... but obtainable in other controlled environments as well. Of course, cavemen didn't need sweathouses.

Speculation about the capabilities of ancient man?

Even though little is known about the earliest inhabitants of North America, perhaps common sense can fill in some blanks... at least make room for some likelihoods. Even though the possibility some originated in India is not as conceivable as having originated in Asia, it's still conceivable. It is also conceivable Europeans crossed the Bering Land Bridge or even that some groups reached American in ocean-going vessels because the capabilities of ancient man were far greater than they’ve been given credit. Assuredly, there were always pockets of 'cavemen' quite advanced for the Stone Age. Due to the constant standard-of-living during the Stone Age, it could have happened just as easily 200,000 years ago as it could 10,000 or 30,000 years ago. After all, there was virtually no differences. There isn’t any reason why advanced societies, however isolated and small, could not occur and the reasons why they probably did occur are further demonstrated in my article Antiquity - Cavemen and the Stone Age.

While most of the earliest inhabitants of North America probably did come from eastern Asia, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn some came from western Asia, India, Europe, Africa, South America (indirectly) and perhaps even Australia. A more refined study of the genetic makeup of the American Indians living today (especially the mid-American tribes) ought to contain the proof... at least enabling science to arrive at the most likely percentages of this diversity.

Whoever they were however, their manner of living in America would not necessarily reflect that of their homeland. In other words, unfamiliar territory may have forced a difference if a group failed to reestablish their old habits (or standard of living) within two or three generations. There could have been incidences of regression. Old methods and habits would become 'unlearned' if they failed to locate resources they previously depended upon..

Of course, all this is just speculation since early man kept no records... largely because mankind saw no need for recordkeeping during the Stone Age. Except for the ancient Egyptians, keeping historical records was a late-blooming idea often credited to Herodotus. In that prehistoric man did not provide a historical record does not mean he was not capable however. If he thought it was critical, although it wasn't, he would have found a way.

While not much history can be chiseled out in stone (petroglyphs) or painted on rocks (pictographs), it was also a question of what was worthwhile to record. After all, wolves attack, volcanoes erupt, snow falls and people die... so what? Considering humans have a memory, the idea of recording events must have seemed redundant. Further, in order to record history, a system to determine dates (calendar) would be necessary and was probably considered just another impractical concept... abstract and unnatural. There were more important things to do initially. Furthermore, one needed a written language either hieroglyphic or one with a pronounceable alphabet which didn't occur until 3,000 B.C.

A typical North American caveman?

For the sake of discovering likelihoods, let's create a short story and assume there were Caucasians who arrived in North America and make one of them our ‘typical caveman’. After all, there's no mystery how Asians came to North America whereas there would be for Europeans. While we're at it, let’s also picture him someway.

While apparently most ancient people were smaller than the people living today - diet perhaps being the main reason - it has been determined some prehistoric cavemen were six foot tall. To describe an individual strong enough to make such a long journey, he was probably a little taller than average so let’s say our caveman was 5’9” and healthy. Let’s also buck the presumptuous and gruesome archaeological depictions and make him handsome. Even though he was a Caucasian, he and his group likely lived in Asia for a time, perhaps several generations. If it was longer than 2-3 generations, the likelihood exists some of them took a native for a mate and therefore some of their clan would have Asian blood.

All along, for whatever reason his clan was in Asia, he and his group likely had no idea what really laid beyond the Bering Land Bridge, the vastness. They may have known a least some land existed beyond this bridge from tribal tales or personally knew if they had previously hunted in what is now known as Alaskan territory. Perhaps they even teamed up with some Asians on these hunting trips. As time passed, and being effectively foreigners in Asian territory, of a different race, they were probably poorly treated at times by at least some of the Asians, or persecuted, or perhaps driven into isolation. There could have been violent confrontations. For whatever worthwhile justification, at some point he and his clan decided to cross the Bering Land Bridge in search of new territory to settle.

From the annual migrations of birds, they knew south was the direction to go for a more temperate winter. They also knew it could be a dangerous undertaking, not knowing what to expect. There could be vicious tribes to contend with, a shortage of game and numerous other unknown dangers. This suggests their circumstances within Asia were bad enough to take the chance. They would have trekked southerly hugging the Alaskan coastline as much as they could for a continual supply of food. It would have been a daily routine of walking at a comfortable pace then camping each night. Weather permitting, there was no great need to stop unless someone was ailing.

As days turned into weeks and as they begin to tire, some clans would have decided they had gone far enough and stayed at various promising locations. Others, if the physical condition of their clan allowed, would have continued going south. For some, it was a race against time to get as far south as possible before winter and making it into southern Canada or even Oregon and California was not improbable but, by choice, many may not have done that. There would have been several places along the way they deemed suitable. Or, perhaps disillusioned with the rough terrain which lie ahead, or having seen nothing better, they may have even backtracked on occasion to a good spot they remembered.

After the ancient cavemen arrived in America

He and his fellow prehistoric cavemen are now in California and, being totally committed, will try to call it home. Discovering not much familiar, the vegetation and game being somewhat different as well, they must quickly find a way to adapt. Until they did adapt to this new environment, they would have stayed close to the ocean for a food source. If their reason for leaving Asia was because of confrontations with other clans, it was a great relief to finally feel safe. Isolated now, it could have been a time of great joy and happiness.

Within a year or two they would have figured out how to kill or trap some types of game and were becoming acquainted with the nut and fruit bearing trees. Seeds they brought from Asia would have been planted but probably few germinated or survived in this largely unfamiliar seasonally-different climate. Finding methods to kill a wider range of game was always under study but they soon learned a Grizzly bear was not to be fooled with.

In that they would recognize star formations offered some comfort. It was a relief to see anything familiar, after all, they trekked so far. After about two years and feeling more comfortable with the new territory, it was starting to feel like home. Yet, they would still have some problems adapting. They would have been frustrated not being able to make pots as durable as they once knew. With the different soils, it may have taken 10-20 years before they discovered an acceptable mud-mix. The trees were different and thus the wood. Different animal hides would require a different method of patching them together to make clothing. Until they could figure something out, they were probably unhappy with their first attempts. There would have been incidences of diarrhea from something new they tried to eat and with the warmer climate food poisoning likely occurred. It may have been awhile before they realized what was causing their severe skin rashes (poison oak) as well. All along though, they were enjoying a more ideal climate, good hunting, the familiar stars and the good-'ol sun and moon.

After several years had passed, our caveman was finally adapting to his new surroundings. No longer was he feeling like a stranger in this land. With plentiful game, he was now well-fed and his living conditions were getting more comfortable each year... so he was relatively happy. It was a time to know total freedom firsthand, to ponder life, to be in awe of the star-filled heavens, lightning and thunder. It was a time of unabated wonderment and a time men knew the full extent of every human emotion including panic and fear. He also knew pain and hunger. He was, essentially, more human than we.

All along however, cavemen had absolutely no idea how developed mankind would become. As far as the prehistoric cavemen knew, the lifestyle of man and his circumstances would never change... nature suggested this. The population centers of future civilizations could not be imagined then. So for small clans, it wasn’t the time to consider reading, writing and arithmetic or planning for such a future. It wasn’t really necessary then anyway and it certainly wasn’t a time when recording history would make sense. A different mentality existed then... it something happened, it probably happened before and will probably happen again... so why record it?

The things deemed necessary today for a civilized society would be idiotic concepts for small isolated groups of people, especially if they preferred being isolated. It only makes sense for large concentrations. However savage the era, the Stone Age was a time to ponder and create an opinion on gravity, leverage, aerodynamics, astronomy, the human anatomy and every other department of science. Yes, even aerodynamics... for example, the effects of wind on a particular shape of a leaf were noted. Of course, there were the birds. The prehistoric cavemen were, in fact, every bit as intellectually capable as modern man and when spiritually assisted, more-so. They also smiled, laughed, cried, felt sadness, joy and excitement. More than anyone since, cavemen knew what living meant.

Based on events throughout history we could be relatively certain that even in the Stone Age it was often disastrous for outnumbered clans trying to defend themselves or their territory. Assuredly outnumbered, the Caucasians may have been effectively annihilated by the Asian tribes. Yet, some of these Caucasian clans could have lived in the west for as long as a century or two, maybe even longer. Some may have migrated (or were driven) to the Great Plains, the Flint Hills of Kansas and to Oklahoma territory. But since they weren’t successful in firmly establishing themselves suggests their numbers were never sufficient, meaning their stay was probably short. It also suggests the Asians were the first to arrive, who, like anyone else then, would unlikely allow strangers to establish themselves. Had the Caucasians arrived first, long enough to establish their numbers, then the Asians would have been denied instead. Had that occurred, many of our 'natives' would then be blonds.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 10/25/13