Gary Haynes: Guest Comment

Gary Haynes

This evening I’m very pleased to bring you SA’s first guest post, by Gary Haynes. Professor Haynes was one of the very first to see the value in observing the natural products of animal behaviour as a means of better interpreting animal bones from archaeological sites. His work is foundational. 
     In his early career he spent years documenting the effects of wolves and other carnivorous animals on artiodactyl skeletal remains. He has been involved for 30 years in studies of Clovis-era megafauna, the enigmatic end-Pleistocene extinctions, the wide variability to be found in archeological assemblages, and the complex paleoenvironmental changes of the Late Glacial interval. The studies have been archeological, taphonomic, actualistic, and analytical in nature. His work has been rigorously empirical, unlike that of many in this field.

Haynes and elephant skeleton in Africa

To his credit are three books and over 100 scientific papers on these topics. His primary fieldwork continues annually in southern Africa, where he has been carrying out actualistic studies of elephants for three decades. His credentials were already sufficient to establish his suitability for commenting on the Manis Site’s 14,000 year-old mammoth with a bone splinter embedded in one of its rib heads. However, his 1991 book, Mammoths, Mastodonts and Elephants: Biology, Behavior, and the Fossil Record, makes him pre-eminently qualified to comment on the claims of Waters et al

Roentgenogram of the Manis mammoth rib and embedded bone splinter, which is about 20 mm long (from Waters et al. 2011)

I received the following this afternoon in an email from Dr. Haynes. I have changed nothing.

I always thought professional archeologists were ethically obligated to be skeptics, to examine big claims before accepting them at face value. Skepticism and critical thinking are the approaches that make archeological practitioners into scientists. But it seems to me that too many unproven claims are being accepted without question these days. At this time, the Manis site’s interpretations are based on incomplete and inconclusive data, and cannot be considered proven. The embedded bone object has not been visually examined, which is absolutely necessary to find the traces of human workmanship that will justify calling it a projectile point tip. This kind of examination is a simple procedure that has been carried out frequently on ambiguous specimens in Old World assemblages. It’s not an extraordinary expectation. The embedded bone object at Manis was not found in situ but apparently in backhoe-excavated sediment, so it could have been a splinter that was recently forced into the mastodon rib; furthermore, the site’s so-called cut and modified other bones need to be rigorously examined by an experienced taphonomist to support the assertion they really are cut and were not merely scratched by trampling animals or during the excavation. In response to my urging that Dr. Waters and company responsibly complete their analysis of this potentially important site, I have been at the receiving end of lots of sarcastic commentary; I’ve also read that that the need to do more evaluating is unnecessary. I’d already been subjected to earlier rounds of insult and sarcasm after my comments on an article about the Friedkin site in Texas, written by the same Dr. Waters and company and also published in the journal Science in March this year. This site has been very imprecisely dated, but it was nevertheless glorified (in our leading scientific journal and in every press release and reporter’s story) as proving a lengthy pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas. The best this site can “prove” at this point is that there may have been a proto-Clovis occupation at the site, which I want to point out I had predicted (in my 2002 Clovis book) as not unexpected in the Americas, and  probably to be found in southern Texas or northern Mexico!

Celebrity pre-Clovis archeologists feel they can insult and caricature their critics and skeptics, even though we are in a minority, because they know their putdowns and brushoffs will be widely quoted in journals and newspapers. This is a disappointing trend that seems to get worse as the verbal bullies forget how to behave like scientists.

Gary Haynes, November 7, 2011.  

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