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Two if by sea…

September 3, 2019

The two important things to keep in mind about archaeology is that most evidence of man’s doings gets lost or destroyed, and that the deeper you look into the past, the more that is the case. When archaeologists find evidence that man first was doing some activity in some locale, whether making wine or painting, the wrong conclusion is it was about that time that man started doing that there. The smarter conclusion is that we had been so doing for some unknown time past.

It’s rare to find evidence of boats that are more than a millennia or two old, for the simple reasons that old boats were made from wood and skin and organic fibers and glues, all of which decompose quite rapidly under most conditions. Larger ones create wrecks that can be found on sea bottoms. Who knows how many thousands of small vessels are buried under the mud and growth of the deep, never again to be found?

Which makes the investigations of structures off the Isle of Wight quite interesting. Were people there building boats 8,000 years past? That seems quite reasonable, given that they were building piers.

Oregon State University archaeologists are finding evidence of people in Idaho predating Clovis. Which is not surprising, since we had people in central Texas also predating Clovis.

“Predating Clovis” is important because that means people had to reach the Americas prior to the Bering land bridge. And if they didn’t come by land, they came by sea. There is more and more evidence that around the globe, people traveled by boat not just millennia ago, but dozens of millennia ago. Archaeology seems to me to have resisted the idea that boats were part of technological toolkits that far past. Partly I understand that: you don’t want to say people were making boats twenty thousand years past when you have in hand no boat artifacts that old. But there also is no clothing that old, yet we know people had that. Any culture that has the technology to make clothing and tents also has the basis for making boats.

In “Young Ducks,” Winslow Homer shows a canoe clearly made from bark or skin. (Click image above to enlarge.) Every tool or material required to make such a craft was available throughout most of our species’s history. And not just our species! Denisovans and Neanderthals as well have been using eyed needles for at least 50,000 years.

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