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The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology's Greatest Mystery Hardcover – August 20, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Who got here first? That's the controversial question that has galvanized American archeology from its earliest days. The traditional view is that the first residents of the new world were the Clovis people, hunters who crossed the Bering Strait during the Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. Yet based on his own research, archeologist Adovasio launches a spirited attack on the Clovis theory. With co-writer Jake Page, a former Natural History editor, Adovasio explains his findings at a site called Meadowcroft in southwestern Pennsylvania. Two of the ancient tools from this dig were carbon-dated to 12,900 and 13,170 B.C., thousands of years before the Clovis lived. This discovery has thrust Adovasio into the center of the anti-Clovis movement. Adovasio weighs the Meadowcroft findings against the history of American archeology itself. He profiles seminal figures in the field as well as some cranky Clovis theorists, and reviews different theoretical approaches. He also explains the use of dating methods such as dendrochronology (counting the rings of trees) and lucidly discusses the natural history of the continent, with its glaciers and ancient megafauna. While these factors are relevant to the question of human habitation, Adovasio's very broad view somewhat dilutes the main story of the Clovis wars. There's also a note of bitterness and personal grievance in Adovasio's discussion of his pro-Clovis colleagues, which may turn off some readers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An anthropologist, field archaeologist, and founder and director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute, Adovasio has been at the frontier of developments in archaeology since the Seventies, when the site he was excavating, Meadowcroft Rockshelter (near Pittsburgh), yielded materials thousands of years older than what was found at the Clovis sites in the Southwest. Challenging the primacy of "Clovis Man" as the earliest settler of the Western Hemisphere was "not for the timid of heart," Adovasio explains in the introduction to this robustly written insider view of fieldwork, discovery, and warfare among specialists. In examining various theories, beliefs, and scientific inquiries into who the first Americans were and how they got here, Adovasio touches on many aspects of this question: Native Americans; the views of Europeans, starting with Columbus; conjectures regarding the mound builders; the discovery of the Clovis culture in the 1930s, later dated from 9200 to 8500 B.C.E. by radiocarbon; and evidence from linguistics, genetics, and skeletal remains, including the recent events surrounding "Kennewick Man" (see James E. Chatters's Ancient Encounters). Written with candor, humor, and passion, this well-documented study makes the latest findings accessible to general readers and students. For public libraries and special collections in anthropology and archaeology. Joan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (August 20, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375505520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375505522
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on January 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am of two minds about "The First Americans." On the one hand, it is a well-written and interesting history about what scientists know (or think they know) about how and when the Americas were populated. Based on his own extensive work at the Meadowcroft rock shelter in Pennsvlvania and on the work of Tom Dillehay at Monte Verde in South America, Professor Adovasio argues passionately that the Americas were populated much earlier than 11,000 years ago, which is the approximate date usually given for the appearance of Clovis culture.
But Professor Adovasio's passion is what gives me pause. Although I suspect that he is probably right in rejecting the "Clovis bar," I have the definite feeling that I am only getting one side of a complex story.
I also found the book's numerous ad hominem attacks to be off putting--while complaining about the personal invective that has been directed at him and other advocates of pre-Clovis populations in the Americas, Professor Adovasio repeatedly slams his bete noir Vance Haynes and his allies. At one point, the author announces that "the sad fact is that the evidence is not going to make any difference to Vance, a man who, as one of his colleagues said, is now an example of someone whose mind has snapped shut, never to open again" (p. 262).
That sort of statement makes Adovasio sound somewhat hypocritical, although I suppose he would argue that his opponents have given him plenty of reasons to retaliate in kind.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on July 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a young science, archaeology is necessarily dynamic. New discoveries, fresh insights, novel concepts emerge with almost dizzying frequency. Science is supposed to work on hypothesis testing - evidence confirms or refutes ideas. To discover that entrenched dogmas have been established, battlelines drawn and still contested, careers launched and destroyed is disheartening. To realise that the issue centres on a few stone tools renders the situation almost ludicrous - until we remember archaeology is the study of humanity. And humans, as Adovisio points out vividly, can cling tenaciously to favoured ideas - particularly those concerning humanity.
Adovasio briefly relates the African origins and distribution of humanity across the globe. However, this story truly starts with the 1937 discovery of some finely crafted stone spearpoints in New Mexico. Debate over Indians as "noble savage" or "barbarous native" was sharply interrupted by this find. The workmanship and novel design of the "Clovis Points" demanded reconsideration of Native Americans - particularly of their origins and dispersal in the Western Hemisphere. Knowledge of the extent of the massive glaciers covering North American many millennia ago left but a small time window for Asian peoples to cross the Bering land bridge exposed during the glacial period. Who were these people? Adovasio asks. When did they arrive? How long did it take them to inhabit the hemisphere? What was their environmental impact?
All these questions have been asked for many years. Adovasio's own research made a significant contribution when he excavated a rockshelter at Meadowcroft, Pennsylvania.
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adovasio's book can be summarized in three bullet points:
1. Until recently, there has been a general consensus in archaeology that the first human arrivals in the Americas were the Clovis culture, around 10,500 BP (before present). Several older sites were proposed before 1970 or so but all turned out to be wrong dates.
2. However, Adavasio at Meadowcroft, Pennsylvannia and Tom Dillehay at Monte Verde in South America have really good archaeological sites which are definitely much older. This new evidence demands that the entire Clovis-first idea should be replaced.
3. And archaeologists who say otherwise are just plain mean. At great length, and naming names. They should be compared to religious fanatics and Mafia hit men and "Star Trek" scriptwriters in their meanness-based refusal to face facts. There's no point in talking to those people.
The meanness theme crowds out several points I would have liked to have read more about. Adovasio mentions in passing that he has recovered Meadowcroft-like artifacts from other sites near the Meadowcroft rock shelter, but never goes into detail. He also mentions a site called Fell's Cave at the south end of South America which is apparently post-Clovis, but so barely post-Clovis that humans getting so far so fast after the start of the Clovis period beggars the imagination. Again, no more details. I also wish I could have read more about the linguistic evidence for earlier and more widespread human arrival in the new world.
About two-thirds of this book is a pretty well-written first-hand review of a very interesting area of archaeology. The other third is like going out to dinner with friends and having them not only launch into a loud family argument in the middle of a restaurant, but try to drag you into taking sides.
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