Archaeology magazine, published by the Archaeological Institute of America, recognized
SMU archaeologist David Meltzer and his colleague Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona for their “undiscovery” that the important ancient Clovis culture didn’t die out from the impact of a comet.

Melter and Holliday, who published their research in the October issue of Current Anthropology, challenged the controversial theory that the impact of an ancient comet devastated the Clovis people, one of the earliest known cultures to inhabit North America.

Nothing in the archaeological record suggests an abrupt collapse of Clovis populations, said Meltzer and Holliday.

“Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is a matter for empirical testing in the geological record,” the researchers wrote in their article. “In so far as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist.”

Their point-by-point refutation was awarded the “Undiscovery of the Year” by Archaeology as part of the magazine’s list of Top 10 Discoveries of 2010.


By Zach Zorich
Archaeology Magazine

It’s commonly believed that North America’s Clovis culture came to an end around 12,900 years ago, when their characteristic spear points disappeared from the archaeological record. At the same time a number of large animal species such as mammoths and saber-toothed tigers became extinct. In 2006, a team led by geologist Richard Firestone of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory put forth a theory that a comet struck the Earth around this time, engulfing the continent in forest fires and causing the mass extinctions as well as the demise of the Clovis culture. They deduced this from the existence of a one-millimeter-thick soil layer at several Clovis sites that contains a high concentration of particles that appear to have extraterrestrial origins.

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