Chair of the department of anthropology at SMU’s Dedman College, proved a culture of people didn’t die from the impact of a comet.
D Magazine journalist Dawn McMullan reported on the accomplishments of SMU anthropologist David J. Meltzer in Undiscovering a Killer Comet in the monthly magazine’s “Dallas’ Big Thinkers” article, which published Sept. 21.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Meltzer researches the origins, antiquity, and adaptations of the first Americans — Paleoindians — who colonized the North American continent at the end of the Ice Age. He focuses on how these hunter-gatherers met the challenges of moving across and adapting to the vast, ecologically diverse landscape of Late Glacial North America during a time of significant climate change.
Meltzer is chair of SMU’s Department of Anthropology and the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College.
McMullan’s D Magazine piece focuses on six of the region’s scientists who are making a difference in their scientific field: “We gave the world the microchip and the margarita machine. Here are six cool scientists whose brains are making waves,” McMullan writes.
By Dawn McMullan
In the summer of 1971, David Meltzer’s mom was looking for something to get her 15-year-old son out of the house. She asked him his plans. He said he was going to watch TV. “That,” she said, “isn’t good enough.” She read that archaeological excavations would begin the next week in the Shenandoah Valley. She convinced the project director that he needed to take her son. The next week, Meltzer had shovel in hand at the Thunderbird Paleoindian site.
He continued for four summers and is now a world-renowned archaeologist. Meltzer has recently been in the news for disproving a theory that a comet crash killed a culture, but his career research focuses on the first people who came to North America at the end of the Ice Age. It appears they adapted at breathtaking speed.
“What I’m trying to understand is what were the challenges they faced?” he says. “What happened the first time a wayward Siberian encountered a rattlesnake? How did they do all this while figuring out this utterly new landscape?”
In the midst of this research, which got him elected to the National Academy of Sciences, comes the “silliness” of the comet.
A controversial theory was put forth in 2006 that the ancient Clovis culture of North America was killed by a comet crashing. Meltzer and his colleague Vance Holliday were honored for the Undiscovery of the Year by the Archaeological Institute of America after refuting the concept with archaeological evidence proving the population of North America didn’t drop when the comet allegedly hit.
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