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Man in America

The Antiquity of Man in North America






Charles C. Abbott

Stephen C.






LM Publishers
























The Antiquity of Man in North America{1}



The claim of satisfactory evidence of the extreme antiquity of man in the valley of the Delaware River has been soberly discussed and intemperately ridiculed until the public, both scientific and general, have become tired of hearing the subject mentioned; but this is no valid reason why the truth should not be ascertained. If man in a paleolithic stage of culture did exist on the Atlantic seaboard of North America, then we have a basis upon which to build—a tangible starting point from which to date a history of human activities on this continent. As it is, we have but an immense array of facts, largely unrelated, and the greater portion sadly distorted and misleading because of the reckless theories set forth with them by their discoverers, and undoubtedly there never has been, in the whole range of scientific agitation of a simple question, as great a volume of reckless assertion, illogical deduction, and disregard of exact statement. The main question was often wholly lost sight of, and the author's sole purpose that of demonstrating someone else in error. Predetermination on the part of many has been fatal to the value of their field work. Convinced on theoretical grounds, such are necessarily blinded when on the spot where positive evidence occurs. He who does not desire the object searched for seldom finds it; and, later in the day, pride declines to accede to the just demands of candor—the admission of having reached a wrong conclusion.

There probably would not have been as much attention paid to the subject of man's growth in culture on this continent had not the proposition of a sequence from paleolithic to Indian, with an intervening period, seemed to necessitate a dating back to the Glacial epoch, which naturally brought geological erudition to bear upon the question, and since then, most surprisingly, there has been confusion worse confounded, rather than a flood of light. Much has been written, but we cannot yet be confident which author is most nearly correct; and the latest report, showing sad evidences of haste, is vitiated by evident determination to modernize every trace of man, whether the facts warranted such procedure or not.

What is held, primarily, to be an evidence of paleolithic man is a wrought stone implement, that in Europe was characteristic of his handiwork. Here, in the valley of the Delaware, this same form of implement has been confidently asserted to be a rejected piece of stone—usually argillite—that failed to lend itself to reduction to a finished blade or spear point. If this could be established as of invariable application, however the supposed "reject" occurred, then the whole matter would be brought to a quick conclusion. But the "reject" theory has utterly failed of establishment. The typical paleolithic implement is not characteristic of the refuse of an arrow-maker's workshop site, and the familiar arrow points of small size, nor even the long, thin blades of several times their length, were reduced from masses greatly larger than the desired form. The refuse of many a chipping site shows this conclusively; and, as hundreds of failures demonstrate, many an arrowhead was made from a pebble but a trifle larger than the finished object.

But admit, for argument's sake, the identity in shape of a "reject" and a "paleolithic" implement; this does not prove their identity in age and origin, and it is not an unwarranted or illogical suggestion to draw a distinction between the two, where the conditions under which they occur suggest a possibility of diverse history. Rather than demonstrating that all rudely chipped stones are "failures," it should be shown that paleolithic man, as we know of him in Europe, could not possibly have existed here. This has not only never been attempted, but the conditions during and immediately subsequent to the glaciation of the river valley have been asserted, time and again, to have been favorable for man's existence. Furthermore, it has not been shown that a typical paleolithic implement could not have been available on this continent, as it undoubtedly was in Europe, as an effective weapon, and it must be remembered that the fauna of the Delaware Valley was, in glacial times, very like that of parts of Europe in what we may call the reindeer period. Like conditions may not have produced like results in the case of early man, but what was practicable in Europe was certainly so in America, and the question resolves itself into that of determining if any trace of man that has been discovered in the valley of the Delaware can be dated back to a time preceding the Indian as he was when first he came in contact with the European. Did, in other words, the Indian bring his art with him from Europe or Asia, or did he experience a growth in culture from paleolithic simplicity to neolithic complexity?

The whole subject hinges on the distribution of these traces of man. If from the first day of his occupancy until the European replaced the Indian the immediate valley of the river had undergone no change, then the imperishable relics of the first and last savage would remain associated, and position alone would tell nothing concerning any particular object's age or origin, but, at the present day, except the contents of graves, not a stone implement of the Delaware Indians rests where chance or the intention of its one-time owner placed it. Indeed, save a few bowlders of the largest size, few natural objects on the immediate sliores of the river are as first seen by William Penn and his associates. This fact has not been duly considered, and unwarranted conclusions have been published as established truths—all, of course, eliminating antiquity from the Indian history of the region. The fact that a so-called paleolithic implement was found lying on the surface of the river's shore has resulted in a pen picture of a modern Indian attempting to fashion a blade and tossing the pebble aside in disgust. Why, indeed, could not an Indian walk on exposed gravel and pick up a pebble as well as we can to-day?

There are two considerations to which we must give heed when this question is asked. We are, in the first place, tacitly informed that the Indian was given to chipping stone in this haphazard way to supply a sudden need upon the spot, all of which is not only not a reasonable assumption, but absolutely incorrect, as argillite bowlders and pebbles, which are not abundant in the gravels, were not habitually used, but, instead, the mineral was systematically mined and selected with skill, so that failures were reduced to a minimum. Then, again, if the object as found has been lying undisturbed on the river shore for centuries—two centuries at least—why is it that the chips are not there also? These are never found under such circumstances. In fact, they are very rarely found at all in the gravel where the implement itself occurs, and in numbers they exceed the "reject" or finished object at least as ten to one. Furthermore, we are asked to believe that the river shore where we find rude implements is the same to-day as when the Indian wandered along it centuries ago.

Fig. 1 shows clearly how the never-resting tidal flow wears away the shore, carrying sand and fine gravels from one point and spreading it elsewhere to form a sand bar, it may be, and turning the channel from one side of the stream to the other, and so exposing long reaches of the shore to wasting, that for many a year had been fixed and apparently secure. Often the mud is entirely removed from the underlying gravel, and abundant traces of Indian occupation are brought to light, and, less frequently, so strong a current attacks a given point that even the gravel is moved and deep holes are formed, to be filled in time with the wasting shore from a point perhaps a mile away. This is the story of the river of today, and so it has been for centuries; and yet we are asked to believe that we can fill the moccasin prints of the Indian by walking now along the water's edge. I submit that it is asking a great deal too much.






It has been suggested that rudely chipped implements, when found on the gravelly shore of the river, have fallen out from the bank and rolled down from where they had long been lying. This is not at all improbable; but how does this modernize the object, when the gravel extends quite to the surface? The pebbles and bowlders at the top of the bank are clearly as much a part of the deposit as are those at its base, and while the surface may be—is, in fact—less ancient than the deeper gravels, still they cannot be dissociated; and it is a significant fact that we find, on the gravel at the foot of the bluff or other exposure, only the rude argillite objects at the water's edge or on the fiat laid bare at low tide, and not a general assortment of the Indian's handiwork, including pottery; and we must not overlook the fact that the "gravel-bed" implements bear evidence of all the conditions to which the gravel itself has been subjected—this one stained by manganese, that incrusted with limonite; this fresh as the day it was chipped, because lost in sand and water and not subsequently exposed to the atmosphere; that buried and unearthed, rolled, scratched, and water-worn until much of its artificiality has disappeared. The history of almost every specimen is written upon it, and not one tells such a story as has been told about it by the advocates of the "Indian-reject" theory.

Much has been written on the natural history of the gravel that is so marked a feature of the river valley, particularly at the head of tide water, and almost every essay differs in more or less degree from its fellows in the matter of the gravel's age as a well-defined deposit. Its origin no one can question, nor the agencies by which it was brought to where we now find it. Ice and water did the work, nor have they ceased entirely to add to the bulk transported in strictly glacial times—perhaps it were better to say in superlatively glacial time, as the river even now can be positively...