Vital Signs

Lies, Damned Lies, and Fossils

Not for the first time in recent years, American history is the subject of a ferocious political controversy, which ultimately grows out of the national obsession with race. What is new about this particular battle is the chronological setting: We are not dealing here with the New Deal, Reconstruction, or the slave trade, but with a period inconceivably distant, before there was a United States; indeed, long before human beings had dreamed of building pyramids or ziggurats. Recent archaeological discoveries have thrown doubt upon everything we thought we knew about human origins in the New World, blowing large holes in the scientific orthodoxy of the last few decades. It is not surprising to find the new facts challenged by a rear guard of traditionally minded scholars, whose whole careers were invested in an older model, but what is alarming is that the federal government and even its Armed Forces have become utterly committed to yesterday's orthodoxy, to the extent of resorting to chicanery and intimidation: In short, the Clinton administration has decided to declare war on American archaeology. Even more repugnant, it is doing so in pursuit of doctrines of racial purity. How exactly did we get into such a moral and intellectual quagmire?

To understand this mess, we need to appreciate the traditional view of how human beings reached the Americas, From the 1920's, the standard view was that the New World had no human population...

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