Monte Verde, Chile
"the ultimate field trip" (Ann Gibbons, Science 275:1256)
Dena F. Dincauze, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003-4805, USA
A new version of an old-fashioned site visit was arranged through the Dallas Natural History Museum, with support from the National Geographic Society, to examine the controversial Monte Verde sites in Chile early in January, 1997.
The participants received pre-publication page proofs of Vol. II of the Monte Verde site report, and were asked to read 815 pages before convening on January 4 in Tom D. Dillehay's laboratory at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. There, the travelers were shown some of the lithic artifacts by Michael Collins, who had analyzed them for the report. They also heard a discussion of the ethnobotanical study by Jack Rossen, and saw fibers and knots recovered at the site. The group went on by private and commercial jets to South America, joined en route by colleagues from Chile and Colombia. A visit to the Universidad Austral in Valdivia permitted examination of wooden artifacts and the famous footprint, and included geological information from Mario Pino. While at the University, the group enjoyed a dinner cruise on the river.
Weather limited the site visit to a single sunny day. The visitors explored stretches of Chinchihuapi Creek, its environs and the stratification near the sites. The Late Pleistocene-age site is essentially destroyed; we saw what was left at the edge. The deep site with radiocarbon dates >30,000 was not re-exposed in time to be examined during the visit.
The visitors at the site included archaeologists Gerardo Ardila of Colombia and Francisco Mena and Lautaro Nunez of Chile, Chilean geologist Mario Pino Quivira, North American archaeologists James Adovasio, Alex Barker, Tom D. Dillehay, Dena F. Dincauze, Donald K. Grayson, C. Vance Haynes, David J. Meltzer, and Dennis J. Stanford, and Rick Gore and Ken Garrett of the National Geographic Society.
Following the site visit the participants discussed the evidence presented in the report, the laboratories and the field, and reached a consensus that the younger area was an archaeological site showing extraordinary preservation and integrity at the time of its investigation. Particularly compelling was the demonstration of the living floor with areas clearly indicative of diverse human domestic activities. Furthermore, the participants found no reason to doubt the validity of the radiocarbon ages of analyzed organic materials in, below, and above the site, which are interpreted as showing the site to be about 12,500 years old. Subsequent excitement prevented immediate consideration of the implications for revised prehistory of the Americas.