A Hidden Determine In North American Archaeology

As a historian of science, I’m excited about figuring out who will get credit score for scientific discoveries and why. Sadly, credit score usually goes to the highly effective and related, to not the individuals who truly do the work. Gender, race, standing, and age discrimination usually play a task in these narratives.

Examples of scientific injustice are lastly coming into extra of the general public’s consciousness, nevertheless. One well-known instance is the 2016 Hollywood movie Hidden Figures. It tells the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—three African American mathematicians who had been instrumental within the success of the Sixties chilly conflict area program however didn’t get the credit score they deserved.

Learn Extra About Hidden Figures In: 8 Amazing Black Scientists and How They Changed History

January 22, 2022, marks the one centesimal anniversary of the dying of George McJunkin, an African American cowboy in northeastern New Mexico through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Why is the anniversary of McJunkin’s passing price celebrating? As a result of he found what grew to become often known as the Folsom website, an historic bison bone mattress the place scientists got here to just accept the concept that Native People lived in North America over the past ice age—1000’s of years sooner than most scientists then believed. McJunkin can be essential to many Black individuals at the moment as a result of he’s one of many historical figures lastly gaining credit score for his or her myriad contributions to science, politics, and different disciplines over the centuries. In 2019, George McJunkin was inducted into the Corridor of Nice Westerners on the Nationwide Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

However what precisely did George McJunkin uncover? A fast Google search on “George McJunkin” yields dozens of articles and books—and their statements vary from imprecise to conflicting.

Many, like a National Park Service brochure, give him credit score for making “an unimaginable discovery that modified the world of North American archaeology ceaselessly.” A recent story in Science for the Individuals claims, “McJunkin made a pivotal discovery that resulted in an archaeological paradigm shift worthy of celebration as a ‘scientific revolution.’” An Arkansas Archeological Survey story suggests McJunkin discovered human-made artifacts on the Folsom website. Others give McJunkin credit for locating the Folsom website whereas glossing over the query of whether or not he knew it contained proof of historic people.

To paraphrase the well-known query from the Watergate scandal of the Seventies, it’s instructive to ascertain what McJunkin knew and when he knew it. Solely then can we absolutely respect him. Solely then can we do his scientific legacy full justice.

George McJunkin was a outstanding man. He was born on January 9, 1851, in japanese Texas. Enslaved till the tip of the Civil Battle, in 1868, he moved to New Mexico to start out a brand new life as a free man and lived there for greater than half a century. He was a champion cowboy, an impressive ranch supervisor, a self-taught reader and naturalist, and a collector of historic stone instruments, ceramics, animal bones, and different attention-grabbing objects he discovered whereas working.

On August 27, 1908, when McJunkin was supervisor of the Crowfoot Ranch, an unusually sturdy summer time thunderstorm dropped 13 inches of rain on Johnson Mesa, a number of miles northwest and upstream of what we now name the Folsom website. A flash flood swept by way of the area, wreaking havoc and downcutting arroyos.

After the storm, McJunkin ventured out to restore damaged fence strains. He seen massive bones protruding from the newly eroded base of Wild Horse Arroyo. Along with his data of animals and pure historical past, McJunkin decided the bones belonged to bison a lot bigger than any trendy bison he had encountered. He collected some bones and took them again to his cabin, the place they took satisfaction of place on a mantle.

From then till his dying, a interval of almost 14 years, McJunkin tried to get mates and associates out to see the positioning. However none got here. The journey required an arduous two-day horseback experience that the majority had been unwilling to endure, and few, if any, individuals within the area had a automobile.

Then in 1922, Carl Schwachheim—a blacksmith and novice naturalist from Raton, New Mexico, whom McJunkin had informed in regards to the bones—satisfied banker and automobile proprietor Fred Howarth to make the journey. On December 10, 1922, almost a 12 months after McJunkin’s dying, the 2 drove to the Folsom website. They instantly understood why McJunkin had been so excited: The bones had been large and in contrast to these of any trendy animals.

To be taught extra in regards to the bones, on January 25, 1926, Schwachheim and Howarth met with Jesse Dade Figgins, the director of the Colorado Museum of Pure Historical past (CMNH) in Denver. A number of weeks later, CMNH honorary Curator of Paleontology Howard Prepare dinner confirmed the bones had been these of Bison antiquus, an extinct ice age bison. Figgins instantly dedicated his museum (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, my present employer) to additional work on the website.

Excavation on the Folsom website started in Could of 1926. Everybody concerned initially believed it was a paleontological dig—not an archaeological dig looking for human-made artifacts. The crew’s cost was to search for moderately full and intact skeletons of ice age mammals for show on the museum.

That stated, Figgins had lengthy been within the scientific downside of historic people in North America, and he informed Howarth and Schwachheim to maintain their eyes open for the opportunity of discovering stone instruments. Nonetheless, it was solely that: a risk.

On July 14, 1926, the crew unexpectedly discovered a stone spear level. It was in contrast to another then identified. However as a result of they discovered it in a pile of excavated dust and never in its unique burial context, Figgins knew the archaeological institution wouldn’t settle for it as proof that people lived with ice age animals in North America.

The museum carried out a second excavation season in 1927. On August 29, the crew found one other stone spear level, this time embedded within the ribs of a bison. They left it in place, contacted outstanding archaeologists by way of telegram, and waited for them to go to the Folsom website to verify the invention in individual.

As I identified in a previous column, this was not essentially a “eureka!” second. But it surely did finally result in scientific and public acceptance of the concept that Native People had been current in North America far sooner than these teams beforehand believed. It additionally appeared to verify what Native People had been saying all alongside—that they’ve been right here since “time immemorial.”

To right a number of the public narrative: George McJunkin couldn’t have identified the positioning he discovered would revolutionize science. For 14 years, he knew he had found an attention-grabbing scientific locality primarily based on the weird bison bones, however he wasn’t conscious it contained stone instruments, and subsequently proof of historic people. Affirmation of that discovering occurred greater than 5 years after his dying.

It’s unclear whether or not Schwachheim or Howarth ever talked about George McJunkin to Figgins or Prepare dinner; neither of the latter males acknowledged McJunkin of their scholarly articles. (Figgins was a registered member of the Ku Klux Klan within the Twenties. It subsequently appears unlikely he would have given McJunkin credit score even when Schwachheim or Howarth had advised it to him.)

You will need to have fun how McJunkin’s preliminary discovery and advocacy for the positioning set in movement the later work that led to the brand new historical past of people who lived through the ice age in North America. And it’s admirable {that a} broader public is now celebrating quite than hiding the contributions made by individuals who too usually have been ignored of historical past books. However someplace alongside the best way, for some cause, McJunkin’s preliminary discover morphed into the following scientific breakthrough.

The earliest scholarly point out I can discover relating to McJunkin’s Folsom website work is College of New Mexico archaeologist Frank C. Hibben’s 1946 e-book The Lost Americans, wherein he provides McJunkin credit score, with out citing proof, for locating arrowheads on the Folsom website in 1925 (three years after McJunkin’s dying), an apparent discrepancy. Archaeologist George Agogino revealed “The McJunkin Controversy,” a brief article in New Mexico Journal supposed to handle, by way of systematic analysis, what McJunkin truly did on the Folsom website.

In that article, Agogino critiques findings primarily based on archival analysis and oral histories collected by Adrienne Anderson, Mary Edmonston, Gail Egan, and Mary Doherty within the late Sixties. They confirmed that McJunkin found what later grew to become often known as the Folsom website. Agogino acknowledged emphatically that McJunkin didn’t know about artifacts on the website: “[None of the archives] has a single sentence suggesting that McJunkin discovered, and even thought-about, the hand of man within the destruction of the bison.”

On the following web page, nevertheless, Agogino concludes with a sweeping, dramatic, and ambiguous assertion: “[George McJunkin’s] discovery at Wild Horse Arroyo was the beginning of a brand new and thrilling chapter in American prehistory, the story of the Paleoindian who entered the New World by means of the Bering Strait properly over 12,000 years in the past.”

To summarize, Hibben opened the door in 1946 to the concept that McJunkin discovered artifacts and bison bones on the Folsom website. Agogino appeared to shut that door in 1971 however reopened it with a scientifically imprecise conclusion. In so doing, he inadvertently set off one other half century of uncertainty.

Histories get rewritten on a regular basis, often when new info involves gentle. As a naturalist and collector dedicated to uncovering hidden histories himself, I prefer to assume McJunkin would need his personal story rewritten in order that it may be informed precisely. In any case, George McJunkin may be celebrated as a unprecedented man whose inquiring thoughts, intrepid spirit, and perseverance instigated finds that will rework archaeology. 

This text was initially revealed on SAPIENS.

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