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Baffled Alaska

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

In an almost information-free article, the Voice of Russia suggests unnamed Alaskan archaeologists are baffled upon finding the remains of 4-year-old from about 11,500 years ago. Unless they are Young Earth Creationists, I’m not entirely sure why they would be baffled by this finding. I think it is something of a consensus that early Americans began crossing the Bering Strait about 12-15,000 or so years ago, give or take. Finding the remains of a child 11,500 wouldn’t so much “baffle” an archaeologist as “add interesting evidence to a growing body of knowledge,” but “baffled” makes for better headline fodder.

In fact, there is a lot of debate about the exact timing of American migration. Its a big, complicated story, but we can’t bother to tell people that, so we call it “baffling” and write a 200-word story.

Maybe at lunchtime today I’ll look for the press release that spawned this alleged story. And I mean, alleged, as in, allegedly people of some institution found something. Really, there’s nothing here:

American archaeologists digging in the delta of the Tanana River in central  Alaska have unearthed the remains of a 4-year-old child who lived 11, 500 years ago.

The find is the oldest of Homo sapiens remains ever found in North America’s  Arctic region.

Until now, the most ancient Homo sapiens settlements of the North were discovered in Russia’s Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

And so this is why I’m starting the Baffled Nation blog. I think that the vast, vast majority of times you see a headline where scientists of some type are “mystified” or “baffled” by a discovery it really there are only two sets of people baffled by these sorts of things: headline writers who rely on the “X-people Baffled by Y Discovery” and the people who don’t know enough to critically question whether something really is baffling. Namely, us.

The “baffled” (or “mystified” or “shocked”) headline must make for good click-bait though.

Source:
Archaeologists baffled by Tanana delta find
Further Reading:

Settlement of the Americas (wikipedia)

Mystery of the First Americans (NOVA)

You can find a good video clip from the NOVA special here on Teacher’s Domain, which is nice because it encapsulates the notion that there probably wasn’t just ONE migration, but a series of migrations.

Baffleometer Reading:
We’re still calibrating the Baffleometer now, but on the scale of 1 to 10–with 10 being the most truly baffling–this is a 3, only because of the lack of detail at this point.

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