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Pre-Clovis Cultures in North America

pre-clovis artifact, round disc with hole

An independent overview of Day’s Knob Archaeological Site in Ohio

(the following is a 2007 analysis - reedited in 2012 but not updated)

For decades it has been the consensus that the Clovis people, also known as ‘Paleo-Indians’, were first to inhabit North America about 11,500 years ago, but now many amateur archaeologists, as well as several professionals, are beginning to believe America could have been inhabited much sooner, or about 35,000-50,000 years ago. Discoveries within the last 10-15 years at South Carolina's Topper Site, Saltville and Cactus Hill sites in Virginia and Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania, have prompted a re-thinking and, as a result, a new term is being tossed around…‘Pre-Clovis’.

Potentially the best evidence Pre-Clovis peoples existed is at the Day’s Knob site (external website) in Ohio and the similar Nichol’s site (external website)  in Tennessee plus the Lost Valley site (external website) in Pennsylvania. New and exciting finds are not just limited to just those three sites however; a half dozen more could exist as suggested by some convincing-looking photographs circulating.

While there is a growing popular belief the Clovis culture was not the first to inhabit the Americas, typically however, there remains the skeptics. Not all archaeologists believe what is being found lately are indeed manmade artifacts or that they were from an earlier time period. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder apparently. So, are these cases of archaeologists seeing only what they want to see or enthusiasts seeing more than there is? Is archaeological objectivity in the air today or not? Whatever the case, one cannot summarily discount artifacts barely distinguishable… because crudeness is a common characteristic of the most ancient of artifacts. Importantly too, whether an artifact is finely crafted or crudely made should not be determining factors as to their historical importance. After all, it was the featureless ‘pebble stones’ which defined the beginnings of humanity some 2,000,000 years ago. Yet, as these photographs illustrate, not all the artifacts being found at Day's Knob can be considered so typically 'crude'.

At present, human antiquity in America is anyone’s guess. While probably few subscribe to the idea humans were in the Americas during the lower Paleolithic period (of the Old Stone Age), or prior to 100,000 B.C., a single find could change all that. That possibility can’t be ruled out. In fact, it can never be ruled out… at least not by rational beings.

This photo demonstrates the balance of this pendant (same pendant as shown in the larger photo below)

While it is doubtful the 1987 find at Day’s Knob in Ohio and the similar sites in Tennessee and Pennsylvania are lower Paleolithic, although the possibility exists, they both beg for (and await) scientific analysis. It seems apparent this culture existed in America long ago and perhaps before Clovis. This culture was distinctly different; the artifacts found are not your typical American Indian artifacts, nor typical to Clovis, ‘officially’ recognized as the most ancient culture. The Day’s Knob people had a special reverence for birds… seemingly an intense reverence. In addition, many of these artifacts were composites, while others were anthropomorphic in nature. Even their tools were fashioned into a bird in one abstract form or another. As an indication of substantial age, anthropomorphic art is very ancient tradition. In Europe, bird-human figures have been associated with findings 100,000 to 400,000 years old.

“Primitive peoples believed the sea and land were inhabited by strange creatures, and early books on zoology contain curious illustrations of composite beasts, reptiles, and fishes, which did not exist at the time the mediæval authors compiled these voluminous books. In the ancient initiatory rituals of the Persian, Greek, and Egyptian Mysteries the priests disguised themselves as composite creatures, thereby symbolizing different aspects of human consciousness. They used birds and reptiles as emblems of their various deities, often creating forms of grotesque appearance and assigning to them imaginary traits, habits, and places of domicile, all of which were symbolic of certain spiritual and transcendental truths thus concealed from the profane. The phœnix made its nest of incense and flames. The unicorn had the body of a horse, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a wild boar. The upper half of the centaur's body was human and the lower half equine. The pelican of the Hermetists fed its young from its own breast, and to this bird were assigned other mysterious attributes which could have been true only allegorically.” From Sacred Texts (external website)

While most all the artifacts found at Day’s Knob are typically crude (as most ancient artifacts go), some indistinguishable as artifacts initially, closer inspection reveals all, or at least most, were crafted by humans. Some are clearly artifacts however, without a doubt. Whether for symbolic purposes or decorative, these artifacts were fashioned from limestone, sandstone, leather, twine, wood, bone, clay and compacted mud. One was even fashioned from a pinecone… but to-date an unidentified pinecone. In that no pine trees exist in the vicinity of the site… was it because that particular variety of conifer retreated from the area following the last Ice Age?

Radiocarbon (C-14) dating has not yet been attempted however... the expertise from within the archaeological community is still being sought. So what is the holdup? It seems largely due to the prevailing institutional mindset that Clovis, and only Clovis, were the first inhabitants in North America. Since no Clovis points or other typical Indian artifacts were claimed to have been found, few archaeologists invited to look at the site have accepted the invitation. Dr. Arsen Faradzhev, an anthropologist and rock art expert from Moscow visited the site, accompanied by Dr. James Harrod. From microscopic examination, both determined to their satisfaction that many of the rocks were human-modified. A few other archaeologists and geologists have also visited, but remain skeptical although acknowledging that they have no explanation for many of the carving marks on the rocks.

The reluctance of most professionals to get involved is typical. Scientific institutions - just like religious institutions - will invariably resist any notion which threatens the foundation of their long-heralded beliefs. Reputations are also at stake.

Actually, aside from a chance to garner some unbiased opinions, the archaeological expertise most likely will be found in the Middle East… in old Babylonia. Archaeologists from the Middle East would be more knowledgeable about matters of ancient idolatry. After all, the ancient Babylonians were infamous bird worshipers. Mesopotamian archaeologists would have a better eye for such things. Comparisons could also be made to the works of the ancient Phoenicians and Philistines who also practiced bird-worshipping. On the other hand, the Day’s knob site may predate these Middle East cultures and if that were the case, then the situation begs for paleoanthropologists from Europe who are experienced in the most ancient of artifacts.

In that bird worship is thought to be the most ancient form of idolatry, who knows how far back in time this may place the Day’s Knob site. Regardless of the time frame however, the inhabitants of Day’s Knob were seemingly neither Clovis, nor Folsom (circa 8,000 B.C.) nor even American Indians or Asians… but perhaps being of Middle East or African decent.

We know of course idol worshipping has been around a long time, going back to the Old Stone Age… an abundance of ancient works testify to that. While nothing was actually written about it before the Sumerians developed the art of writing around 5,000 years ago, as far back as 1473 B.C.E. Moses said (Deut. 4: 16, 17)… “Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, ---“

Contrary to Christian dogma, idol worshipping isn’t necessarily ‘evil’ however… and in most cases, quite the contrary. To early man, without knowledge of physical forces involved in aerodynamics, birds, understandably, must have been looked upon as divine creatures. These ancient idols were merely symbolic; their crafting merely expressed an awareness of divine omnipresence (they believed in an Almighty).

The following is an insightful observation by Alan Day, the discoverer of the artifacts on Day’s Knob:

"It is interesting to speculate on the origin of the Bird Spirit image. Cave paintings by humans of the Paleolithic, with their magnificent depictions of animals of all sorts, often include people only as stick figures if at all. It has been conjectured that humans of that time considered themselves to be separate from the natural world, having come from above. One of this author's possibly bizarre hypotheses is that this Bird Spirit figure is the manifestation of a sort of "collective unconscious". Many or perhaps most of us have had vivid flying dreams, particularly in childhood. It seems reasonable to think that if we do it, people hundreds of thousands of years ago did it also, and took it much more seriously and literally. And early humans poking around on the ground must have regarded birds with more than a little wonder. When people first began to think of themselves as transcending their earthbound condition, birds must have quickly come to mind, and a "morphing" of human and bird in their physically rendered imagery seems a logical extension of this." Alan Day

Note that this pendant of a bird incorporates three images in one

This picture should be considered the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of this site… in that, without it, picturing a bird in some of the other artifacts would be asking too much of one’s imagination. With it however, one has an idea what to look for. This was surely how Mr. Day was able to find even more such artifacts. Yet, how does one explain why most of these were not perfected? Considering the time it took to fashion dozens to a limited degree… why didn’t they spend it perfecting just a few? Or does this site hold only their unfinished works? Their rejects? Are their perfected works yet to be found?

To help determine this, one must take into account the following factors which surely lurk at all discovery sites. Surely… an abandoned site does not go undisturbed for thousands of years. Surely… worthwhile tools would have been highly prized during the Stone Age, and if left behind (for whatever reason), they would have been quickly taken by any wanderer who happened by later. It would be naïve to believe these sites had not been sifted through countless times. So where did these better-made tools and decorative artifacts end up? Everywhere… lost or left laying in gullies here and there, in creek beds, on various hillsides, plains and mountaintops. Most tools were probably just worn out, and being of no further use, discarded… perhaps miles from where they were first fashioned. Unlike Tutankhamen’s tomb, archaeological discoveries are rarely ‘time capsules’. It is therefore likely that the best-made artifacts from American antiquity will be found scattered about in nondescript places without any supporting evidence nearby which might testify to their origins.

While the Day's Knob site itself should indeed prove very important, a testimonial to a manufacturing site is as good as it gets, most importantly Mr. Day found America’s version of the Rosetta stone. It enables one to look for and recognize (decipher) other bird-depicting artifacts otherwise appearing nondescript.

The ‘worship of birds’, or ‘reverence for birds’, was not entirely unique to any one culture however… the historical records of almost all ancient societies demonstrate this, occurring within American Indian cultures as well, except, a distinction can be made here by the exclusiveness of this reverence. Other cultures had a reverence not just for birds but for other creatures as well, all types of animals, reptiles, fish and insects. Conversely, the society that once existed at Day’s Knob seems to have been devoted ONLY to birds.

“Most North American Indians were careful not to worship any part of creation, but held the whole of creation sacred. They constructed no idols or temples to worship animals, birds or reptiles but made fetishes, art and others works honoring their animal cousins.” (from Animal Spirit Guides & Totems by Takatoka) (external website)

To end any speculation about the age of this site, future radiocarbon dating will tell the tale. If, however, the Day’s Knob site isn’t proven as old as it appears, nonetheless it should fill in some blanks about American antiquity. Ah, but what blanks? Compared to the Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, North America doesn’t have any ancient history... even less than South America. The Day's Knob site may be what North America needs.

Update - June 2007: Alan Day isn't planning on getting any radiocarbon dating done until organic material appears in secure context at sufficient depth to have confidence the material is not contaminated.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 10/25/13