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May 20, 2012

When did the first humans come to America?

It's complicated, but it looks like the Clovis people were not the first to settle America. They were likely beat by a few thousand years by people who don't have a catchy name, but I'm hoping they call them the Oregon Cave Crappers. Who Arrived in the Americas First? - NYTimes.com
But in 2008, that began to change. That year, researchers from the University of Oregon and the University of Copenhagen recovered human DNA from coprolites — preserved human feces — found in a dry cave in eastern Oregon. The coprolites had been deposited 14,000 years ago, suggesting that Professor Dillehay and others may have been right to place humans in the Americas before the Clovis people. This discovery inspired other scholars to re-examine old finds with new techniques. In the 1970s, for instance, a farmer in Washington State found a mastodon rib with a bone shard lodged in it, as if the mastodon had been killed with a weapon. Since the mastodon remains predated the earliest Clovis sites by eight centuries, the nature of the finding was initially disputed. But in 2011, researchers led by the Texas A&M archaeologist Michael R. Waters announced that by analyzing the rib and the embedded fragment using scanning and modeling techniques, they had confirmed that the embedded bone was a spear point — strongly suggesting that humans in the Americas were hunting the animals with bone-tipped spears long before the end of the ice age. The Clovis model suffered yet another blow last year when Professor Waters announced finding dozens of stone tools along a Texas creekbed. After using a technique that measures the last time the dirt around the stones was exposed to light, Professor Waters concluded, in a paper in Science, that the site was at least 15,000 years old — which would make it the earliest reliably dated site in the Americas. The archaeological evidence challenging the Clovis model is also receiving support from genetic studies. Having compared the DNA of modern American Indians with that of groups living in Asia today, scholars have estimated that the last common ancestor of the two peoples probably lived between 16,000 and 20,000 years ago. That figure doesn’t square with the arrival of the Clovis people from Asia only 13,500 years ago.

May 15, 2012

6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America

There are some genuinely surprising things in this article, backed up by actual quotes and facts. I recommend reading the whole thing. 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America | Cracked.com
. . . if your reading comprehension was strong in middle school, you might remember the lost colony of Roanoke, where the people mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind only one cryptic clue: the word "Croatan" carved into the town post. As we've covered before, this is only a mystery if you are the worst detective ever. Croatan was the name of a nearby island populated by friendly Native Americans. In the years after the people of Roanoke "disappeared," genetically impossible Native Americans with gray eyes and an "astounding" familiarity with distinctly European customs began to pop up in the tribes that moved between Croatan and Roanoke islands.

Our first gay president was James Buchanan (1857-1861)

No one thinks he is straight and his letters confirm all suspicions. Our real first gay president - Salon.com
There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too — he was not far into the closet. Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual. Fifteen years ago, historian John Howard, author of “Men Like That,” a pioneering study of queer culture in Mississippi, shared with me the key documents, including Buchanan’s May 13, 1844, letter to a Mrs. Roosevelt. Describing his deteriorating social life after his great love, William Rufus King, senator from Alabama, had moved to Paris to become our ambassador to France, Buchanan wrote: I am now “solitary and alone,” having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection. Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.