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Man in the San Juan Valley

EARLY HUNTERS AND GATHERERS. (continued) What the early hunters may have looked like no one really knows, for archeologists so far have not found a single undisputed trace of their physical remains. Skeletal fragments of what might be early man in this country have turned up in several places, but usually geologists, archeologists, and others cannot agree as to just how ancient these remains might be. One of the most likely candidates for the distinction of "earliest man" yet found in America was discovered in 1953 near Midland, Tex. Actually, these remains, which consist of parts of a skull and fragments of other bones, were those of a female. They were found under geologic conditions that might indicate considerable age and in indirect association with types of artifacts which are dated, by other means, as being of Folsom age or slightly more recent. Unfortunately, since radiocarbon dates on some of this material vary widely and the local geology is so complicated, it is not positive that "Midland Man" is the oldest known American.

Many anthropologists, however, believe that even the earliest inhabitants of this country were of Asiatic descent and thus might well have resembled some of the modern American Indians.

We do not even know if they used animal skins as clothing. With a rather cool, damp climate, it can be assumed they had some sort of shelter and some types of body covering, even if nothing more than generous swabbings of bear grease. Today, near the tip of South America, a tribe of Indians—the Ona—exist in a very damp, cold climate. Eating mostly fish and sea mammals, they live in crude brush shelters and wear little if any clothing most of the time. In Africa certain primitive Pygmy tribes hunt game as large as giraffes with small bows and arrows. They wound their quarry first and then follow it, often for days, until they can bring down the weary animal at close range with their spears.

Perhaps that is how the early hunters in America survived. We cannot be positive, but we do know that scattered around the Four Corners country are a few sites where spear points, scrapers, and other implements have been found under conditions indicating great antiquity. In other cases throughout the greater Southwest, points have been found embedded in the remains of slaughtered animals of now extinct species. Often these remains are found in ancient swamps and waterholes, where it had been possible to trap or mire the animals and finally kill them; the mucky swampland has helped preserve the bones so that today the archeologist can tell the story of how they were slaughtered.

As the glaciers disappeared and the climate became warmer, the lakes, swamps, and lagoons gradually dried up, the grasslands became desiccated, the hardwoods disappeared from the valley bottoms. Small regional differences in climate, sometimes due to altitude, left some areas more desirable than others. Large mammals disappeared entirely, and the hunting and gathering people had to turn to smaller types of game such as elk, deer, rabbit, bear, and rodents. No doubt wild edible plants, berries, fruits, nuts, and even roots were gathered and eaten. In the Four Corners country, however, evidence for occupation by man during the Altithermal (or second post-glacial period) is almost entirely lacking. This was an exceptionally dry period, and few if any people could live there. It wasn't until the climate became wetter and cooler again, more like it is today, that man once again inhabited the Four Corners area in any great numbers.

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