Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Great Paleolithic WarHow Science Forged an Understanding of America's Ice Age Past$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

David J. Meltzer

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226293226

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226293363.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 02 July 2022

The Great Paleolithic War, 1890–1897

The Great Paleolithic War, 1890–1897

(p.124) Chapter Five The Great Paleolithic War, 1890–1897
The Great Paleolithic War

David J. Meltzer

University of Chicago Press

In the fall of 1889, William H. Holmes of the Bureau of Ethnology (BAE) began excavations at the Piney Branch quartzite quarry in Washington, DC. This site of recent age was littered with manufacturing failures that strongly resembled supposedly ancient paleoliths: this suggested artifact form had no inherent chronological meaning. Without geological evidence to confirm its antiquity, the American Paleolithic was adrift in time. Proponents disagreed, insisting the similarity between paleoliths and Piney Branch quarry debris was purely coincidental. Holmes set out to prove otherwise on a scorched-earth march through the sites of the American Paleolithic. Although the dispute resolved itself as a geological issue, geology provided little guidance. It was uncertain whether the paleoliths were in situ and whether the artifact-enclosing formations were Pleistocene in age, which in turn were entangled in the ongoing debate over the number of glacial periods. Debate exploded with the publication of Wright's Man and the glacial period in 1892, and became a wide-ranging battle over theory, method and evidence, the role of amateurs in science, and the perceived heavy-handedness of government scientists, all complicated by institutional rivalries and the economic Panic of 1893. By mid-decade the talk was fiery and positions had hardened beyond compromise.

Keywords:   William Henry Holmes, Bureau of Ethnology (BAE), Piney Branch quarry site, manufacturing failures, Man and the glacial period, panic of 1893

Chicago Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.