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The Great Paleolithic WarHow Science Forged an Understanding of America's Ice Age Past$
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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

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Dangerous to the Cause of Science, 1915–1925

Dangerous to the Cause of Science, 1915–1925

(p.253) Chapter Seven Dangerous to the Cause of Science, 1915–1925
The Great Paleolithic War

David J. Meltzer

University of Chicago Press

By the teens of the 20th century the evidence for a deep human antiquity took yet another turn, with the discovery of human skeletal remains in apparent association with extinct Pleistocene fauna. If that association could be proven, it potentially provided a more precise means of estimating the age of the remains than enclosing gravel or less. But here too there was ambiguity, for the age of Pleistocene faunas was still so little known that when it came to estimating the antiquity of the Vero site championed by Elias Sellards, it was either Early Pleistocene in age according to paleontologist Oliver Hay; Middle to Late Pleistocene by the geologists' reckoning; or Recent according to Hrdlička. The evidence from Vero and the nearby Melbourne site sparked a wide-ranging debates over how to reconcile evidence when disciplines collide, about when modern humans appeared, whether evolutionary rates in humans and non-humans were comparable, about the place of Neanderthals on the human family tree, and especially about whose evidence was superior and therefore trumped all others. Sellards retreated from the fight, but in Hay Holmes and Hrdlička met their match in stubborn self-righteousness. Worse for them, Hay lampooned their views with wicked humor.

Keywords:   Oliver Hay, Pleistocene vertebrates, extinct fauna as time markers, Vero site, Elias Sellards, Melbourne site, William Henry Holmes, Aleš Hrdlička

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