June 10, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES II • Page 19 had a more voluminous fossil record, they found something startling: paleo-Indians stopped making Clovis points for their spear-throwers at the same time the mammoths appear to have become extinct. Man and beast appear to have died out at the same moment. Shuffle back and remember that we now have a plausible theory for the disappearance of land-dwelling dinosaurs: 65 million years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, a giant asteroid crashed into the planet and either sent out enough radiation to kill off the bigger animals or else cast such a pall of dust between the sun and the Earth that most plants died and reduced the food supply below subsistence. Mammoth theorists believe the whole thing happened again 12,900 years ago and wiped out the largest mammals and the Clovis people. Since the paleo-Indians were not covered with body hair and probably did not overdress, they may have taken a double dose of asteroid radiation through their skin. The asteroid explosion at least led to a drastic change in Clovis material culture: projectile points vanished from the strata about the same time that mammoth bones did. There is no point in making all those exquisite projectile points when there are no mammoths or giant ground sloths left to hunt. If the asteroid wiped out the mammoths, it must have been a fairly localized extinction. Dwarf mammoths lived in the Aleutian Islands at the same time the Egyptians were building the pyramids, and I would venture that frozen mammoths found in Siberia, while definitely prehistoric, may not be 12,900 years old. However, a much older theory indicates that some of the frozen Siberian mammoths were chilled and entombed by a blast of air that was not exceptionally hot, but exceptionally cold. What about elephants? Elephants are not directly descended from mammoths, but they are reasonably close relatives, and they did not become extinct. What about the other mammals from the same region? The giant bison, bison latifrons, was still around long after the 12,900-yearsago asteroid hit. Someone found the skull of an adolescent proto-bison with a projectile point made by a post-Clovis paleo-Indian stuck right into the bison’s forehead between the archaic straight horns. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the giant bison was killed about 5,000 years ago, midpoint between the mammoth massacre and our own era. Here is a strategic option: The two asteroid catastrophes seen to have speeded up the evolution of intelligent life at the expense of things that were big but not too bright. The dinosaurs got blown away 65 million years ago after they bequeathed to us an enormous petroleum reserve, and then the mammoths vanished just in time to prevent fatal collisions with SUVs driving through the desert at night. Nor would you want to answer the door and find a saber-tooth tiger or a 600-pound dire wolf instead of UPS. In the old days, this theory was known as catastrophism. This was generally the theory of theists who believed in a constructive influence operating behind and through creation. Darwin’s geological mentor, Charles Lyell, was a strong theist, according to Darwin, but he was not a catastrophist. Lyell believed, as Darwin did, in gradualism, the idea that no drastic changes had occurred and that the world has always been here and the development of species has to do with feeding and breeding rather than sudden extinctions of the dominant species with a sudden expansion of durable survivors. Darwin, the son and grandson of prominent physicians, married to his cousin, who also came from a rich family, was living on inherited money. His income came from investments postulated on working the working people to death or driving them off to America or Australia. You will understand why he found catastrophism unappealing. He spent the second half of his life virtually bedridden due to neurosis. Catastrophism is not a theory for toffs. H.G. Wells, whose father was a cricketeer, would have doted on it – and did, based on some of his writings for workingmen and adolescent boys. A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest, as Simon & Garfunkel were wont to observe. Maybe the mammoths did get it from an asteroid. Maybe the paleo-Indians did them in by reckless hunting. Maybe it was a combination of both. The fact of the matter is that investigating all these theories is great mental exercise – and will not change anyone’s mind about whether they believe in creation, evolution, or what used to be called teleology: the idea that the Creator controls evolution. What is truly important is that youthful and mature minds have the option to discuss all these theories without suffering scorn, ridicule, or bad grades for what they think is right. Just when everybody thought the last word was in on the subject of creation versus evolution versus not thinking, something drastic happens. In this case, it is the story about a comet that collided with planet Earth 12,900 years ago. I found my wife watching the story on “Nova.” I postponed that wonderful option known as sleep, and we watched together. First, there are the woolly mammoths. I’ve always loved those big guys, and it’s perhaps because I have frequently been compared to one. Mammoths are my kind of critter. Why am I the last one left? Charles Darwin thought he had the answer in a process he called natural selection, the idea that animals develop as they feed and breed successfully in an environment that is gradually changing, and that extinction comes about when the animals either cannot find enough food or are exterminated by superior predators. Darwin actually cribbed a large part of this idea from Alfred Russel Wallace, but the idea got stuck with his name on it because Darwin read a paper at the Linnean Society in London while Wallace was in Malaya. Some years ago, when I was tutoring a couple of my students – twins, as it happened – we read a story from Time magazine that took a Darwinian spin on things and blamed the extinction of the mammoths and mastodons on the Indians, actually paleo-Indians. Some mammoth and mastodon skeletons showed signs of having been butchered after the animals were killed, and this was expanded into a theory that the paleo-Indians had wiped out these large slow targets down to the last tusker thousands of years before the whites landed in America. The theory may not be entirely PC. Indians began portraying themselves as the first ecologists about the time I got into helping them defend their rights and publicize their wrongs. While this is a little convenient, it is a matter of fact that traditional Indians do not usually kill more than they need, and offer ceremonies to propitiate the spirits of the slain animals, partly because they like animals and partly because they want them to keep reproducing to maintain the food supply. Indians generally get drawn into whatever arguments white scientists want to advance because they do not get published that much in critically reviewed journals. I found an article where an author informed readers that Indians had waged genocidal warfare among themselves before the white man came. Even when they were busting up other tribes, the Lakota, whom I know best, adopted any boy who had not killed a Lakota yet. The old Americanism “to yell uncle” refers to a plea for adoption by a young Indian who did not see a chance to fight any more. Genocide is a vice of so-called civilized people, not Indians. Granted that a mammoth is a pretty hard target to miss, even with a spear-thrower – the bow and arrows had not been invented yet – could the “Clovis people” or paleoIndians really have gotten all of them? Darwin lived in the days when the fossil record had just been discovered. Unknown bones in the days of his youth were referred to as antediluvian: vestiges of Noah’s flood. When the archaeologists 100 years after Darwin’s death Science can be exciting Heartfelt journey Students at Ridgewood’s Travel School recently took a journey through the human heart: an interdisciplinary experience between the health and physical education departments. On their journey through the heart — a model of the human body set up in the multi-purpose room, where a heart and lungs have been constructed, along with a pathway of arteries and veins – students worked in groups. This realistic model reinforces the concepts taught in health and physical education. The students, acting as a red blood cell, decide as a group which direction to travel after exercise to return to the lungs and obtain oxygen. Along the way, the group makes lifestyle decisions related to nutrition, exercise, and drugs. The students discuss and determine the appropriate choices that are heart healthy and those that are not. They pick up photos representing their choices, place them in a bag, and continue their journey. Nurse/health teacher Judi Caruso and physical education teacher Elizabeth O’Connor Henky worked together on the unit.