In Case You Haven’t Seen It: Scientific American Reports on Paleoindian Origins, Hydrofracking

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on November 9, 2011 in Archaeology |

Scientific American has been reporting for over 150 years on a variety of nuts and bolts as well as cutting edge subjects in science, math, and engineering, covering a range of perspectives on scientific method, theories (and their revision), and the intersections of science, society, ethics, and economics.  The November 2011 issue has articles on Paleoindian origins and hydrofracking that immediately caught my attention (although I will soon get to some of the others on geology, epidemiology, and agriculture).

The article titled “The First Americans” by Heather Pringle surveys some of the latest information on the subject of the earlier and earlier time frames recognized for the first peopling of the New World.  This includes some of the latest information on genetic evidence of early migrations from the Old World, as well as further considerations and new data from the Pacific coastal and “Ice-Free Corridor” entry routes.  It also brings a report from the exciting Friedkin site being excavated in Texas by Texas A&M University.  Much of the evidence from these several lines of inquiry supports the entry of small human populations into North America by about 15,500 years ago, much earlier than previously thought under the long-established “Clovis-first” theory.

The article titled “The Truth about Fracking” by Chris Mooney might more aptly be named “The Truth about Fracking Pending Further Investigation”, because as the article points out, some of the most important studies of the potential adverse effects of hydrofracking are on-going, or have yet to be carefully designed and performed.  Hydrofracking is a controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale currently under review for permitting and regulation in New York State, and comments on the ways to regulate potential adverse archaeological impacts are being developed by the state’s professional archaeology community.  Conducting archaeological surveys, evaluating potential impacts, and avoiding or mitigating the impacts, even of small well sites or support facilities, would seem the reasonable course of action.  The Scientific American article has an illustration on pages 80-81 that helps to understand the scale of ground disturbance that may be involved at individual fracking wells.  And this illustration in particular caught my attention.

Also Noted:

The November-December 2011 issue of Archaeology magazine contains a brief report by Nikhil Swaminathan on apparent effects of hydrofracking on archaeological sites in Pennsylvania, where fracking is currently permitted.  In part, this article discusses some of the thoughts of Pennsylvania archaeologists looking back over the apparent consequences of a weak regulatory system, in search of a corrective approach to possible impacts upon Paleoindian and a variety of other kinds of sites.  Recall that western Pennsylvania is the location of Meadowcroft Rockshelter, reputedly one of the handful of identified pre-Clovis sites.

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