Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
Earlier than You Think: A Personal View of Man in America. By George F. Carter. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1981. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. Tables. Glossary. 348 pages. $19.95.
Reviewed by Paul H. Ezell, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University.
This book should be even more popular than its predecessor, Pleistocene Man at San Diego, for a number of reasons. Interest in the question of the antiquity of humans in the New World has increased considerably during the past quarter century. For those who delight in challenging the “establishment,” Carter provides plenty of that. I find Carter in this book more enjoyable to read than in the earlier one; I find him a bold and daring thinker even when I interpret the evidence differently.
The book is divided into a Preface and nine chapters dealing with different, but interrelated, dimensions of the problems of man in the Americas. I found his Preface well worth reading; in it he presents his own perception of himself, something not often found in works such as this, much less in works aimed more narrowly at a “professional” audience. In fact, on p. xii, he states: “. . .I have not written it for the narrow scientist. It is meant for the educated layman.” Working archaeologists who must defend their interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations before a Planning Commission or a Board of Supervisors will, I fear, find it difficult, if not impossible, to work with it for that reason. In the light of Carter’s avowal, I cannot fault him for the many reference omissions on debatable points, which make the work so easy to read, but neither can the working archaeologists be faulted for not using the book.
Carter briefly reviews the thinking about man in the Americas in the 1939’s, when an antiquity for man in the New World of greater than 5,000 years was established. He defends his use of European terms such as Neolithic and Paleolithic by specifying that he uses them to identify technological-economic stages with no connotations of age and/or cultural relationships. He follows this with presentation of his own efforts to win acceptance for his thesis that humans have occupied “arid” North America for 100,000 years, and a number of subsidiary themes. One is that a doctorate in anthropology not only is no help in attacking the problems of the antiquity of man in America and the recognition of the tools of that earlier time, it is a positive hindrance. But he also states that one man was “. . . insecure in archaeology because he lacked professional training and an advanced degree.” Another theme is that of the “establishment” as composed of ideologues more interested in their careers than in finding the answers to questions and thus fearful of their colleagues’ adverse opinions.
Most of the book is relatively free of such pettishness and I found this the most interesting part of the work. He provides a useful overview of the history of developing dating techniques and a similar overview of the history of the studies in lithic technology. He presents his thesis that tools of the Middle and Lower Paleolithic stages are to be found in America, drawing principally on Southern California sites but ranging as far afield as Canada, New York, and Trans-Pecos Texas. No one whom I have read has so well presented the various environmental attributes of the land exposed by lowered sea levels in what is now the Bering Straits, the route commonly accepted as the most probable one followed by humans entering the Americas before ocean crossing became possible. He also presents his case for the earliest immigrants into the New World being of varying physical types instead of one “pure” race and for there having been a Neanderthaloid component in some of the earlier populations.
While is is understandable that the last chapter should be a review and summation, I found it a pity that Carter returned to the litany of complaint against those who persist in reserve, if not skepticism, regarding his views. Some of that attitude might be brought about by his “hard sell” approach; I, for one, am left with the uneasy feeling that, were his case as substantial as he claims, he would not feel compelled to argue it so hard. In spite of that, I found Earlier Than You Think well worth reading.