Falsehood or Untruth?

Article excerpt

In December 1993 Brazilian, European and American researchers joined forces in Sao Raimundo Nonato, Piaui, Brazil, to analyse the state of research on the peopling of the Americas (conference proceedings in press).

The article by Meltzer et al. (1994) is based on partial data and false information (highlighted below). Its battery of questions takes us by surprise; none of the three colleagues came up with these questions during the 1993 meeting - mounted precisely to generate direct dialogue on the peopling of the Americas. We disagree with their statement, 'the comments on Pedra Furada are not offered lightly' (p. 696). The commentaries are worthless because they are based on partial and incorrect knowledge.

We believe that the initial intention of the authors was different; they got carried away into an exercise in academic style, from a fragile scientific base of fragmentary data and with a scepticism born of a subjective conviction. We differ; in our approach, a systematic analysis must be based on confirmed facts, make explicit its presuppositions, and indicate parameters of acceptance for proofs. Stylistic enthusiasm makes the authors forget that in the field of prehistory nothing is definitive; working with vestigial data, we do not have a real universe but only fragmentary series. We must work in an interdisciplinary way, the data supplied by different specialisms contributing to full explanation. Nothing is static in this field; a scientific honesty must exist in which data that exist and data which are lacking are analysed with equal care and rigour. Meltzer et al. do not possess 10 years' worth of excavation results. They are not specialists in the Pleistocene archaeology of tropical regions, as becomes evident when one reads their observations. Emphasizing their qualifications and experience, they do not take the curricula of the Pedra Furada team into account.

Errors of observation

The Pedra Furada excavations were completed under the direction of Fabio Parenti, who studied all the vestiges and data for his Ph.D thesis (1993).

In the caption to figure 1 (p. 697), it is stated that the site 'occurs at the base of the escarpment'. This is wrong. It is 19 m above the valley floor, as is correctly stated on p. 703.

In the caption to figure 2, Meltzer et al. do not indicate the site is protected by an overhang (cf. their figure 4), evident in the central part of the photograph. And they do not point out the two waterfalls visible in the photograph, clearly on each side of the site.

An error (p. 697) arises from Meltzer et al.'s inexperience of large sites in tropical regions relatively recently submitted to climatic change (12,000-10,000 years ago). They report a declivity, visible in the stratigraphy, 'from the front to the rear of the shelter'. In areas of the shelter where the fall of blocks altered the stratification, the slope is from outside to inside. But in the great part of the site, the inclination is from the inside to the outside [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].

In a large shelter like Pedra Furada, the site history is not uniform. It was precisely the fall of the blocks which ensured, in certain areas, the Pleistocene layers have not been disturbed.

Meltzer et al. say (p. 697), 'Along the shelter wall the chutes are marked by pronounced manganese staining.' How could they know by simply looking this was manganese staining? They neither say that these stains are limited nor undertake a correlation between these stains and the excavated areas. The excavators have taken into consideration possibilities of disturbance where these stains were found low down; these have been duly registered.

Pot-holes exist under the waterfall at the west of the site, but none has been 'obscured by a cement column' (p. 697). The columns were constructed in holes made by masons in the base-rock or in the back wall. The walkway is suspended over the pot-hole, where it has no support columns. …