REQUEST FOR THE HELP OF THIS COMMUNITY WITH A RESEARCH PROJECT CONNECTED TO THE NEW BOOK ON ANCIENT AMERICA ON WHICH I’M NOW WORKING.
Catastrophism: the theory that certain vast geological changes were caused by catastrophes, sometimes worldwide in scope, rather than gradual evolutionary forces.
Uniformitarianism: the theory that slow incremental changes, such as erosion, created all the Earth’s geological features and that processes that operated in the remote geological past are not different from those observed now.
Pleistocene: the last Ice Age, approx 2.5 million years ago to 11,600 years ago.
Most of us who follow the mysteries are aware that huge numbers of carcasses of extinct megafauna, notably mammoths, have been found preserved in the permafrost of Siberia – the victims, it has been suggested, of some great cataclysm near the end of the last Ice Age. Most of us are also probably aware that similar claims have been made for Alaska; however, the evidence there has received less attention.
It is this mystery, the so-called terminal Ice Age cataclysm and megafaunal extinctions of Alaska, that I want to take a look at here – hopefully with your help. If anyone reading this has done any relevant research or can shed any further light on the subject, please tell me what you know in the comments section below.
So far as I’ve been able to establish, the cataclysmic picture of Alaska at the end of the Ice Age first really began to take shape in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s and derives primarily from the work of two scholars, Froelich Rainey and Frank C. Hibben. Writing in the April 1940 issue of American Antiquity, for example, Rainey, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska, described wide cuts, miles long and up to 140 feet deep, that were then being sluiced out by the gold mining industry along stream valleys tributary to the Tanana river in Fairbanks District:
‘In order to reach gold-bearing gravel beds an over-burden of frozen silt or ‘muck’ is removed with hydraulic giants. This ‘muck’ contains enormous numbers of frozen bones of extinct mammals such as the mammoth, mastodon, super-bison and horse, as well as brush, stumps, moss and fresh-water mollusks…. Because of the extinct mammal bones, the ‘muck’ is generally believed to be late Pleistocene or early post-glacial. No adequate explanation of the age of these deposits nor the manner in which they were formed can be given at present.’1
Rainey further reported the discovery of nineteen man-made artefacts in the ‘muck’ including a few found ‘frozen in situ at great depths and in apparent association with Pleistocene fauna.’2 These finds led him to put on record his opinion that ‘men were contemporary with extinct mammals in Alaska.’3
This, too, was the view of University of New Mexico archaeologist Frank Hibben who wrote (in December 1941):
‘…the Alaska mucks are well supplied with faunal remains which must have served as the living larder for the first American inhabitants. Animals at present identified from the Alaska muck include the mammoth, mastodon (although not nearly so common as the mammoth), horse, at least three species of bison, (Bison crassicornis, Bison occidentalis, and Bison alleni), two species of musk ox, saber toothed tiger, lion, camel, gazelle, antelope, an extinct bear, sheep, and a number of rodent forms. In addition to the above now extinct species, there also occur moose and caribou, similar to, if not identical with, living forms.’4
In that same year, 1941, Hibben and a team from the University of New Mexico had undertaken intensive field investigations of the Alaskan muck deposits, reporting their findings in the January 1943 issue of American Antiquity:
‘The area immediately to the north of Cook Inlet was examined as far inland as water and sporadic trails permitted, as was the area of the Lower Yukon in a hundred mile circle radiating out from the town of Koyukuk. In addition to the above two areas, some time was spent in examining the muck deposits exposed in the grounds of the Fairbanks Exploration Company in the vicinity of Fairbanks, Alaska…’5
What followed, though Hibben mentions it only in passing, is an observation that catastrophists continue to cite enthusiastically to this day:
‘Although the formation of the deposits of muck is not clear, there is ample evidence that at least portions of this material were deposited under catastrophic conditions. Mammal remains are for the most part dismembered and disarticulated, even though some fragments yet retain, in this frozen state, portions of ligaments, skin, hair, and flesh. Twisted and torn trees are piled in splintered masses concentrated in what must be regarded as ephemeral canyons or arroyo cuts.’6
In his 1946 book The Lost Americans, Hibben elaborated on his catastrophist theme, telling us how astounded he was:
‘to discover in the gold mines of Alaska bones of extinct animals in unbelievable quantities and sound condition; in some places, even, they were an actual impediment to mining.
‘These bones are found all over the central region of the northern Alaskan Peninsula embedded in the typical Alaskan ‘muck’. As the gold-bearing gravels lie beneath this muck, the miners find themselves, of necessity, digging pits and shafts through the muck to get at the gold beneath. As the muck is eternally frozen, it is not only a great impediment to gold mining operations, but also a wonderful preservative of any animal remains that might lie within it.
‘In many places the Alaskan muck blanket is packed with animal bones and debris in trainload lots. Bones of mammoth, mastodon, several kinds of bison, horses, wolves, bears and lions… Within this mass, frozen solid, lie the twisted parts of animals and trees intermingled with lenses of ice and layers of peat and mosses. It looks as though in the middle of some cataclysmic catastrophe of ten thousand years ago the whole Alaskan world of living animals and plants was suddenly frozen in mid-motion in a grim charade… Throughout the Yukon and its tributaries, the gnawing currents of the river had eaten into many a frozen bank of muck to reveal bones and tusks of these animals protruding at all levels. Whole gravel bars in the muddy river were formed of the jumbled fragments of animal remains.’7
The richest pickings, however, were brought to light by mining operations:
‘The hydraulic jets of water which the miners used in their modern gold-mining methods had sluiced away tremendous quantities of the overlying muck. In summer, beneath the short-lived Alaskan sun, the frozen muck-masses dripped and fell away in sludgy masses. Within these oozing piles, the bones of mammoth, camel, horse, moose, and carnivores were everywhere in abundance…
‘The frozen muck had preserved, in a remarkable manner, tendons, ligaments, fragments of skin and hair, hooves and even, in some cases, portions of flesh of these dead animals.
‘In one location north of Fairbanks, a bulldozer was being used to push the melting muck into a sluice box for the extraction of gold. With each passage of the dozer blade across the melting mass, mammoth tusks and bones rolled up like shavings before a giant plane. As the sun melted the black ooze in and around the bones, the stench could be smelled for miles around, the stench of some hundreds of tons of rotting mammoth meat, ten thousand years old. Apparently a whole herd of mammoth had died in this place and fallen together in a jumbled mass of leg bones, tusks and mighty skulls, to be frozen solid and preserved until this day…
‘Mammals there were in abundance, dumped in all attitudes of death. Most of them were pulled apart by some unexplained prehistoric catastrophic disturbance…’8
Unexplained and, I would add, undated, because Hibben’s guess that the finds were ‘ten thousand years old’ is just that – a guess, a wild stab in the dark connected to a loose idea about a terminal Ice Age cataclysm, and nothing more.
That, however, is a minor matter by comparison with the doubts that have been raised over the veracity of Hibben’s discoveries and reports, and over his scientific integrity. Indeed a co-ordinated campaign to discredit him has been mounted by a group of modern geologists who claim that his colourful descriptions are ‘nothing more than imaginative fiction’. Louisiana State University geologist Paul Heinrich is a particularly scathing critic:
‘As proved by numerous published peer-reviewed papers and monographs, including Berger (2003), Bettis et al. (2003),Guthrie (1990), McDowell and Edwards (2001), Muhs et al. (2001, 2003, 2004), Pewe (1955, 1975a, 1975b, 1989), and Westgate et al. (1990), the claim that these deposits [the Alaskan muck deposits] consist of “thick frozen deposits of volcanic ash, silts, sands, boulders, lenticles and ribbons of unmelted ice, and countless relics of late Pleistocene animals and plants lie jumbled together in no discernible order” is false. Instead, as described in numerous publications, specifically Guthrie (1990), Muhs et al. (2003),
Pewe (1955, 1975a, 1975b, 1989), and Westgate et al. (1990), the deposits, which are often referred to as “Alaskan muck” consist of a well-ordered, layer-cake sequence of stratigraphic units containing distinct paleosols and buried forests with in situ tree stumps. As seen in Figures 20 and 29 of Pewe (1975); Figure 4 of Pewe et al. (1997); and the measured sections of Westgate et al. (1990), the so-called “muck” consists of well-defined geologic layers, which are only jumbled where the surface has been disturbed by either thermokarst, landslides, solifluction, or some combination of these processes…
‘Starting with Pewe (1955), Quaternary geologists have recognized the presence of 7 well-defined stratigraphic units, [constituting] the deposits that are falsely described as being “jumbled together in no discernible order”… The contacts between these stratigraphic units are well-defined, persistent, and easily mapable. The forest beds, ice-wedge casts, and buried soils, which are found associated with the contacts demonstrate that periods of non-deposition lasting thousands to tens of thousands years occurred between the deposition of different stratigraphic units. They soundly refute the claim that the “Alaskan muck” accumulated during a single catastrophic event… The dates [from optically-stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon] demonstrate that the sediments, which are haphazardly and incorrectly lumped together as a single “Alaskan muck”, episodically accumulated over a period of 2 to 3 million years, with the youngest deposits having accumulated as recently as 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. The youngest forest bed, the Eva Forest Bed, dates to the last interglacial, about 125,000 years ago as determined by Pewe et al. (1997). It and the “muck” beneath it are far too old to be related to any terminal Pleistocene catastrophe. The oldest forest bed, the Dawson Cut Forest Bed, has been found to be almost 2 million years old by Westgate et al. (2003). These dates, paleosols, and in situ forest beds, indicate that the “Alaskan muck” did not accumulate as the result of one event, but rather represents periods during which loess and other sediments accumulated separated by very long periods, thousands to tens of thousands of years, during which there was a lack of any accumulation of “muck” (Berger 2003, Muhs et al. (2001, 2003, 2004), Pewe (1955, 1975a, 1975b, 1989), Pewe et al. (1997), and Westgate et al. (1990)…’9
Reading Heinrich, you might be forgiven for thinking that Hibben has been completely and comprehensively debunked, and that there is zero evidence for cataclysmic megafaunal extinctions in Alaska. As is often the case with self-styled skeptics, however, there is another side to the story. Heinrich’s argument seems unassailable at least in part because of the extensive references he cites to support his points, but a recent investigation10 that consulted and put those references to the test found that none of them ‘debunk’ or ‘disprove’ Hibben as Heinrich wishes us to believe:
‘More than two dozen sources are cited in Heinrich’s articles on Hibben: a lot of research is required if we want to get to the bottom of this debate… What actual criticisms do Bettis et al, Busacca et al, etc make of Hibben’s claims? Let’s take them one by one:
- ‘E. A. Bettis, D. R. Muhs, H. M. Robert, and A. G. Wintle, Last Glacial Loess in the Conterminous USA, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 22, Issue 18, pp 1907-1946 (2003).
‘This paper does not mention Hibben or the Alaskan muck deposits.
- ‘A.J. Busacca, J.E. Beget, H.W. Markewich, D. R. Muhs, N. Lancaster, and M.R. Sweeney, Eolian Sediments, in A R Gillespie, S C Porter, and B F Atwater (editors), The Quaternary Period in the United States, pp 275-309, Elsevier, Amsterdam (2004).
‘This paper does not mention Hibben or the Alaskan muck deposits.
- D.R.Muhs, and E.A. Bettis Quaternary Loess-Paleosol Sequences as Examples of Climate-Driven Sedimentary Extremes, in M.A.Chan and A.W.Archer (editors), Extreme Depositional Environments: Mega End Members in Geologic Time, pp 53-74, Geological Society of America Special Paper 370 (2003).
‘This source does not mention Hibben or the Alaskan muck deposits.
- Troy L. Péwé, Origin of the Upland Silt near Fairbanks, Alaska, Geological Society of America Bulletin, Volume 66, Number 6, pp 699-724 (1955).
‘This paper does not mention Hibben or Alaskan muck.’
Even more suprising than the non-mention of Hibben in papers that are claimed to debunk his work11 is the disturbing discovery that a number of the sources cited by Heinrich as disproving Hibben’s catastrophism in a number of ways do the exact opposite and in fact add several layers of further confirmation to his unorthodox conclusions. Thus, for example, Heinrich tells us, with blunt certainty, that ‘papers and monographs published in the last fifty years have shown the claims and descriptions made by Rainey and Hibben concerning the abundance and distribution of fossil bones to be grossly exaggerated and quite inaccurate.’12
Amongst the papers that Heinrich cites as proof of the ‘exaggerated’ and ‘inaccurate’ nature of these claims is ‘Pewe 1975a’. The reference is to Pewe’s authoritative study, Quaternary Geology of Alaska, published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1975.13 But far from disproving Hibben and Rainey on the abundance and distribution of fossil bones, the Pewe study seems rather to confirm their findings. The best way to make this clear is to cite Pewe at length:
‘Alaska, like northern Siberia, has long been famous for the abundant remains of extinct Pleistocene mammals, found in frozen deposits along major rivers and in the valleys of many minor streams. The earliest account of these fossils seems to be that of Kotzebue (1821, p. who found abundant vertebrate remains at Elephant Point in Eschscholtz Bay during his expedition to the Chukchi Sea in 1816). F. W. Beechey also collected there, and the mammal bones were reported by Buckland (1831). Because early explorers (Dall, 1869, 1873) reported a great abundance of bones, several expeditions were conducted in Alaska in the hope of finding complete skeletons or perhaps even frozen carcasses comparable with those found in Siberia (Maddren, 1905; Gilmore, 1908; Quackenbush, 1909). When large-scale gold mining began in the Fairbanks district in 1928, extensive fossil collecting was undertaken there and elsewhere in Alaska by the late 0. W. Geist and others on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. A small part of this material has been described by Frick (1937) and Skinner and Kaisen (1947). Later, Geist and others collected vertebrate fossils from the Fairbanks area and northern Alaska for the Museum of the University of Alaska. Some of the most detailed work ever done on the late Pleistocene mammals in central and western Alaska was that by Guthrie (1966a, b, c; 1967; 1968a, b; Guthrie and Matthews, 1971), who studied collections that he had made, as well as the vast collection of Geist.
‘The greatest collection of vertebrate specimens is from the Fairbanks area, where tens of thousands of specimens have been collected during the past 30 years. For example, in 1938, a typical year, 8,008 cataloged specimens weighing about 8 tons were collected by 0. W. Geist and shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (University of Alaska, “Collegian,” 1938, fall). Partial lists of mammals from the Fairbanks area were given by Frick (1930, 1937), Wilkerson (1932, p. 422), Mertie (1937, p. 191), Stock (1942), Hibben (1943), Taber (1943, p. 1487), Skinner and Kaisen (1947), Skarland (1949, p. 132-133), Pewe (1952a, table 4), Geist (1953), Pewe and Hopkins (1967), and Guthrie (1968a).
‘The geological literature (U.S. Geological Survey Bulletins) in Alaska dealing with early placer mining activities mentions in passing that bones of extinct animals such as mammoth, mastodon, bison, horse, and others were found in many localities in addition to the Fairbanks area. Vertebrate remains on the Seward Peninsula were mentioned by Collier (1902), Quackenbush (1909), Hopkins (1963), Harington (1970a, b), and many others. Mertie (1937, p. 190-191) summarized finds of several specimens from the Yukon-Tanana Upland. Whitmore and Foster (1967) listed finds from Chicken and Lost Chicken Creek, including Panthera atrox, and Repenning, Hopkins, and Rubin (1964) listed fossils from Tofty.
‘Chapman and Sable (1960, p. 124) mentioned mammoth tusks found along banks of the Utukok and Kokolik Rivers of northern Alaska. Other references to vertebrates on the Arctic Coastal Plain (pl. 1) were made by Livingstone, Bryan, and Leahy (1958), Harington (1969), and others. William Quaide (unpub. data, 1953) collected mammal remains along the Kuk and Ikpikpuk Rivers in northern Alaska, and Robert Fladeland identified wolf, bear, large cat, mammoth, horse, moose, caribou, musk ox, and bison. A Saiga bone was also identified in this collection by C. R. Harington (C. E. Ray, oral commun., Feb. 12, 1970). C. A. Repenning (written commun. to D. M. Hopkins, Feb. 5, 1962) provisionally identified many vertebrate remains collected by W. J. Maher from the Ikpikpuk River including Smilodon sp. and Felis (Lynx) lynx. Ray (1971) reported that bones of the woolly mammoth were found on St. Lawrence, Pribilof, and Unalaska Islands on the Bering-Chukchi platform.14
So on the one hand we have Heinrich pouring scorn on Hibben for his claim that ‘In many places the Alaskan muck blanket is packed with animal bones and debris in trainload lots. Bones of mammoth, mastodon, several kinds of bison, horses, wolves, bears and lions… Within this mass, frozen solid, lie the twisted parts of animals and trees intermingled with lenses of ice and layers of peat and mosses.’15
On the other hand, however, we have Pewe, one of the very sources that Heinrich offers as proof that Hibben’s claims and descriptions were ‘exaggerated’ and ‘inaccurate’. Yet, in the passages quoted above, Pewe offers no such proof. On the contrary, he cites Hibben himself and refers unambiguously to ‘the abundant remains of extinct Pleistocene mammals, found in frozen deposits along major rivers and in the valleys of many minor streams.’16 Moreover, is not Pewe precisely describing ‘trainload lots’ of bones and remains when he informs us that:
‘The greatest collection of vertebrate specimens is from the Fairbanks area, where tens of thousands of specimens have been collected during the past 30 years. For example, in 1938, a typical year, 8,008 cataloged specimens weighing about 8 tons were collected by 0. W. Geist and shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.’17
Like many of his colleagues in universities around the world today, Heinrich appears to be ideologically committed to the uniformitarian notion of slow, gradual geological changes – so it’s no surprise that he rejects and seeks to ‘debunk’ catastrophist explanations. The possibility must be considered, however, that uniformitarian beliefs, however sincerely and passionately held, do not serve the truth in this matter of the Alaskan mucks and megafaunal extinctions. I don’t dispute that the remains of mammoths from many different epochs have been found in Alaska18 – one could hardly expect otherwise since mammoths inhabited this area for tens of thousands of years – but this by no means rules out the possibility that their ultimate extinction was the result of a single cataclysmic event or that evidence for such an event may lie amidst the Alaskan mucks.
Moreover, although I have focused on Alaska here – since it was in relation to Alaska that the original claims of cataclysm surfaced – the Canadian territory of Yukon directly adjoins Alaska, continues to be the source of great numbers of megafaunal fossils sluiced by gold miners out of the muck and should be considered part of the same mystery.19
I would therefore like to throw the whole matter open to this community. To those who have done any relevant research, or have additional information on where frozen mammoths and other megafauna can still be seen in the mucks of Alaska and Yukon, or indeed can shed any further light on the subject, I repeat my request to tell me what you know in the comments section below.
Despite the ideological struggle between uniformitarians and catastrophists, despite the claims and the counter-claims, and despite the many decades that have passed since the phenomenon of the Alaskan mucks was first investigated, I remain hopeful that there is still some GROUND TRUTH to be found. I’m looking for leads here and I’m absolutely ready to make a research trip to Alaska and Yukon if the material justifies it.
1 Froelich Rainey, “Archaeological Investigation in Central Alaska”, American Antiquity, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Apr., 1940), p. 305
2 Ibid, p. 305
3 Ibid, p. 307
4 Frank C. Hibben, “Archaeological Aspects of the Alaska Muck Deposits”, New Mexico Anthropologist, Vol 5, No 4 (Oct-Dec 1941), p. 153
5 Frank C. Hibben, “Evidences of Early Man in Alaska,” American Antiquity, Vol 8, No 3 (Jan 1943), p. 255
6 Ibid, p. 256
7 Frank C. Hibben, The Lost Americans, Thomas Y. Crowell Company., New York, 1946, pp 90-92
8 Ibid, pp 95-96
11 For further details see: https://steemit.com/velikovsky/@harlotscurse/in-alaska
13 Pewe, T. L., Quaternary Geology of Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 1975.
14 Pewe, T. L., Quaternary Geology of Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 1975, pp 91-92
15 Hibben, The Lost Americans op.cit., pp 90-92
16 Pewe, T. L., Quaternary Geology of Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 1975, pp 91-92
17 Pewe, T. L., Quaternary Geology of Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 1975, pp 91-92