DER Documentary

Seeking the First Americans

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From the Odyssey series
by Graham Chedd
Executive Producer, Michael Ambrosino
color, 59 min, 1980

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The earliest inhabitants of the New World came across the Bering Sea land bridge that opened as a result of glaciation, which lowered the level of the sea and connected the continents of Asia and America. The question of when these people walked from Siberia is still debated by archaeologists. In 1932, a site excavated near Clovis, New Mexico, yielded the bones of extinct animals in association with man-made, skillfully fluted stone points. With the development of radiocarbon dating in the late 1940s, it was determined that "Clovis man" had lived between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago. Finely flaked Clovis stone tools have been discovered throughout North America, suggesting an extraordinarily rapid spread - either of ideas and technology, or of people. Presumably Clovis men and women moved across the land, hunting large animals (mammoth, bison, saber-toothed tiger) with stone points hafted to spears, and collecting wild fruits, thistle leaves, yucca pods, roots, and nuts.

This film addresses a number of puzzles associated with the discovery of early man in America, in addition to the question of diffusion of ideas versus migration of people. What accounts for the rapid growth of Clovis culture across the continent, and for its rather quick demise: within a thousand years, American megafauna (except for bison) were extinct, and Clovis stone tool technology had been replaced by other forms. Does Clovis culture represent the earliest human occupation of this area, or did peoples perhaps 40,000 years ago leave less recognizable evidence of themselves?

If bone tools preceded stone, how can scientists determine whether a broken piece of bone has been modified by man, and not simply crunched by a large bear? What can we learn from experimental archaeology: making stone tools, or butchering a bison with a Clovis-style knife? These and other questions are explored by several archaeologists involved in the search for evidence of the earliest Americans, from the Old Crow Basin in Alaska, to sites in Texas and Wyoming.

About Odyssey Series
In an attempt to cut the often esoteric ice of anthropology, PBS released in 1980 the first season of ODYSSEY, a newly-created series of anthropological documentaries, with a second season in 1981. The entire series was produced by Public Broadcasting Associates of Boston, with major funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Polaroid. Michael Ambrosino is the Executive Producer of the series.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
CINE Golden Eagle
American Film Festival Finalist

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Other films in the Odyssey series:
The Ancient Mariners
Ben's Mill
The Chaco Legacy
Dadi's Family
Franz Boas
The Incas
Little Injustices
Maasai Women
Margaret Mead: Taking Note
Maya Lords of the Jungle
Myths and the Moundbuilders
N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman
Ongka's Big Moka
On the Cowboy Trail
Other People's Garbage
The Three Worlds of Bali

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