Peacock examines 1st significant human impact on the Americas in 'Sabertooth'

2014-07-06T00:00:00Z 2014-10-17T15:07:05Z Peacock examines 1st significant human impact on the Americas in 'Sabertooth'By Bernard Quetchenbach For the Gazette The Billings Gazette

“In the Shadow of the Sabertooth”

By Doug Peacock

AK Press

Perhaps best known for close encounters with grizzlies in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, Doug Peacock again faces nature in the raw in his latest book, “In the Shadow of the Sabertooth.”

Peacock finds potentially “constructive parallelism” between our dawning age of climate destabilization and another climatic upheaval some 13,000 years ago, when Clovis hunters built a new life in a wilderness of waning glaciers.

Acknowledging that Clovis people were not the first Americans, Peacock maintains that the radiation of Clovis culture marks the first widespread, significant human impact on the Americas.

Peacock draws on various sources to retrace the journey of those early hunters. He recalls his work with archeologist Larry Lahren, with whom he excavated a Clovis burial near Wilsall, as well as his own wilderness travels.

These adventures have sometimes duplicated, as closely as possible, aboriginal conditions: at one point Peacock even wielded a spear to ward off polar bears. He fleshes out the narrative with imaginative reconstructions of early hunting band lifeways.

Peacock’s prehistoric North is a vast, magnificent landscape where herds of colossal animals dwarf the intrepid hunters. He provides scale illustrations placing fur-clad, spear-bearing humans next to mammoths, sabertooths and short-faced bears.

His fixation on big-game hunting results in what some may find an overly traditional male-dominated portrayal of early North American life, but his knowledge of the knotty contentions of American prehistoric archaeology is thorough and up-to-date.

As one might expect from Peacock, bears play a prominent role in the discussion, along with American lions, cheetahs, dire wolves and the title sabertooth cats.

When confronted with harsh circumstances, particularly those brought about by climatic shifts, human ingenuity has a history of coming through. The Clovis people, after all, traversed the continent in the midst of breathtaking changes in environmental conditions, adapting with mobility, technological innovation and, it seems, an iron will to survive and succeed.

Like our own culture, Peacock argues, they may have been a bit too successful. He implicates the Clovis hunters in a wave of megafauna extinctions, considering but rejecting criticisms of this “overkill” theory.

The parallels to our current situation, Peacock admits, are tenuous. “These days,” he acknowledges, “are the most dangerous times we have seen in the history of the earth.”

Nevertheless, he maintains that contemporary humans can learn something from the rise and fall of Clovis culture. Peacock concludes that “It’s time to confront our own sabertoothed cat,” albeit one of our own making.

Peacock does not minimize the challenge, projecting that coming generations will have to dispense with much of what constitutes life as we’ve known it.

But he is not without hope. Perhaps a new and elemental age will emerge from modern society’s ashes. Looking back on the achievements of the Clovis hunters, Peacock hopes that we and our descendants can combine survival skills, knowledge, and luck to survive, as they did, “If only for a while.”

Spurred by the unrelenting need for alert engagement with a planet where “predictable global weather has ended,” future people may even renew their sense of what it means to be alive.

Bernard Quetchenbach teaches literature and writing at Montana State University Billings.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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