03 September 2014

Roll back the Iron Age: A metal and slag mammoth sculpture and a metal spearpoint with a facial profile from the Arkfeld site

Metal and slag mammoth sculpture identified by Adam Arkfeld, Clear Brook, Virginia


The mammoth stands on three legs. The 4th leg has disintegrated but a stub remains. The legs and stub are metal according to Mr. Arkfeld. The mammoth's trunk is the projection at far right.

View of the bottom of the mammoth figure. The mammoth's trunk is the projection at far right.

There may be some evidence of human work to shape the mammoth sculpture while the material was still molten. It looks as if a straight object was pressed into the belly of the mammoth to define the areas which separate the front legs from the back legs.



Site owner and amateur archaeologist Adam Arkfeld submitted an organic-bearing sample of slag from the site for AMS radiocarbon dating and has received a date of >43,500 years before present from Beta Analytic Labs. He is planning further dating tests. The presence of charcoal in some slag as illustrated above can allow the time frame for the creation of the object to be determined.

Recent comments made to this post by Alan Day refer to this information from the Beta Analytic Lab web site which have become part of this post as of 9/9/2014:  "Beta Analytic has set a real and conservative limit of greater than 43500 BP when the activity of the material is statistically the same as the background. This is a credible number based on the lab's own internal AMS limits. As such, Beta Analytic does not quote finite ages in excess of 43500 BP. Samples that yield an activity at or below this are reported as "greater than" 43500 BP."

"- Range: From Present Day back to 47,000 years BP
- Detection Limits: 47,000 BP"

Update 10/08/2014: personal communication from Adam Arkfeld "Jack (the archaeologist willing to help Mr. Arkfeld) had a conversation with one of the techs at Beta and was told that the date provided on the last sample is a reliable minimum age. He ensured Jack that the date is conclusive in that it is at least 43,500. The guy is confident that the sample is ancient. Jack is announcing the date at his upcoming presentation in Richmond this weekend."  The tech is essentially saying it is not just "background noise" from the infinite past.

A Levallois technology tool from the site identified by Mr. Arkfeld

Possible Pleistocene metal spear point from Arkfeld site, 18.5cm

In stereotypical artistic convention as seen on this blog and documented by scholars such as James Harrod, Ph.D., a human face left profile image has been worked into this metal spear point or dagger when it was hammered out. Remnants of it can still be seen after all this time. The markups highlight the eye, nose and mouth which were likely intended to animate or "confirm the life of" the artifact. It has two distinct nostrils.

For this author, the presence of the face configuration is an indicator the spear point was not produced in historical times.

It is indeed smiling.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Ken...

    There is some intriguing (if circumstantial) evidence suggesting prehistoric Native American metal smelting, seemingly (so far) in the Early-to-Middle Woodland timeframe. At this point I personally consider it to be a fairly strong hypothesis. However, a radiocarbon date of >43,500 years from a slag sample should not be assumed to demonstrate that the slag is Pleistocene in origin. One must consider the more likely scenario that the material was smelted with anthracite rather than charcoal, anthracite typically being millions of years old to start with. (If I remember correctly, even current state-of-the-art AMS dating can not give an accurate reading beyond roughly 40,000 years.)

    But those are some interesting finds! I hope their stratigraphic context with other artifact material is being carefully documented.

    Regards, Alan Day

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  2. Any C-14 has been gone millions of years ago in anthracite or any type of coal and it could not return any dates in testing so this is not a possible scenario.

    My understanding from my own dealings with Beta Analytic Labs is that C-14 dating can go solidly to 50,000 years BP and a bit beyond. The Arkfeld results came with the standard cautions issued by the lab in any C-14 dating. The >43,500 date stands on its own and there no indication it was false or corrupted. Mr. Arkfeld is planning more tests so perhaps additional confirmation will be obtained.

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    1. Information from the lab "Some laboratories will analyze a sample one time and report a finite result, e.g. 48000 +/- 500 or 53000 +/- 2500. Beta Analytic's own research has shown that such reports on a single analysis can be very misleading. In the past, Beta Analytic has sent graphite splits of the same exact graphite produced from Miocene-aged coal to as many as seven different AMS labs and obtained finite quotes of ages between 42000 to 53000."

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  3. In response to Alan Day's comments.

    Alan,

    You are somehow missing the obvious so let me walk you through this.
    The first question you must ask yourself is; In what period of time were humans sculpting mammoths in N. America?...Well, it would have been a period when mammoths were still in existence so that makes it the pleistocene, right?.
    So stay with me, I know this is complex logic for some.
    We have established that mammoth sculptures were produced in the pleistocene. This one is made of iron and slag.
    So even without a C14 date it clearly demonstrates that the slag is pliestocene in origin. The radiocarbon date just confirms (what should be) the obvious.
    I have recovered large pieces of wood charcoal with slag adhered. There are no coal beds nearby. Have to agree with Ken on the anthracite scenario...its not remotely possible.

    Adam Arkfeld

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  4. Hi Adam... Thanks for your comments, and my apologies for being a bit slow in responding. Been away and/or busy this past week.

    First, I hope you don't think I'm disparaging the ancient habitation site you've discovered. It looks quite real and rather similar to some I've been investigating (intermittently) here in Ohio. The artifact assemblages have a lot in common, and it's great that you have an eye for the stuff - most people don't. I do, however, have a couple suggestions for improving the credibility of your work, and by association, that of others in our line of investigation. I sure hope you will take them in the intended collegial spirit.

    There's probably no need for a walk-through in the "complex logic" you present, since its path is pretty much circular. In encountering a headline proclaiming "Roll back the Iron Age" followed by photos (without scale) of a piece of slag with an open-ended (presumably uncalibrated) raw radiocarbon date, no one with much scientific understanding is going to first ask him/herself "In what period of time were humans sculpting mammoths in North America?".

    The piece does indeed look mammoth-like, more so than probably 98% of the putative North American mammoth sculptures I'm now seeing on the internet. But was this intentional? Maybe the more or less parallel metal protuberances formed in the direct-reduction bloom as gravity pulled the iron from the semi-liquid slag.

    Applying the scientific method, as one certainly should here, one forms a hypothesis (in this case, that in the Pleistocene humans were doing iron smelting at the Arkfeld site) to be tested by an honest effort to disprove ("falsify") it in a plausible manner. This must include consideration of scenarios such as smelting with coal (at any time in the past) - and, if coal could not have been available in the vicinity, the possibility of this taking place elsewhere, the artifact having been transported and curated because of its zoomorphic appearance. And of course there's the possibility that prehistoric wood charcoal, being exposed for hundreds of years, became contaminated with "infinite age" material. Having a lot of wood charcoal attached to slag, as you describe, certainly offers the possibility of demonstrating replicability. But at about $600 per AMS date, make sure the stratigraphic context is well documented, and that the samples are protected from contamination.

    For greater certainty, you might consider having the C-14 (charcoal or whatever) from within the iron dated (destructive, unfortunately). I'm not sure Beta Analytic has this capability, but the AMS lab at the University of Arizona can do it. They did this for me several years ago, returning a high statistical probability of Middle Woodland age. (Not Pleistocene, but still enough to get one burned at the stake...)

    Regarding the >43,500 date: Beta Analytic states on its website that this is the date it reports when a sample yields activity at or below the accelerator's internal noise floor. I.e., there may or may not be C-14 present - not measurable, in any event.

    I'm eager to hear how things go at your site, Adam. You have some interesting stuff there!

    Regards, Alan Day

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  5. Alan Day refers to this information from the Beta Analytic Lab web site which have become part of this post as of 9/9/2014: "Beta Analytic has set a real and conservative limit of greater than 43500 BP when the activity of the material is statistically the same as the background. This is a credible number based on the lab's own internal AMS limits. As such, Beta Analytic does not quote finite ages in excess of 43500 BP. Samples that yield an activity at or below this are reported as "greater than" 43500 BP."

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  6. Perhaps informative, I submitted two samples of charred material from Ohio coal smelting slag to the same lab and they were not able to report any organic material which could allow detection. Coal smelting slag and charcoal smelting slag are often visually distinguishable.

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  7. Alan,
    Thanks for commenting.
    I realize the suggestion of metallurgy in the Pleistocene is controversial to say the least. Had there not been so much evidence here, I would never had entertained the possibility myself.
    When excavating this site, vast amounts of slag and furnace wall material are being recovered. Its found embedded with the stone artifacts. Its not a case of one piece of slag here and another there, I have collected buckets of slag and furnace wall.
    The iron production here was on a large scale as evident from the amount of slag and the size of the pits where the bog iron was mined. Unquestionably, iron production was taking place right on site.
    Will have to wait for more confirming tests to prove "when" the production was taking place but all indications point to a very early date.

    The use of coal for iron smelting is an interesting concept but unlikely.
    One historic iron furnace would burn up to an acre of wood charcoal each day.
    The deforesting continued all the way into the late 1800's even though there was plenty of coal available.
    Why go to all the effort of cutting down trees and making charcoal when there is abundant coal?
    Because quality iron cannot be smelted with coal. The sulfur in coal produces a metal that is brittle and useless.
    Coal must first be converted to coke before it can be used in an iron furnace. Converting coal to coke is not a simple process.
    Additionally, the large amount of fuel required for smelting requires that the furnace be located near the fuel source.

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  8. Thanks for that interesting information, Adam. It does put things in a different light. I'll get back to you here soon (I hope) - have to deal with some assorted chaos at the moment.

    Later... Alan

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  9. Hi again, Adam...

    Picking up where I left off: It's very interesting that you are uncovering extensive evidence of iron smelting. That's important. For starters, you need to objectively rule out the possibility of early historical-era bloomery smelting with charcoal and bog ore (or hematite?), given that this was done as early as the 1600's in Virginia, although I would suspect that this was mostly nearer the coast there. Old artifacts can well appear along with more recent material. Never start with a desired conclusion then try to fit the evidence into this - things are just whatever they are, and one must try to find out what really happened. But as I said earlier, there has been compelling evidence of prehistoric smelting here in Ohio (notably in the Ross and Pickaway County area), often at and near Middle Woodland earthworks. The "establishment" archaeologists here just dismiss this as "an intrusive feature", and away it goes... You may well have evidence of prehistoric smelting, but don't get hung up on Pleistocene - any conclusive evidence of prehistoric iron smelting in North America would mean a history rewrite!

    Your saying "buckets of slag and furnace wall" makes me a bit uneasy, given that archaeology is inherently a destructive process, wiping out remaining stratigraphic/contextual evidence. I'd suggest backing off at this point and trying to engage, in addition to the guy you've been working with, physical science professionals in the pertinent disciplines; I'm thinking geologists/petrologists, geomorphologists, and - very important - archaeometallurgists. (A caveat, however: Whatever the professional discipline, you face the preconception that Native Americans lacked the ability to raise the temperature of fire to that required for iron smelting, although this clearly took place thousands of years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. I don't buy this idea, and apparently you don't either, but we're running uphill for sure...)

    Alan

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    1. Alan,

      I realized the history rewrite implications before I came to the conclusion that there was pleistocene era metallurgy on this site. We are all programed to believe that technology has been a straight linear progression. There is substantial proof to indicate otherwise. In more recent history, advanced cultures around the world have risen and crumbled, leaving dark ages in their wake. Who can be sure that this hasn't occurred throughout our prehistory?
      Investigating numerous test pits around this site over the past 2 years, I was consistently finding evidence of metallurgy embedded with ancient stone tools and pleistocene rock art, I could not dismiss the conclusion that the iron production was contemporaneous. There was not a holocene artifact to be found.
      Upon finding the Iron Mammoth, I could no longer dismiss the proof. All indications point to an advanced technology present in North America at a time when popular science would insist that man was primitive and the Americas were devoid of humans.

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  10. Update 10/08/2014: personal communication from Adam Arkfeld "Jack (the archaeologist willing to help Mr. Arkfeld) had a conversation with one of the techs at Beta and was told that the date provided on the last sample is a reliable minimum age. He ensured Jack that the date is conclusive in that it is at least 43,500. The guy is confident that the sample is ancient. Jack is announcing the date at his upcoming presentation in Richmond this weekend."

    The tech is essentially saying it is not just "background noise" from the infinite past.

    Archaeologists report a received result date of >43,500 as meaningful and not beyond the limit of AMS testing.

    Ken Johnston submitted a coal slag object from the 19th century for AMS testing and it did not register as organic. Mr. Arkfeld's slag sample was confirmed as an active organic within the AMS capabilities.

    Others with knowledge of AMS radiocarbon are encouraged to comment here.

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