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How Two Retirees’ Amateur Archaeology Helped Throw Our View of Human History Into Turmoil

Through decades of excavation near their cottage Anton and Maria Chobot unearthed artifacts of the Clovis people

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The Clovis people were known for their distinctive stone arrowheads. Photo: Bureau of Land Management

On a site near Buck Lake, a small community southwest of the Canadian city of Edmonton, a retired Czechoslovakian couple, Anton and Maria Chobot, worked for decades to unveil the history of one of North America’s first human civilizations. The Chobots left their home during the ongoing Hungarian Revolution and settled half way across the world. From there, says Randy Boswell for Postmedia News, the couple started excavating the land near their cottage along Buck Lake.

The couple had some experience with archaeology, Anton told Richard Firestone, Allen West and Simon Warwick-Smith, the authors of a 2006 book on ancient extinctions and the end of the Ice Age:

The Soviet Bloc was keenly interested in the Middle East, so I traveled there a lot, especially to Syria. While there, I became interested in archaeology, taught myself how to excavate correctly, and did some excavations at the ancient site of Ugarit, north of Beirut on the Mediterranean, which was good training for what I would unexpectedly come across here in Canada.

What they came across was astounding. According to the 2006 book: “In the Chobots’ basement were a great many boxes, maybe more than a hundred, filled with flint tools and flakes,” relics of one of North America’s first humans—the Clovis people. The Chobots had found arrowheads, knives and even simple tools thought to be from humans that had preceded the Clovis.

As one of the best preserved sites of Clovis artifacts, the Chobots’ archaeological dig is now at the center of a scientific controversy, says Boswell. Research teams across the world are trying to figure out what killed off the Clovis, and ongoing research at the Chobot site could help them answer that question.

Roughly 14,500 years ago the world started to warm, throwing off the shackles of the Ice Age and creeping into the temperate conditions that have supported much of human history. The warming encouraged the entry of some of the first humans into North America roughly 13,000 years ago, including the Clovis people.

A few thousand years into this climatic change the warming suddenly stopped. The conditions across much of the Northern Hemisphere shot back to glacial conditions in just a thousand years. In Venezuela, says NOAA, the temperature dropped 5.5 degrees. Across the Northern Hemisphere, dry conditions set in.

Scientists aren’t really sure what caused the dramatic cooling, an event known as the Younger DryasMost blame the cooling on a change in ocean circulation patterns and the melting of the Arctic, but some favor another trigger—an asteroid. Whatever the cause, the effects of the Younger Dryas were deadly: The Clovis people, along with the mammoths and giant bisons with which they shared the land, were wiped out.

In a new study, scientists report that tiny spherules, thought to have been produced when a massive asteroid exploded over the Canadian sky, have been dug up at the Chobot site. The find is reinvigorating the debate over the cause of the Younger Dryas, says Boswell for Postmedia News.

“Sadly,” says Boswell, the new study “was published just three days before Anton Chobot died Friday at age 92.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Clovis Weren’t the First Americans
New Research Disproves Prehistoric Killer-Comet Theory (Again)

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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