Excerpt from Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Guns, Germs & Steel

By Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs & Steel
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Mar 1997,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 1999,
    480 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Also unresolved is the question whether Clovis hunters really were the first Americans. As always happens whenever anyone claims the first anything, claims of discoveries of pre-Clovis human sites in the Americas are constantly being advanced. Every year, a few of those new claims really do appear convincing and exciting when initially announced. Then the inevitable problems of interpretation arise. Were the reported tools at the site really tools made by humans, or just natural rock shapes? Are the reported radiocarbon dates really correct, and not invalidated by any of the numerous difficulties that can plague radiocarbon dating? If the dates are correct, are they really associated with human products, rather than just being a 15,000-year-old lump of charcoal lying next to a stone tool actually made 9,000 years ago?

To illustrate these problems, consider the following typical example of an often quoted pre-Clovis claim. At a Brazilian rock shelter named Pedro Furada, archaeologists found cave paintings undoubtedly made by humans. They also discovered, among the piles of stones at the base of a cliff, some stones whose shapes suggested the possibility of their being crude tools. In addition, they came upon supposed hearths, whose burnt charcoal yielded radiocarbon dates of around 35,000 years ago. Articles on Pedro Furada were accepted for publication in the prestigious and highly selective international scientific journal Nature.

But none of those rocks at the base of the cliff is an obviously human-made tool, as are Clovis points and Cro-Magnon tools. If hundreds of thousands of rocks fall from a high cliff over the course of tens of thousands of years, many of them will become chipped and broken when they hit the rocks below, and some will come to resemble crude tools chipped and broken by humans. In western Europe and elsewhere in Amazonia, archaeologists have radiocarbon-dated the actual pigments used in cave paintings, but that was not done at Pedro Furada. Forest fires occur frequently in the vicinity and produce charcoal that is regularly swept into caves by wind and streams. No evidence links the 35,000-year-old charcoal to the undoubted cave paintings at Pedro Furada. Although the original excavators remain convinced, a team of archaeologists who were not involved in the excavation but receptive to pre-Clovis claims recently visited the site and came away unconvinced.

The North American site that currently enjoys the strongest credentials as a possible pre-Clovis site is Meadowcroft rock shelter, in Pennsylvania, yielding reported human-associated radiocarbon dates of about 16,000 years ago. At Meadowcroft no archaeologist denies that many human artifacts do occur in many carefully excavated layers. But the oldest radiocarbon dates don't make sense, because the plant and animal species associated with them are species living in Pennsylvania in recent times of mild climates, rather than species expected for the glacial times of 16,000 years ago. Hence one has to suspect that the charcoal samples dated from the oldest human occupation levels consist of post-Clovis charcoal infiltrated with older carbon. The strongest pre-Clovis candidate in South America is the Monte Verde site, in southern Chile, dated to at least 15,000 years ago. It too now seems convincing to many archaeologists, but caution is warranted in view of all the previous disillusionments.

If there really were pre-Clovis people in the Americas, why is it still so hard to prove that they existed? Archaeologists have excavated hundreds of American sites unequivocally dating to between 2000 and 11,000 B.C., including dozens of Clovis sites in the North American West, rock shelters in the Appalachians, and sites in coastal California. Below all the archaeological layers with undoubted human presence, at many of those same sites, deeper older layers have been excavated and still yield undoubted remains of animals—but with no further evidence of humans. The weaknesses in pre-Clovis evidence in the Americas contrast with the strength of the evidence in Europe, where hundreds of sites attest to the presence of modern humans long before Clovis hunters appeared in the Americas around 11,000 B.C. Even more striking is the evidence from Australia/New Guinea, where there are barely one-tenth as many archaeologists as in the United States alone, but where those few archaeologists have nevertheless discovered over a hundred unequivocal pre-Clovis sites scattered over the whole continent.

From Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond. © 1997 Jared Diamond.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.