Politics and Archaeology – not a good mix

Ilsa and John Kraemer photographed not long after fleeing war torn Germany for a new life in Canada, Together they have mapped close to 1000 archaeological sites in southwestern Ontario and hundreds in and around Brant County. Most have never been excavated. Submitted photo
Ilsa and John Kraemer photographed not long after fleeing war torn Germany for a new life in Canada, Together they have mapped close to 1000 archaeological sites in southwestern Ontario and hundreds in and around Brant County. Most have never been excavated. Submitted photo

BRANTFORD – Old habits and entrenched dogmas die hard. That is especially true when it comes to defending the status quo Bering Strait land bridge hypothesis to explain the arrival and migration of early man in what is called, the “new world.”

Most people would think the scientific community would welcome new evidence and differing learned opinions, but as retired archaeologist, Ilse Kraemer has found out through her own personal experience, this is too often not the case — at least not in Canada and the U.S.

A young Ilse and her new husband, archaeologist John Kraemer, now deceased, came to Canada from their native Germany after the devastation of the war. Fascinated, as most German people are, by the culture and history of the North American Indian, they began working for archaeological firms in the Mississauga Ontario region, eventually moving to Brantford.

In around 1981, the topic of what is called “Desert Varnish” or “Rock Varnish” was the conversation within scientific circles about the phenomenon by which layers upon layers of a very thin compound that in certain conditions of extreme arid temperatures, as found in the world’s deserts, and tens-of-thousands of years will produce a shiny, red, brown or black skin over rocks. Many desert tribes would cut hieroglyphs on “varnished” stone by scraping off the varnish to expose the lighter coloured original stone.

It just so happened that at the same time, the Kraemers, had stumbled upon an archaeological find that had potential to turn the scientific would upside down. One day on a walkabout, they found, laying on the ground and close to the surface, flint tools, undoubtedly worked by human hands. But they were shiny and reddish-brown in colour and obviously very old.

“It really was a fluke how I found the site,” laughs Ilse Kraemer, now into her ‘80s.

“One day my husband and I saw this barren area, covered with brush that we thought might have some significance,” Kraemer recalls like it was yesterday. “He walked around looking for archaeology and I did my thing. That’s when I found these reddish flint tools. We brought some home and looked a little closer. It was intriguing.”

But the intrigue was not so much that they had found some samples of a kind of desert varnish, but that these were tools that had been lying there long enough to develop their signature red patina. Since the patina takes at least 10,000 years and as much as 100,000 years or more to develop when conditions are exactly right. That would mean these tools were crafted and used by someone and left there before the last ice age. That is when they say the land bridge developed and early Asians came across to spread throughout this half of the world 12,000 – 14,000 years ago. This find put all of that under considerable question.

“We went back next day and found the area covered in similar flakes and flint tools. Prehistoric man did not have arrows and there were no arrow heads to be found nearby. That technology had not been developed yet. They would hunt big animals like Wooly Mammoths or Mastodons with spears or by clubbing them or stoning them from a high perch. Then cut off the flesh and skins with tools like these.”

Kraemer says she also found the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger in the same general area. Although she will not reveal the exact location, she did give the general vicinity, and it wasn’t somewhere in northern B.C., or Inuvik.

“I never disclosed the exact location, but it was close to Lake Erie, near Hagersville,” she says. “This is an area that was pre-glaciation. The glaciers pushed up from the south and were very weak when they came into this area. Another push came from the north and they met here.”

She believes that it why the tools are virtually undamaged, because they were not being dragged for miles one way or the other under hundreds of tons of ice and rock.

Good news for science? No. Rather than be excited, their findings seemed to anger those keepers of the Bering Strait belief. But not everyone dismissed the find.

One archaeologist in particular, Thomas E. Lee, agreed with their conclusion that early man was here in southwest Ontario before the Bering Strait land bridge was formed.

But the Kraemers could get no official recognition for their find in North America.

“I had a problem with our Canadian archaeologists. They were of no help in even recognizing these as tools,” she says. “I knew of another archaeologist that was also having trouble with finds he was making on Manitoulin Island. He was finding the same things as me but on quartzite tools. This site is known as Shegiandah.

“Officially, Canadian and American scientists did not want to recognize it because they would have to change everything,” says Kraemer. “They would have to rewrite all the text books and a lot of people would lose their royalties and reputations if that happened.”

But as word got out, they began getting calls from Berkley and other American Universities. One call in particular gave the Kraemers hope that their discovery would be recognized. It came from Dr. George Carter who had worked heavily on early man in the western world and he had some authority on the subject.

He suggested that they should send some samples to universities and labs all over the world for tests and evaluation including to Vienna University.

“The problem with archaeologists here is that they want to just look at arrow heads and scrapers, and scrapers and arrowheads and that’s all. But German archaeologists and in Europe, especially in France, Spain and Portugal are in the caves of early man and discovering many new things about early man every day.”

“The Indians have always said there were people here,” says Kraemer who is well known for her work with Six Nations over the years, “And they were right.”

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