THE PERFECT STORM: AN ANALYSIS OF THE SCIENTIFIC CREDIBILITY OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL CLAIMS FOR THE CERUTTI MASTODON SITE AND THE PUBLIC INTERACTION WITH THOSE CLAIMS
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In April of 2017, a letter entitled “A 130,000-year-old archaeological site insouthern California, USA” was published in the premiere scientific journal, Nature(Holen et all, 2017). The letter of approximately 1,700 words described The CeruttiMastodon Site, a paleontological site discovered in 1992 in southern San Diego Countythat the paper’s authors believed to have an archaeological component. The paperclaimed to completely rewrite the history of the human occupation of the New Worldwith an archaeological site more than 100,000 years older than the oldest acceptedarchaeological sites in North or South America. The story became an instant viralsensation, gracing the front pages of most major online and print media outlets whilequietly drawing extreme skepticism from the professional archaeological community.(Gary Haynes, 2017; Braje et all, 2017; Ferraro et all, 2017). This thesis examines thescientific evidence for the archaeological claims of The Cerutti Mastodon Site, the set ofconditions that allowed for the possible misinterpretation of the site as being necessarilyarchaeological in nature, the subsequent publishing of these claims in a major scientificjournal, the lack of appropriate public scrutiny by experts in the field, themisrepresentation of the site to the general public, and the unintended consequences ofthese mistakes. In addition, this thesis examines how the issue could have beenproperly handled during many missteps along the way and how the damage alreadydone can now be fixed.