The 12.9-ka et impact hypothesis and North American Paleoindians

Vance T. Holliday, David J. Meltzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


A hypothesized extraterrestrial impact in North America at ∼12,900 calendar years BP (12.9 ka) has been proposed as the cause of Younger Dryas climate changes, terminal Pleistocene mammalian extinctions, and a supposed "termination" of the Clovis archaeological culture. In regard to the latter, however, an examination of archaeological, geochronological, and stratigraphic evidence fails to provide evidence of a demographic collapse of post-Clovis human populations, especially where the Clovis and post-Clovis site records are reasonably well constrained chronologically. Although few Clovis sites contain evidence of an immediate post-Clovis occupation, interpreting that absence as population collapse is problematic because the great majority of Paleoindian sites also lack immediately succeeding occupations. Where multiple occupations do occur, stratigraphic hiatuses between them are readily explained by geomorphic processes. Furthermore, calibrated radiocarbon ages demonstrate continuous occupation across the time of the purported "Younger Dryas event." And, finally, the relatively few sites purported to provide direct evidence of the 12.9-ka impact are not well constrained to that time. Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is matter for empirical testing in the geological record. Insofar as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-607
Number of pages33
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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