Satellite picture of North Bimini Island (Original picture by NASA

Bimini Road

During an archive discussion on GHMB about the Bimini Wall (Pier), there were some comments questioning the usefulness of what geologists can bring to the discussion about the origin of the feature called the Bimni Road. The most extreme statement by the main proponent of this idea was:

I really am quite clueless about the assertion that geologists should verify the claims. Geologists aren’t archaeologists. That was the problem from the very start.

If this person knew anything about what he was talking about, he should have realized that this statement is oversimplified to the point of being at best simply wrong and at worst quite stupid. This remark shows a complete ignorance of the fact that over the last three or four decades, even earlier, there has developed a very close association between geology and archaeology. As a result, there has developed a small, but real and knowledgeable group of scientists, although their initial degree might have been in either geology or archaeology, who possess an expertise in both fields. The integration of geology and archaeology has developed to the point that a new discipline, called either “geoarchaeology” or “archaeological geology” has developed. Within these fields there exist a number of geologists, who are trained in archaeology, to the degree they are qualified archaeologists capable of verifying the nature of the Bimni Pier in an honest, professional, and competent manner. Anyone, who asserts that they have nothing to contribute to this discussion, is either functionally illiterate in their understanding of archaeology; completely afraid that their expertise might completely demolished a deeply cherished pet theory, or some combination of these.

Geology and archaeology have become so intertwined that the Geological Society of America and the Society for American Archaeology have established sub-sections of their societies in which the scientists in this field can gather and discuss SAA Geoarchaeology Interest Group and the Archaeological Geology Division of the Geological Society of America. Also, there is even an international, highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to scientific papers about geoarchaeology/archaeological geology called “Geoarchaeology”.

Finally, national and regional geological meetings typically offer geology field trips, which involve visits to archaeological sites by geologists to discuss on the spot interdisciplinary research, which mixes geology with archaeology. The Friends of the Pleistocene field trips, which occur on annual basis in different parts of the United States, often include visits to locations where the geology of archaeology and the archaeology of geology are discussed in great detail. For example, the 2001 meeting of the Midwest Cell of the Friends of the Pleistocene theme was “The Deglaciation and Geoarchaeology of the Minnesota–Ontario Borderlands” and the 1993 meeting for the South Central Cell of the Friends of the Pleistocene was titled “Quaternary Geology and Geoarchaeology of the Lower Red River Valley.”

Furthermore, the author of the above statement seems quite unaware of the fact that a number of geologist are members of ASMOSIA, the Association for the Study of Marble and other Stones in Antiquity. This is a group of geologists, art historians, archaeologists, chemists, and other scientists, who research the quarrying, transport, shaping, and sources of stone for building and art by various classical, prehistoric, and historic cultures. The pertinence of the expertise of the people, who belong to this scientific society, is illustrated by one of the papers in the 1998 ASMOSIA I Proceedings, which is titled “Problems of Identification and Interpretation of Tool Marks on Ancient Marbles and Decorative Stools”.

Either an archaeological geologist, geoarchaeologist, or geologist belonging to ASMOSIA would actually be the best person to review the Bimini Pier (or Wharf?). Not only would they have the training and expertise to identify artifacts and cut stone, they also would be quite familiar, unlike many archaeologists, in the various ways natural processes can create features, which look like artificially cut stone. The only reason, which the author of this statement would have **not** to ask for their expertise is the possibly that their interpretations will contradict his; that they might find a lack of any evidence of either cut stone or tool marks on the stones of the Bimini Pier; or they might totally demolish his theories to which he has very strong emotional investment and attachment. On the other hand, they might provide the scientific validation of his ideas, which he so desperately seeks, if only he would request their assistance. Regardless, there is absolutely no scientifically valid reason, for not having a geologist, who is either a qualified archaeological geologist, geoarchaeologist, or member of ASMOSIA. evaluate the Bimini Pier.

In addition, it would be essential if this geologist was accompanied by a geologist who is a carbonate sedimentologist, and has an expert understanding of how carbonate rocks form and are modified by diagensis and bioerosion. In order to understand the surface features of these stones, the assistance of an expert in the natural processes, which have modified them in the thousands of years in which they lay underwater, is needed. Carbonate rocks of any types are quite reactive to any environment in which they lay and are readily modified by natural processes on time scales as short as hundreds of years, even decades. To understand how blocks of beach have been modified by lying in seawater and boring and encrusting organisms, the assistance of an expert in carbonate sedimentology will be a necessity.

Another person wrote:

We’ve used geologists to analyze samples taken and that is the ONLY value they have in such investigations. They are NOT qualified to assess whether something is artifactual or not. They can analyze the compositional property of rock and associated erosional processes, but they wouldn’t know a toolmark if it bit them on the rear because they are NOT TRAINED to look for it. (Unless they are cross-trained in archaeology as well -of course- and it would help if some of the more <ahem> ‘outspoken’ ones were).

It is common knowledge and well known fact, as anyone who is a competent archaeologist already knows, that geologists cross-trained in archaeology and anthropology (as well as archaeologists cross-trained in geology) do exist. To find them a person need only do a Google search using the keyword “geoarchaeology” or “archaeological geology.” These geologists are extremely qualified to assess whether something is an artifact or not and many also have been trained to recognize tool marks. The vast majority of geologists, who belong to ASMOSIA, would be quite familiar with tools marks and other types of modification resulting from stone cutting.

The professional geologists include people such as Dr. E. Arthur Bettis III, Thomas R. Stafford, and Michael R. Waters. These are people who all have their terminal graduate degree in Geology or Geoscience and are well recognized and respected as also being extremely qualified to either participate in or conduct archaeological research. For example Dr. Michael R. Waters, whose B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. are all in “Geoscience”, is 1. author of a highly regarded book, Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective; 2. part of the team re-investigating the Hueyatlaco Site; 3. part of the team studying the Topper Site in South Carolina; 4. principal investigator of the archaeological investigations of the Clovis Gault Site in Texas and 5. a major proponent for the existence of Pre-Clovis cultures is North America. He has even conducted excavation of historic sites in Texas, some of the findings of which have been published in the book, Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne. Dr. Bettis is also engaged in the search for and excavation of Pre-Clovis sites within central North America. Contrary to seemingly baised complaints of the author and his colleague concerning unqualified geologists, there do exist a significant number of geologists, especially those belonging to ASMOSIA, who are more than qualified to provide an honest and expert review of their research on their Bimini Pier.

He also overlooks the fact that a number of geologists participate in archaeology as trained avocational archaeologists. Although they might lack the paperwork, needed to please, the author of the above quote, from years of work under the guidance of professional archaeologists and archaeological course given the members ofthe societies, they are quite capable of assessing whether something is an artifact or not and, in some cases, are quite capable of identifying tool marks. Some of these societies even have certification programs for avocational archaeologists An examples of this is the “Program for Avocational Archaeological Certification” offered by the Colorado Archaeological Society, which is discussed here.

To repeat the last part of the above quote:

(Unless they are cross-trained in archaeology as well -of course- and it would help if some of the more <ahem> ‘outspoken’ ones were).”

In my case, I do have training in archaeology, including field school and worked in the field as an archaeologist doing Cultural Resource Management surveys. I also belong to both the SAA Geoarchaeology Interest Group, and the GSA Archaeological Geology Division. I am a Life Member of the Society for American Archaeology. It would be wrong for the author of this statement to argue that I am one of the “outspoken ones”, which he refers to above.

This person also stated:

It may be that we dwell in parallel realities. In the one I live in, geologists study types of rock, processes that create them, and natural processes that shape them. If you know of a geology program that studies ancient tools and tooling methods as well as excavation I’d love to know about it.

The author of this statement definitely lives in an alternative reality and different space-time continuum from me. 🙂 In the real world, there are now a number of universities where the Department of Geology and the Department of Anthropology sponsor joint programs and degrees in which geologists are taught archaeology, including all about ancient tools and their manufacture, and archaeologists are taught geology. For example, Louisiana State University is starting up a degree program in geoarchaeology, in which geologists learn archaeology and archaeologists learn geology. As a result, a person finds geologists, i.e. Dr. Brooks Ellwood and Dr. Michael Blum, in the Department of Geology and Geophysics as adjunct professors in the Department of Geography and Anthropology.

In the real world and not the alternative universe in which the author of the above quote apparently lives, a number of universities have had for years offered joint programs between their department teaching the Earth sciences and their department teaching archaeology ending in a degree in
geoarchaeology or its equivalent. They include Cornell University, Amhest University, Washington University in St. Louis. Missouri and several other universities and colleges. The Department of Geography and the Environment at Texas A & M University, has one degree in geography that is actually a degree in geoarchaeology, which requires training in geology, archaeology, and anthropology. The University of Georgia has an archaeological geology program, in which a geologist canearn either a M.S. or Ph.D. degree in fields relating to archaeometry, archaeogeophysics, and archaeological sciences in general. These degrees require training in the basic principles of archaeology. In all of these programs, geology and archaeology are taught together resulting in geologists being trained in various aspects of archaeology, including basics such as the recognition of artifacts and tool marks on cut stone, and archaeologists being trained also as geologists.

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