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California, cradle of the first freeways, skateboards, canned tuna fish … Americans?
A study published by the journal Nature on Wednesday made a startling claim: Turns out prehistoric humans may have arrived in what is now California 130,000 years ago.
The finding, based on examination of mastodon bones found near San Diego, would upend our understanding of the arrival of people in the Americas. Currently, the earliest widely accepted evidence of settlement is less than 15,000 years old.
Carl Zimmer, a science writer, explained the new study in The Times. We caught up with him via email.
Q. How big is this?
A. If it turned out to be true, it would be a very big deal, pushing back human occupation in the Americas over 100,000 years. But that’s a very, very big “if,” based on my interviews with other experts.
Q. You reported that there’s quite a bit of skepticism. What should we make of that?
A. This is part of the scientific process. Scientists develop a hypothesis to explain evidence and test it, and then it’s up to other researchers to challenge its premises and find ways to test it for themselves. This particular case reveals how the standards of proof can go up when the stakes go up. If people want to make a big claim, other scientists are going to expect a lot of evidence to back it up. Experts I spoke to thought that evidence fell short in this case.
Q. What would life in California have been like 130,000 years ago?
A. It would be pretty nice. The weather would be comfortable, and there would be lots of grass and trees. The area was home to many big animals, including camels, giant ground sloths and dire wolves (sort of like the ones in Game of Thrones).
Q. Suppose it’s right, could modern Californians be related?
A. It’s very hard to see how any humans in California 130,000 years ago could be the ancestors of any living humans. But there were a number of other lineages of humans, such as Neanderthals, that existed in that age. They’d be more likely candidates.
(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)
• President Trump ordered a review of dozens of national monument designations. They include eight in California. [San Francisco Chronicle]
• “We’ll see them at the Supreme Court.” The president deplored “ridiculous rulings” from California judges after his action against so-called sanctuary cities was blocked. [The New York Times]
• A plan to create single-payer health care passed a hurdle in the State Senate. One unanswered question: How to pay for it? [The Associated Press]
• Michael Weinstein’s AIDS organization treats an enormous number of patients — and makes an enormous amount of money. Is that why so many activists distrust him? [The New York Times]
• Housing costs have forced many low-income San Diegans to relocate to Riverside. [Voice of San Diego]
• An 86-year-old woman was beaten to death in a random attack in the Sacramento area. [Sacramento Bee]
• Instagram has become the new Facebook, with the photo-sharing app passing 700 million users. [The New York Times]
• An artist collective was evicted from a San Francisco warehouse. It was thought to be the first such eviction since the Ghost Ship fire. [The San Francisco Examiner]
• Marshawn Lynch is back and he’s playing for the Oakland Raiders. [The New York Times]
• A photographer shot 75 rolls of film in 1970s California for a project called “People in Cars.” Now, it becomes a book — and part of an exhibition at SFMOMA. [The New York Times]
• How much home $1.2 million will buy in Tucson, Providence and Los Angeles. [The New York Times]
• Reviews of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” have been rapturous. Our critic called it unflinching, vital and scary as hell. [The New York Times]
And Finally …
On Tuesday, we asked for your opinions on how U.C. Berkeley has handled the commotion over Ann Coulter’s plan to speak at the campus.
Since the university last week canceled the event, citing safety concerns, there have been heated debates over free speech rights, a lawsuit and vows from the conservative writer to show up anyway.
On Wednesday, Ms. Coulter reversed herself, saying she would not appear on Thursday after all because conservative groups pulled their support.
(Writing in The Times, Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, said Berkeley was under attack from both the far right and the far left.)
With few exceptions, those who wrote to us felt Ms. Coulter should have a right to speak. But they were divided over whether it was the correct call to cancel the event.
A sample of the responses:
“Instead of canceling her appearance, they should have let her go on as scheduled, with double or triple the number of campus police. By canceling her, they empowered those hate groups. Now those kinds of threats will never end.”
— Richard Jones, Truckee
“If the Berkeley College Republicans are willing to provide and pay for security to keep Ann Coulter safe from violent leftist thugs, then by all means let it happen.”
— Stan Roe, Clayton
“It is not her free speech which is being threatened here, it is her safety and the safety of people who come to hear or protest.”
— Claire Callahan Goodman, Oakland
“Coulter does indeed have the right to free speech. Berkeley, however, has no legal duty to provide her with a forum.”
— Zachary Lawrence, Los Angeles
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The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.