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  Field Notes From
Dawn of Humans

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View Field Notes
From Author

Michael Parfit

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From Photographer

Kenneth Garrett

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Kenneth Garrett

Looking for the First Americans

Field Notes From Author
Michael Parfit
This was one of the most physically adventurous stories I’ve done for the magazine. It involved going to the ends of the Earth. I did my own flying all the way to the North Slope of Alaska. For me, adventure is not about having disasters but being out and about in the world and gaining access to difficult places.
But this assignment was as much a mental adventure as flying somewhere in the distance. When I sat where another person had been a long time ago, I couldn’t help but imagine individuals. That kind of experience shows the enormous instinctive empathy human beings possess. That’s a wonderful thing to go through.
In all my years of covering controversial issues, I’ve seldom seen this level of anger among professional colleagues. I was surprised at how little the experts agree on who these ancient people were and where they came from. There is a great deal of animosity among some scientists because of these different points of view. And, tragically, there is also deep-seated, angry, conflict between scientists and some Native American groups. This is a topic that just seems to go very deep into human emotion. My wife and I were trying to meet up with a team of scientists who were working in a cave in a remote corner of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. We started out in a little rubber Zodiac, but the wind churned up the water, so we had to cross a small island on foot. Following questionable directions, we walked into the rain forest and got thoroughly lost.
We wandered around the forest for what seemed like hours. We found lots of bear scat, but no scientists. We finally found our way out by following the hum of the team’s generator.

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