SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Digging the dirt on Revilla Man
By Dave Kiffer


July 17, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - A zillion years ago I was sitting in a college literature class and the teacher said a strange thing.

"Imagine there was a nuclear holocaust and the only thing to survive was a Harold Robbins novel," he said, ignoring the inconvenient fact that most of my other professors were assuming at that time that both cockroaches and Aaron Spelling would also survive any comprehensive nuclear holocaust.

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Modern Caveman
By: Arcadio Esquivel
Cagle Cartoons, La Prensa, Panama
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

"Imagine some future archaeologist finding that book and then making all his determinations about our "lost" culture based on the book," he continued. "That's a pretty scary thought indeed."


A couple of quick asides for anyone under the age of 35.

Harold Robbins was a trashy novelist who sold millions of books, primarily about powerful people behaving badly and having lots of graphic sex.

And yes, back in those halcyon days of the late 1970s it was still possible to imagine the world ending in a nuclear flash, as opposed to the modern world in which the end will more likely either come as a giant sigh of world-wide ennui or a massive instantaneous error message on everyones' Ipod -Cellphone -Pacemakers.

The professor was making a point that we often have to extrapolate a history based on very little remaining information. Some pottery shards perhaps, or a few lines of verse on a cuneiform tablet.

And he knew his audience pretty well. We had been raised to expect the possibility of a sudden nuclear end and we were also secretly paging through the naughty bits of "The Betsy" and "The Carpetbaggers" with more enthusiasm than we were tackling the Sumerian legends in "The Epic of Gilgamesh."

I was thinking about that last week, when I read Ned Rozell's SITNEWS report on the "oldest man in Alaska" who was found a decade ago in a cave on Prince of Wales Island.

No, it's not true that the "oldest man" was the last real choker-setter who had "headed for the hills" to avoid the final Armageddon of the Tongass Timber Wars, but as usual I digress.

He died some 9,200 years ago, was in his early 20s, and was adept at using tools that he made from stone that wasn't native to the area.

He also ate a lot of seafood.

We know all this from a jawbone, a right hip, scattered teeth, parts of his back bone and few ribs.

It has always amazed me that archaeologists can pick up a handful of old body parts and make those type of deductions.

I see dirt, bones, mud and rocks, and they see the history of a life or a civilization spread out as neatly as Harold Robbins would tie up all the plot points in the last chapter of a book (somebody dies, somebody has sex, a third character dies while having sex).

It also got me thinking,. What if some future archaeologist were to pull my remains out of "On Your Knees" Cave and started making assumptions?

First of all - even if I wasn't mildly claustrophobic - you wouldn't catch me crawling into any sort of "On Your Knees" Cave. Not even if a giant 9,000 year old, mammoth sized, super bear was chasing me. The bear would have to kill me outside and then drag my sorry carcass inside the cave for safe keeping.

That very thing may have happened with old POW man, but we can't be sure. On the other hand, if he lived in Southeast Alaska for 20 years without Gortex or Helly Hansen, he probably found a cave strangely comforting.

But enough about POW man. Back to me!

Item One: My jawbone.

Revilla Man, as I would no doubt be called, was enamored of rudimentary musical instruments which required the use of the jaw to control the airflow and pitch. The jaw was bent into an unnatural shape to facilitate an odd item called a mouthpiece, several of which were found scattered around Revilla Man on the floor of the cave indicating his inability to pick just one and stick with it.

Item Two: My right hip

Revilla Man generally only moved very short distances (television to computer to bathroom and back) and with minimum of muscle engagement. It is not clear whether or not he walked fully upright, but it is clear that he frequently was in a sitting position, somewhat hunched, over a primitive device of no apparent useful purpose called a keyboard.

Item Three: My teeth

Revilla Man's teeth show evidence of significant filling and capping. Within that capping and filling are petrified bits of a substance unknown to modern (12,000 AD) man. The substance appears to be an odd combination of two other basic elements: peanut butter and chocolate. The teeth are also significantly scarred from being apparently permanently covered by a concoction consisting water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, and natural flavors. Historical research indicates it may been called "Coca Cola."

Item Four: My backbone.

Judging from the shape of the remaining backbone pieces, it is clear that Revilla Man's most common position was apparently "prone."

Item Five: My Ribs.

There is some question whether the ribs found in the cave were from Revilla Man's body. Revilla Man's backbone and hip condition indicate the likelihood that Revilla Man did not have a rib cage, but had significant accumulation of fat in the central body cavity that kept his internal organs generally in one place. Given his rather sedentary existence it is likely that he suffered from what would be called "spare tire syndrome" today.

In addition the rib bones show a remarkably similarity to domesticated quadrupeds of the time, especially swine and cattle.

The ribs in the cave have also been found to have a petrified coating that seems to consist of ketchup, beer, chili sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, onions, salt and pepper and brown sugar. Other researchers have found that when exposed to heat the coating - even at a age of some 10,000 years - retains an attractive, smoky flavor.

So there you have it. A snapshot of modern man brought to you by the preserved bones of 21st Century Revilla Man.

In conclusion, it would be a scary thought indeed, if the entire knowledge of our culture was reduced to this limited rendering of Revilla Man.

But, fortunately, some future archaeologist will not find a copy of a Harold Robbins novel to go with the bones and further extrapolate the mores of the current culture.

Revilla Man has "evolved" slightly beyond Harold Robbins in the last thirty years.


On the Web:

Lessons from the oldest man in Alaska tests By NED ROZELL - An obituary for the man whose bones are the oldest ever found in Alaska might read as follows: He died on Prince of Wales Island around 9,200 years ago. He was in his early 20s. He was adept at using tools, many of which he crafted with imported stone. The man ate as much seafood as a seal or a sea otter. He explored Alaska's coast, probably in a boat made of skins. He leaves behind a jawbone, right hip, scattered teeth, parts of his backbone, a few ribs. Cause of death is unknown, but a giant bear that lived on the island may have killed him. - More...
July 07, 2006


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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