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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Across Atlantic Ice

The debate about how the Americas were first settled or more succinctly the origin of the Clovis Culture has heated up with Across Atlantic Ice by Dennis J Stanford & Bruce A Bradley. I always believed the traditional theory that the Americas were peopled by Asians who trekked across an Alaskan-Bering Sea land. That theory hung in the air for a long time as scientists tried to find artifacts to support this theory. The problem became obvious when they couldn’t substantiate the land bridge theory. Artifacts were first discovered in Clovis, New Mexico that dated back 13,000 years ago and in Venezuela, but nothing in Canada, Alaska, Russia, or China. So where did the Clovis Culture originate? Clovis experts turned their attention to the east coast, a site near Richmond, Virginia which dates back 16,000 years.  Another of those remarkable coincidences as I also read about ME Kay Scarpetto of Richmond in Pamela Cornwell’s mystery series.

The carbon dates for Clovis, New Mexico give 13,000 years ago. Carbon dates for the Richmond site find 16,000 years ago. And to further complicate the old theory, scientists discovered Clovis artifacts dating from 18,000 to 25,000 years ago in southern France and Northern Spain. This theory has been labeled the Solutrean Hypothesis after the French culture in Solutré, France. So if the Clovis culture originated in The Pyrenees, how did they get to the Americas? 
We know ice extended throughout Northwestern Europe to the Americas and created what we now call the Grand Banks. Inuits live on these ices very comfortably. The discovery of the Kennnewick Man, who has European ancestry, not Asian, in the Columbia River Basin dates him to 9500 years ago. Cultures are known to be sea dwellers as far back as 30,000 years ago and as far back as 130,000 years ago in the Mediterranean cultures.
Stanford and Bradley have compiled a rip-roaring mystery, and I do love mysteries. The origin of the people of America has two major theories the Beringian Land Bridge theory and the Solutrean Hypothesis. Of course they could both be possible. We have seen throughout history the simultaneous discovery or invention of things attributed to one culture, nation, or person; when in fact many could be attributed. People move either because they need more than what is currently available in their current location and because the grass is always greener on the other side. It is called the push-pull theory. 1492 and 1620 are perfect examples of this in more modern times in the continued discovery of America.
As with any culture, it is always about the technology. The technology archaeologists follow are the stone tools and flakes. They each have distinct formation and creation patterns unique to each culture. With carbon dating, times are more precisely determined. Geological and environmental data can be helpful, but in the end it is always about the technology and in rare occasions the art. Thus the search always begins in the bones of killed animals. That was how Clovis, New Mexico was discovered.
The authors provide a primer in flints and the process of creating them called “knapping.” The basic tools were the flake, blade, inset blade, and biface blade. By studying and identifying these various tools found at various sites the archaeologists are able to determine culture and time. Knapping varied from culture to culture. Studying the technology is how the European connection was made to the Clovis, NM site.
Searching out the Clovis people, the consensus is that it moved east to west. The evidence shows larger settlements in the east and smaller more temporary ones in the west. In addition the evidence of caches, places where they left flint blades, probably in case they couldn’t find suitable resources could be returned to, show flintss of more eastern and southern origins. In addition, the more western sites show use of more crystal and bone with more ornamental creations. Further evidence shows that the peopling of Alaska was east to west as later Clovis technology begins to appear in Alaska. Little evidence appears for the west to east migration since the environment was just not suited for this traveling from Asia. In addition, archaeological digs that show any west to east migration are later than the earlier Clovis findings. In short, the west to east migration and theories associated with it are without substance, so far. The name “Clovis” is associated with where the ‘first’ artifacts were discovered, Clovis, NM. However, as further discoveries have shown the artifacts found on the eastern coast show similar and earlier tool and flint artifacts to make the authors conclude that Clovis is eastern in origin, not western or Asian. So now they must search out the missing links in this mystery.
Systematically and scientifically the authors do a compare and contrast of the two hypothesis examining each culture in detail. The long and short is that the Clovis culture probably originated in Europe and not Asia based on so many common aspects. Not conclusive like a Poirot or a Perry Mason, but very convincing and just as entertaining.

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