Before we talk about the peopling of PEI it will be a good idea to contemplate, for a bit, the peopling of the world, and how we fit in near the end of a long and complicated process.
This map clearly shows our common beginnings in Africa about 200 million years ago and how, 45 thousand years ago in Europe, our ancestors were already in place. Looking East, we can see a complicated migration process that ends up, 25 thousand years ago, massed up on Beringia, on the bottom of the Bering Strait, revealed by the earth’s rebound following the melting of the thick glacial ice mass. Here, it has been demonstrated, large numbers of people of different characteristics were poised to move on into the unknown territories of North America.
The map also suggests that streams of people descended into Canada and the US in a corridor to the east of the ice-covered Rockies and made their way to South America while others made their way to what is now the New Mexico area by about 16 thousand years ago. In time, the New Mexico settlers would move to the Northeast and thus people Eastern Canada, and moving Southeast, the American seaboard. It is all very tidy, very nice, and very much a fantasy concocted since the 1930s by American archaeologists. Canadian archaeologists, for the most part, accepted all this as dogma. That is the story I was told as a student and had no reason or evidence not to believe it, except for one Art Historical stylistic detail that obsessed me and which I will discuss shortly.
How did we become aware of the first people in North America, and how did we find the evidence for their earliest manifestation on the continent?
For as long as there have been people, all over the world, some individuals have been fascinated by worked pieces of stone, often quite extraordinarily beautiful, that were found in ploughed fields, construction sites and along eroding sea shores and river banks.
In the Nineteenth Century especially , numerous people began to collect these ancient worked stones which turned out to be tools and weapons. At the same time new developments in scientific thought, which generated shocking new geologic theories involving the antiquity of humankind, conflicted with Christian beliefs, and generated much controversy.
Not only were these objects collected by scientists but ordinary people, entranced by their beauty and mystery, actively began to dig up likely sites where they would be found, as in this woodcut from Abbott’s Primitive Industry (1881). In this manner vast areas of our archaeological heritage were destroyed.
It was such searching for prehistoric artefacts that first focussed the attention of archaeologists on astonishing finds found at two sites in Eastern New Mexico.
In 1932-36 archaeologists found in Clovis, New Mexico, below Folsom, halfway down the East border territory, in strata containing the bones of extinct mammoth and bison, some points the likes of which had never before been seen anywhere in the supposed paths of prehistoric migration, from Siberia to New Mexico.
The Clovis points were leaf-shaped biface tools with a concave base often with a depression on either side to accommodate the end of the wooden shaft. These depressions are called flutes and the process, fluting. This terminology comes from the Ancient Greek practice of cutting grooves we call flutes into their columns to achieve an aesthetic effect. These points were made, as has been demonstrated in modern times, by breaking off wide flakes of stone with a baton, sometimes going right across the width. A fine cutting edge was produced by tiny controlled flaking done with something like a sharpened piece of antler. As can be seen in the accompanying drawing from Claiborne (1973) the hafting did not go up the full length of the point – so we believe – and the top half of the blade was thus more prone to being broken when the spear hit its target. Archaeological finds support this argument.
The second form of these uniquely shaped types of points was found at Folsom, in the top right corner of the State, within the bones of an extinct bison in 1908, thus establishing its great antiquity. By 1926 it was identified as a specific type and named the Folsom Point. It has been assumed that the Folsom point is a bit later than the Clovis one.
The points are leaf-shaped, biface (or worked on both sides) with a concave base, and a groove running almost the full length of the stone. It is believed that this was an aid to hafting, for a spear or a knife, as in this drawing from Claiborne (1973).
The people who made these points mostly used chert, a hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of fine grains of quartz (silica).It comes in a wide range of colours, depending on mineral impurities in the quartz, and when fractured, breaks like glass in what is called a conchoidal fracture. Its behaviour is predictable once the techniques of working the stone are mastered. I will discuss this in a later post.
By the late 1930s archaeologists in America had accepted arguments making the Clovis type point the oldest in North America and the origin and burgeoning of this culture centred at the Northeast edge of the state of New Mexico. They believed that this type of projectile point sprang forth, perfect in every way, in this geographical location, rather like the way the Goddess Athena sprang forth fully formed from the head of Zeus, when Hephaestus split it open with his axe.
The first uncalibrated radiocarbon date given to the culture was about 11,500 – 11,000 BP, at the end of the last glacial period. Recalibrated dates now place the appearance and duration of this culture to about 13,200 to 12,900 BP. The origin of most of the indigenous people of North America was credited to this phenomenon.
Nobody seems to have been bothered by the fact that nothing resembling this highly sophisticated technique was found in Siberia, the Bering Strait land bridge Beringia, or the long supposedly ice-free corridor to the east of the Rockies that made this migration down into New Mexico possible. Most archaeologists still seem to think that way today.
I have been able to believe this story only because Clovis and Folsom are so close to Roswell NM, and the strong possibility that these beautiful sophisticated forms were introduced by aliens, whom we are repeatedly told, regularly visit that area. Poetically it makes more sense than what was for so many years called triumphantly by American archaeologists, Clovis First!!!!!!
THE DEBERT, NOVA SCOTIA DISCOVERY
During World War II, Debert, a remote town in Nova Scotia, was chosen as the site of a wartime airport. The whole surface of a vast area was bulldozed to create runways and parking areas.
After the war, in 1948, a man and his wife were harvesting a rich blueberry harvest on the site of the now-abandoned airport. Walking over an area of the runway blown clean by wind erosion they discovered a number of strange long leaf-shaped fluted points. They were very similar to Clovis points except that the base was more deeply indented. There were also shorter blades, either because they were less prone to breaking or perhaps represented a departure from the full, labour intensive and fragile original form. They were made of chert, which is plentiful in that part of Nova Scotia. There is no flint found in this region. (These examples are in the National Museums in Ottawa. Copies can be seen in the Nova Scotia Museum.)
Here is a bit more information about the Debert site.
This map from the internet shows the generally accepted view of how the Clovis culture spread across North America and turned northeastward up into Canada. It explains all. I disagree.
THE SOLUTREAN CULTURE IN EUROPE
All my mature life I have accepted the Clovis story with many reservations based only on an old enthusiasm for European prehistory and the origin of art in painted caves. Since my teen years I have been fascinated by the flint blades produced by a culture first identified and named in central France from a village called Solutré. Solutré is a spectacular rock that sticks out dramatically from the limestone base of the centre of France called the Massif Central. In 1866 a French antiquarian called Henry Testot-Ferry discovered extremely dramatic and beautifully crafted blades the likes of which were previously unknown. Here is a selection of them from Crot du Charnier at Solutré Pouilly which date from 22000-17000 BP (picture from the internet).
Here is more detailed information about the Solutrean culture and how it was identified and defined.
Soon other antiquarians became aware of this style and sites were found all over France and Northern Spain and Portugal. Although the name site of Solutré is the most eastern site of all, a large number of the other recognised sites are near the sea. This will become very significant in my further arguments.
This was the time when European scholars were trying to establish a prehistoric chronology based on various criteria, especially the variety and shapes of the stone tools and weapons and those made out of bone and antler. All this work coincided with the birth of prehistoric archaeology and the process was slowed by conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
By the end of the Nineteenth Century the following chronology had been more or less become the accepted one and, in the years, following, with more excavation in context, the dates became more refined. It is still a process that is going on as new scientific techniques push back many dates thought to be significantly more recent.
UPPER PALEOLITHIC (50–10 bp)
Châtelperronian (~44,500 – 36,000 bp)
Aurignacian (46-43,000 – c. 26,000 bp)
Périgordian (35–20 bp)
Gravettian (33–24 bp)
Solutrean (22–17 bp)
Magdalenian (17–12 bp)
Azilian (14–10 bp)
The Solutrean culture comes fairly late in the sequence, but early enough to have seen the birth of wall art in caves and in the form of portable objects which can be given credible dates.
Since the Birth of Art coincides with the Solutreans, I will digress slightly to show how the cave environment was formed that permitted it to be used in various ways by prehistoric humans.
(Illustration from Prideau 1973)
After the mountains of ice retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, coniferous forests gradually covered the land after the tundra evolved into a more productive environment. Water made acidic by the decaying evergreen cover percolated into the limestone rock which formed the larger part of what we know today as France. Over thousands of years the limestone was dissolved by the action of the water and, in susceptible areas, cracks and crevices, then caves were eroded which eventually broke through in river valleys, allowing the corrosive water to escape.
Prehistoric peoples too shelter in the mouths of these caves, but they also penetrated deeply into them, where there was little or no natural light, and there began to cover whole sections of walls with paintings made from easily obtainable natural pigments. Here, at the Cosquer cave, whose entrance is now over 120 feet under water, and dating perhaps from 25,000 BCE, is a negative hand print made by blowing wet pigments over somebody’s hand.
And here is a pair of butting ibexes sculpted from the soft limestone in high relief from the Roc de Sers cave and dating from 17,200 BCE.
In time cave mouths collapsed and that is how so many painted caves from that era have survived. All this art began to develop when the Solutrean people, with their spectacularly dramatic tools and weapons, flourished.
You may wonder why in this post I have spent all my time and written hundreds of words to lead up to this period of European prehistory. The answer is simple: for years I have believed that the so-called Clovis and Folsom cultures did not spring from nothing but were the tail end of an Eastern migration into North America by explorers and adventurers nourished by the Solutrean Culture who crossed the North Atlantic and entered the Americas through Newfoundland and the Maritimes during the last stages of the glacial period. Clovis eat your heart out.
In my next post I will explain why I believe this and show you that gradually, professional archaeologists are starting to believe that such a hypothesis is possible.
Abbott, Charles C., Primitive Industry, or Illustrations of the Handiwork, in Stone, Bone and Clay, of the Native Races of the Northern Atlantic Seaboard of America, Georges A. Bates, Salem, Mass., 1881.
Claiborne, Robert, The Emergence of Man: The First Americans, Time-Life Books, New York, 1973.
Prideau, Tom, The Emergence of Man: Cro-Magnon Man, Time-Life Books, New York, 1973.
Skertchly, Sydney B. J., The Manufacture of Gunflints (1879), Museum Restoration Service, 1984.