In my previous post on the peopling of the Americas I described the evolution of the current state of thinking on how this was accomplished. It can best be summarised by maps like this one produced by North American archaeologists.
Assuming that there was only one corridor of entry into the Americas, from Siberia through the Beringia land bridge formed over 40,000 years ago as the last glaciation retreated to the north, the proto-Amerindians were all perceived as coming from various areas in Eastern Asia. Since the 1930s after discoveries of very technically advanced stone tools and weapons were made in New Mexico, this “flowering” of technological brilliance was seen as the high point of this Asian entry into the Americas in a period seen as 16,000 years ago but beginning twice as many years before. This is illustrated by this diagram showing human activity in the Bering Strait when it was dry ground.
After the flowering at Clovis and Folsom, these technically advanced peoples moved east, where they gradually settled the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and even going northeast as far as Debert in Nova Scotia and descending down to Florida and eventually to South America. This kind of thinking formed the core of my education in the story of the peopling of the Americas.
There is a fair amount of scholarly work, mostly done by Dr. David Keenlyside formerly of the Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa and now Executive Director of the PEI Museum, that explores the prehistory of Prince Edward Island. It was Keenlyside who first realised that a number of stone tools and weapons found on the Island, though not in a datable archaeological context, nonetheless indicated at least a late Palaeo-Indian presence on the Island. Below I give you pdf links to two of his articles, one at the popular level and the other a scholarly publication. In an Island prehistoric bibliography that will form the basis of my next post I will list all the Keenlyside articles known to me and where possible, provide pdf links.
This richly illustrated article from the Horizon Canada 117 magazine introduces the topic of prehistoric archaeology to the popular reader.
This article, written for an American scholarly audience raised in the “Clovis First” theory of the peopling of the Americas, gives a very inclusive background to the subject as seen by Canadian eyes and probably still represents the viewpoint of Canadian archaeologists today.
THE SOLUTREAN WESTWARD COLONISING HYPOTHESIS
Over the past thirty or so years many questions have been raised about the new sequence of early dates that was emerging. Increasingly DNA analysis of skeletal remains found in uncontaminated archaeological sites began to raise more questions about the earliest colonisers of the both North and South America than could be answered.
A number of international scientists now believe that North America was first peopled by colonists that formed part of the Solutrean culture in France and Spain who arrived in America about 20,000 years ago, some 6,000 years before the people who entered from Siberia across the Bering land bridge. This amazing new hypothesis is proposed by Professor Dennis Stanford (left) from the Smithsonian Institution and Professor Bruce Bradley from the University of Exeter (photo from the internet).
Stanford and Bradley published this very well documented book about the emergence of their hypothesis of the European settlement of America after the Ice Age. It is not easy reading, but their ideas come through clearly with careful study. It is the starting point of a serious revolution against Twentieth Century views on the peopling of the Americas.
As well, these new views of a small number of scientists are carefully set forth by these two archaeologists in this episode from CBC’s The Nature of Things called “The Ice Bridge” shown on Friday, June 28, 2019 on CBC-TV.
It is now believed that 20,000 years ago the retreating glaciers formed a huge ice bridge from Northern Europe across the North Atlantic to some point of arrival on the outer edge of the land mass of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland that had risen above sea level. This ice bridge could have attracted adventurers to go farther and farther westward. They would never go hungry as food in the water and on the ice would be plentiful. When storms came, they would know how to seek safety by camping on the ice.
Going down the coast they could have struck fishing banks protruding above the level of the sea along the Canadian and New England Coasts. This can be seen in a map taken from a Federal Government website called Progression of sea-level change in Atlantic Canada, put out by Natural Resources Canada at www.nrcan.gc.ca (The link is no longer active).
It is easy to see that touch down points along the Maritime coast would become increasingly possible in this highly dynamic environment where the great drainage activity that would become the Saint Lawrence River was taking place.
It is interesting to compare this map with another of the same series showing the astonishing amount of maritime land that had rebounded by 13,000 BP. The fishing banks, including Sable Island, are still land masses, an easy bridge to the Maritimes and down to New England. The rich chert or chalcedony deposits in the Bay of Fundy from which the Debert points and blades are made would likely have been available several thousand years before in the time span proposed for a Solutrean colonising adventure.
This graphic from the Nature of Things programme proposes a realistic distance from the Old to the New World during the Solutrean period.
This Solutrean theory has been viciously attacked from many quarters, perhaps with incomplete evidence at best, and one young archaeologist has written a rebuttal of the whole thing. On Wednesday 21 February 2018, Jennifer Raff, a geneticist from the University of Kansas, wrote the following article in the Guardian where she energetically attacks Stanford and Bradley and those who agree with them.
In her article she argues passionately against the possibility of a Solutrean connection ever having been made with a series of suggestions, some simple, like they could never follow the ice to America and others more complex, based on her area of expertise as a geneticist.
Raff, however, writes one most unfortunate paragraph accusing Stanford and Bradley and their European supporters of racism by trying to deny that Native Americans come only from one Asian source by implying “white” colonisers from Europe also came at an even earlier date and thus threaten Native American claims on their lands. It is all very ugly:
… in addition to the scientific problems with the Solutrean hypothesis which I’ll discuss shortly, it’s important to note that it has overt political and cultural implications in denying that Native Americans are the only indigenous peoples of the continents. The notion that the ancestors of Native Americans were not the first or only people on the continent has great popularity among white nationalists, who see it as a means of denying Native Americans an ancestral claim on their land. Indeed, although this particular iteration is new, the idea behind the Solutrean hypothesis is part of a long tradition of Europeans trying to insert themselves into American prehistory; justifying colonialism by claiming that Native Americans were not capable of creating the diverse and sophisticated material culture of the Americas. Unfortunately, the producers of the documentary deliberately chose not to address this issue head-on, nor did they include any critical perspectives from indigenous peoples. While supporting the agenda of white nationalists was not the intent of the producers or of the scientists involved, it would have been appropriate for the documentary to take a stand against it, and I and many archaeologist are disappointed that they did not.
Who is displaying a political agenda here? I am amazed that the Guardian allowed this rant to be printed.
LOOKING AT THE REGIONAL LITHIC EVIDENCE
In my previous post I questioned the single-source theory of the peopling of the Americas because of an art historical connection I had made between the Clovis style and a very similar, but older style that had flourished in parts of France and Spain and which was named Solutrean, after the village of Solutré in Central France where the antiquarians of the day first became aware of its amazing technical virtuosity and great beauty.
Most archaeologists could not make a credible association between the North American artefacts and those found in these parts of Europe because they simply could not imagine how people from those regions could possibly have made their way to North America. I believe The Nature of Things programme demonstrated that such a crossing was possible and should be fairly discussed.
Dr. David Keenlyside has carefully examined the tools and weapons of great antiquity found in Prince Edward Island with a view to comparing them with the variety of types illustrated in the composite graphic above. For some years lithic material has been found on the Island, sadly out of context as surface finds in several parts of the Island. These points, generally ascribed to the Palaeo period of circa 10,000 years ago, by association with similar securely dated material, not by excavation context, share many characteristics of the Clovis/Debert/Solutrean assemblages shown above.
For many years, culminating in the 1980s Rolley Jones, a private collector in Charlottetown, assembled a vast collection of many hundreds of points covering all eras of the Eastern North American chronology. Among them Rolley found on a sandspit at Greenwich at the upper west end of Saint Peter’s Bay, a number of truncated blades with the notched or fluted base characteristic of Clovis and Debert types. The similarities cannot be missed.
Several years later I found similar points at the west end of Savage Harbour where they had long eroded out of the bank matrix. The site from which these points came is still potentially intact.
And that is not all! In the 1930s Jack Sorensen’s father Aage found this remarkable chalcedony fluted point while digging potatoes in a field near Tryon! It is considered to be the oldest prehistoric artefact ever found on the Island, perhaps well over 10,000 years old. Recently Jack Sorensen donated the point to the Province.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s I spent a great deal of time exploring the Island from one end to the other in search of prehistoric sites. I found many artefacts that are now all in the Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa. My most spectacular find was this late Palaeo point, perhaps meant for a thrusting spear. One evening near Greenwich in Saint Peter’s Bay when I was moving from one point along the shore to another, I clearly saw this large point on the dark sea bottom. In a frenzy I plunged my arm into the water until I reached the silt and felt around until I found it. I became completely drenched and my boots filled up with water – but I was triumphant!
The point has been well published by Dr. David Keenlyside both in popular and scholarly accounts and compared to this large Palaeo blade from New Brunswick, identical to the Debert NS material (photo from the internet).
The Palaeo artefacts found on the Island which I have been discussing so enthusiastically would be by most archaeologists considered part of the eastern spread of the Clovis tradition. Because I always felt, from an art historical point of view, that they related stylistically to the Solutrean material from France and Spain, and encouraged by the work of Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, my reason tells me to give the Atlantic Crossing hypothesis a chance while these scholars and others continue their work. Perhaps before I die credence will be given to the new route marked on this map.
Prehistoric archaeology is never static and as time goes on, and more discoveries are made where artefacts found in undisturbed contexts will be securely dated using very advanced scientific techniques, a whole new picture of humans in the New World will emerge that will throw the old claims of the “Clovis First” camp into confusion. This diagram from the internet shows why.
And what of South America? How was it colonised, and when? More and more information has been coming together during the past generation that now makes the simple views on the peopling of the Americas learned in my student days valueless. Is this map from the internet any indication of where we have come in our search for the story of the peopling of the Americas?
Was Prince Edward Island colonised by the descendants of those who had left Europe as the ice retreated in search of a new life to the West? Is it possible that fluted points were made in the Maritimes thousands of years before the ones from Clovis? Did the technology move east instead of west?
Bradley, Bruce and Stanford, Dennis et al., “The Ice Bridge” on The Nature of Things, on CBC-TV, June 28, 2019.
Keenlyside, David L., “The First Maritimers,” Horizon Canada 117, The Centre for the Study of Teaching Canada, Litho-Prestige Printing, Montreal, 1985.
Keenlyside, David L., “Paleoindian Occupations of the Maritimes Region of Canada,” Clovis Origins and Adaptations, Centre for the Study of the First Americans, Oregon State University, pp. 163-173, 1991
Koppel, Tom, “The Peopling of North America,” Canadian Geographic, September/October 1992, pp. 54-65.
McGhee, Robert, Ancient Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilisation, Libre Expression, 1989.
Raff, Jennifer, “Rejecting the Solutrean hypothesis: the first peoples in the Americas were not from Europe”, The Guardian, 21 February 2018.
Stanford, Dennis J. & Bruce Bradley, Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012.