Friday, January 19, 2007

"Bering Strait Hypothesis" Melting Away as Explanation for Early American Peoples

[All emphasis, in all articles, has been added]

Oldest Human Remains in North America Found

In 1959, the partial skeletal remains of an ancient woman estimated to be 10,000 years old were unearthed in Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island, one of the eight Channel Islands off the southern California coast. They were discovered by Phil C. Orr, curator of anthropology and natural history at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The remains of the so-called Arlington Springs woman were recently reanalyzed by the latest radiocarbon dating techniques and were found to be approximately 13,000 years old. The new date makes her remains older than any other known human skeleton found so far in North America.

The discovery challenges the popular belief that the first colonists to North America arrived at the end of the last ice age about 11,500 years ago by crossing a Bering land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska and northwestern Canada. The earlier date and the location of the woman's remains on the island adds weight to an alternative theory that some early settlers may have constructed boats and migrated from Asia by sailing down the Pacific coast.

The Arlington Springs woman lived during the end of the Pleistocene era when large herds of bison and woolly mammoths roamed the grassy plains and other extinct native American animals such as camels, horses, and saber-toothed cats were still around...

Human skulls are 'oldest Americans'
3 December, 2002

[T]he skulls were analysed by [Dr. Silvia Gonzalez] from John Moores University in Liverpool, UK, with help from teams in Oxford and Mexico itself.

They came from a collection of 27 skeletons of early humans kept at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

These were originally discovered more than 100 years ago in the area surrounding the city. [...]

The earliest human remains tested prior to this had been dated at approximately 12,000 years ago.

Domestic tools dated at 14,500 years have been found in Chile - but with no associated human remains.

The latest dating is not only confirmation that humans were present in the Americas much earlier than 12,000 years ago, but also that they were not related to early native Americans.

Asian travellers

The two oldest skulls were "dolichocephalic" - that is, long and narrow-headed.

Other, more recent skulls were a different shape - short and broad, like those from native American remains.

This suggests that humans dispersed within Mexico in two distinct waves, and that a race of long and narrow-headed humans may have lived in North America prior to the American Indians.

Traditionally, American Indians were thought to have been the first to arrive on the continent, crossing from Asia on a land bridge.

Dr Gonzalez told BBC News Online: "We believe that the older race may have come from what is now Japan, via the Pacific islands and perhaps the California coast.

"Mexico appears to have been a crossroads for people spreading across the Americas.

"Our next project is to examine remains found in the Baha peninsula of California, and look at their DNA to see if they are related.

"But this discovery, although it is very significant, raises more questions than it solves." ...

New Evidence Puts Man In North America 50,000 Years Ago
November 18, 2004
Science Daily
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of South Carolina.

Radiocarbon tests of carbonized plant remains where artifacts were unearthed last May along the Savannah River in Allendale County by University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear indicate that the sediments containing these artifacts are at least 50,000 years old. [...]

The findings are significant because they suggest that humans inhabited North America well before the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, a potentially explosive revelation in American archaeology. [...]

The dawn of modern homo sapiens occurred in Africa between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago. Evidence of modern man's migration out of the African continent has been documented in Australia and Central Asia at 50,000 years and in Europe at 40,000 years. The fact that humans could have been in North America at or near the same time is expected to spark debate among archaeologists worldwide, raising new questions on the origin and migration of the human species.

"Topper is the oldest radiocarbon dated site in North America," Goodyear says. "However, other early sites in Brazil and Chile, as well as a site in Oklahoma also suggest that humans were in the Western Hemisphere as early as 30,000 years ago to perhaps 60,000."

In 1998, Goodyear, nationally known for his research on the ice age PaleoIndian cultures dug below the 13,000-year Clovis level at the Topper site and found unusual stone tools up to a meter deeper. The Topper excavation site is on the bank of the Savannah River on property owned by Clariant Corp., a chemical corporation headquartered near Basel, Switzerland. He recovered numerous stone tool artifacts in soils that were later dated by an outside team of geologists to be 16,000 years old.

For five years, Goodyear continued to add artifacts and evidence that a pre-Clovis people existed, slowly eroding the long-held theory by archaeologists that man arrived in North America around 13,000 years ago.

Last May, Goodyear dug even deeper to see whether man's existence extended further back in time. Using a backhoe and hand excavations, Goodyear's team dug through the Pleistocene terrace soil, some 4 meters below the ground surface. Goodyear found a number of artifacts similar to the pre-Clovis forms he has excavated in recent years.

Then on the last day of the last week of digging, Goodyear's team uncovered a black stain in the soil where artifacts lay, providing him the charcoal needed for radiocarbon dating. Dr. Tom Stafford of Stafford Laboratories in Boulder, Colo., came to Topper and collected charcoal samples for dating.

"Three radiocarbon dates were obtained from deep in the terrace at Topper with two dates of 50,300 and 51,700 on burnt plant remains. One modern date related to an intrusion," Stafford says. "The two 50,000 dates indicate that they are at least 50,300 years. The absolute age is not known."

The revelation of an even older date for Topper is expected to heighten speculation about when man got to the Western Hemisphere and add to the debate over other pre-Clovis sites in the Eastern United States such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pa., and Cactus Hill, Va. [...]

USC's Topper: A Timeline [...]

May 2000 Geology study done by consultants; ice age soil confirmed for pre-Clovis artifacts.

May 2001 Geologists revisit Topper and obtain ancient plant remains deep down in the Pleistocene terrace. OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dates on soils above ice age strata show pre-Clovis is at least older than 14,000.

May 2002 Geologists find new profile showing ancient soil lying between Clovis and pre-Clovis, confirming the age of ice age soils between 16,000 - 20,000 years. [...]

November 2004 Radiocarbon dating report indicates that artifacts excavated from Pleistocene terrace in May were recovered from soil that dates some 50,000 years. The dates imply an even earlier arrival for humans in this hemisphere than previously believed, well before the last ice age.

[DR. ALBERT C. GOODYEAR III] has taken a geoarchaeological approach to the search for deeply buried early sites by teaming up with colleagues in geology and soil science. For the past 15 years he has studied early prehistoric sites in Allendale County, S.C., in the central Savannah River Valley. These are stone tool manufacturing sites related to the abundant chert resources that were quarried in this locality.

This work has been supported by the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, the University of South Carolina, the Archaeological Research Trust (SCIAA), the Allendale Research Fund, the Elizabeth Stringfellow Endowment Fund, Sandoz Chemical Corp. and Clariant Corp., the present owner of the site...


Blogger Duck said...

They are totally ignoring the space alien theory. Science, bah!

January 19, 2007 8:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

See 'After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America,' by E. C. Pielou, which recapitulates a theory that in addition to the open path through Alaska, there is some evidence that other people moved down the west coast of North America DURING the last ice age, hopping from one warm and ice free refugia that resisted the ice in favored spots to another.

The indirect evidence for these refugia is biogeographic (see my post about the out of Africa problem at Peter's place), because otherwise it is hard to explain the presence of certain warm weather plants in isolated coastal locales (and in isolated inland locales, which are attributed to refugia atop high mountains known as nunataks). Pielou also wrote 'Biogeography' just about the time she wrote 'After the Ice Age.'

Both in 1991-2. Old news.

January 20, 2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...


So, are you saying that according to your readings, the earliest humans in the Americas didn't spread far, and that the bulk of the population came from those who wandered in on foot ?

January 20, 2007 4:58 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, it's pretty clear that the people who migrated to northern Alaska were held up for quite a while by a mile-high ice barrier from the interior.

The ones who MAY have drifted down the coast were prevented from expanding inland by 1) ice and 2) not much to eat inland.

I can't claim to have studied this very carefully, but my understanding is that, yes, there could have been humans along the coast many generations before the Clovis people showed up inland, but that the Clovis people probably expanded by coming down the ice-free corridor that opened around 12,000 years ago.

There has been a subcategory of claims for much earlier human evidence for at least decades. (At a college lecture in 1966, I was told that woven cloth had been found in Peru that was 25,000 years old, but the lecturer was a crackpot.)

But the older claims of very early sites in Chile and Brazil don't seem to be very well accepted.

The more recent claims, in Virginia and South Carolina, I haven't looked at in detail.

January 20, 2007 12:08 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


it's pretty clear that the people who migrated to northern Alaska were held up for quite a while by a mile-high ice barrier from the interior.

I can't touch you on the research, but when I hear that kind of thing, I can't help wondering why they didn't hold a pow-wow and decide enough was enough--it's back to East Africa!

What kind of species are we talking about here? Not conscious ones, I assume.

January 20, 2007 3:16 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I believe they did have that pow-wow, and the minutes showed that they decided in favor of moving on when one member replied: "East Africa? Noone likes that place, it's too crowded."

January 20, 2007 3:26 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yeah, well, why do people live in Iraq?

I've been thinking about the question of 'out of Africa,' and it occurs to me that if your technology is based on littoral life, you are unlikely to feel comfortable enough or competent enough to migrate inland.

In the North American context, this could help explain why the coastal migrants (if they existed) did not populate the whole continent and pre-empt the 'from Alaska' migrants who perhaps came a bit later.

Pielou has a description of what it must have been like to continue the movement south between mountains of ice. The corridor was relatively narrow and the conditions were harsh.

On the other hand, the proto-Indians/Siberians were familiar with it and had the know-how. They may have enjoyed fuller bellies than the east Africans.

This speculation might help explain why the rich and populous Tlingits and their allies did not expand inland to create huge empires.

Perhaps Halford Mackinder was right, in a way. He just applied his 'world island' idea to the wrong millenia.

January 21, 2007 1:00 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Yeah, that's a good point. Culture shapes psychology, so perhaps they didn't even conceive of expanding inland, except for resource-hunting expeditions.

January 21, 2007 4:56 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Two things.

First, osmosis occurs at a density gradient.

Second, in pre-modern times, it was very difficult to travel far enough so that someone got someplace even slightly different than where one already was.

Hence, people live in the Arctic, or Iraq, because from where they sit, everywhere is virtually the same.wr

January 21, 2007 5:51 PM  

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