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Thursday, May 23, 2013

US Pre-Columbian Immigration: The Clovis First Paradigm Hoodwink

Last year the theories of prehistoric new world migration and settlement were put under the loop. The findings, published in the journal Science by Dennis Jenkins and his colleagues at the University of Oregon, caused a stir in the archaeological community. The site of the discoveries is at Paisley Caves in Oregon where research has been ongoing since 2002. The new revelations are significant because the researchers uncovered feces (coprolites) containing human DNA which were in situ with various stone tools; namely, spearheads and arrow tips. Furthermore, the carbon dating of more than 100 artifacts securely documents the age of the tools at the site as being up to 13,000 years old.

The coprolite samples which contained mitochondrial DNA have been analyzed and confirm that the peoples who left them there were indeed of Asian origin. This is because of the haplogroup A mitochondrial DNA also found in Native Americans which suggests a progressive lineage. The coprolites were dated at 14,500 year BCE (before the current era) which is even older than the artifacts. The commotion around the article is that the date o 13,000 years ago predated by a 1,000 years the orthodox theory of Clovis First. The team of scientists have termed this stone tool technology as Western Stemmed Tradition. The underlying implication is that two divergent groups migrated from Asia each with its own distinct tool technology. This is an remarkable discovery and a fascinating story but it remains a scientific propaganda campaign.

Clovis First as a theory is an example of the rigidity and tunnel vision which the established scientific community uses to anchor itself. The migration and settlement of the New World is vastly more complex and surprising than a decades old and theoretically bankrupt paradigm. Firstly, one needs to be familiar with the prevailing theory of prehistoric migration from Asia to the Americas to appreciate the disparities. Secondly, to fully grasp the convoluted findings published in the journal Science, an example of an alternative theory of migration is required. How has archaeology portrayed the Asian migration to the New World?

The orthodox theory of land migration posits that thes Paleo-Indians crossed into the New World from Asia via an ice age land bridge. This hypothesis is generally known as the Bering Strait Theory or Beringia Theory. This specific culture of big game hunters (big game is meant to include Mastodons, Mammoths and other “woolly” large mammals) crossed the Bering Strait at the latest 12,000 years ago but as early as 35,000. The evidence thus far doesn't support any migration occurring before 22,000 years ago. The crux of the revisionist argument is that it is illogical and quixotic to assume that a peoples could have migrated southward, eventually reaching the tip of South America by 11,000 years ago, and had sufficient time to socially evolve into a sedentary and highly civilized culture. The recent findings by The University of Oregon are a testament to those shortcomings.

Take for instance, Monte Verde chile which has been archaeologically dated at 14,800 years before the present era, a good 1000 years before the emergence of the Clovis culture. How can it be explained that a hunter-gather society traveled so far and was simultaneously able to develop a tool technology different from Clovis? The clovis pundits maintain that the migration was primarily a coastal migration which would allow for a more rapid expansion towards the southern tip of South America.

However, there are carbon dated in situ finds in the interior of North America and as far flung as Florida. One of these Clovis culture anomalies is the Page-Ladson prehistory site in Northern Florida. At the site which is underwater a pit was discovered containing elephant bones, bone tools and flakes from presumably tool making. Furthermore, some organic material from the pit sets the chronology of the site from 13,000 to 11,700 years. This means that the earliest dates for artifacts found in the site predate the accepted beginning of the Clovis First period by between 1,000 and 1,500 years. More interesting to dispelling the Clovis First hegemony is that some of the bones from a particularly older stratum are radiocarbon dated at 22,000 years BCE and have apparent human manufactured cut marks, most notably on a complete mastodon tusk. The Asian hunter-gather migrating nomads had reached Florida well before the dawn of the Clovis First period.

The Topper archaeological site in South Carolina sheds an even brighter light on the failings of the Clovis First theory. The artifacts recovered from this site seem to predate Clovis Culture by at least 3,000 years. Of the various artifacts found in a stratum dating back 16,000-20,000 years BP, by far he most infamous is the “Topper Chopper”. Animal renderings, possibly a birdlike effigy, on the stone tool is consistent with Native American and European artifacts occurring around the same time in the Paleolithic period. This is intriguing evidence which makes the link to European technologies and potential settlement of the New World by Europeans.

Of course there are many theories which compete with Clovis First as alternative explainations for the glaring discrepancies in migration and settlement of the New World. Perhaps the best known and one which carries the most weight is the Solutrean Hypothesis. Its theoretical foundation is built upon the similarities between stone tool technologies of the Solurean Culture and late Clovis Culture. The Solutrean Culture is thought to be a chiefly European tool technology emanating from the Iberian Peninsula and the interior of France. Imbedded in the theory is the idea that a migration pattern would have followed the aquatic kelp forests along the ice sheet running along Northern Europe to North America. The hypothesis maintains that people would have crafted kayaks or some other vessel and lined its hull with animal skins. A kelp forest is abundant enough in sea life and vegetation to supplement or supplant the diet of the travelers. The Solutrean Hypothesis doesn't negate nor render other theories or hypotheses invalid, like the Clovis First theory does. It merely adds a thread to the fabric of New World migration and settlement theories.

The scientific wrangling won't be cleared up with the University of Oregon's serendipitous find which only bolsters the orthodoxy Clovis First theory. A more objective and fulfilling hypothesis would be that pre-colombian America was discovered and settled by disparate groups of migrating peoples from Eurasia. The Bering Straight land bridge theory coupled with the Clovis First Hypothesis is riddled with statistical anomalies as a paradigm. The struggle for a supreme New World migration theory continues which is, more often than not, the rule in scientific inquiry. When a interdisciplinary approach is finally attempted then the true splendor of New World migrational peoples and their cultures will bear fruit.

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