Man in the Americas

A generation ago man went to the moon and today "Curiosity" roams mars. The Behring straight theory as the sole means of populating two continents causes one to ask, isn't man more adventurous than that? Could we have approached the Americas from only one direction and one time? Once considered the decisive cerebration on the origin of man in America, crossing Beringia is now an out-dated theory of the 1930s, at least as an exclusive explanation.

The Clovis culture, thought to be the result of those who crossed the Behring strait, came under study in the 1930s when James Ridgely "Ridge" Whiteman, a 19-year old teenager, brought the "war points" to the attention of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC penning he had "found fluted points in association with mammoth bones" in a letter dated 1929. This relatively well documented culture dates to approximately 12,000 CE. Presumably, it would have been the first culture because the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska is broadly believed to have been inaccessible at times before that date. Beyond breaking through the Beringia theory, intellects also needed to get past the Clovis-first theory.

On the forefront of this progress was Monte Verde in southern Chile, an interesting site with one of the oldest known human footprints and a chunk of mastodon meat remains. Located in an anaerobic bog, the site was well preserved and archaeological finds brought a host of data to light. Their wood-framed, mastodon skin covered dwellings, stone tools, game, foods, and apparent medicine hut leave a great deal to be studied, but it opened the time-frame to precede the Clovis people and Bering strait pass.

In peopling the Americas, as reported in Scientific American, March 24, 2011, the "striking discovery of 14,100 to 14,600-year-old stone tools at a site in Monte Verde, Chile, raised questions about just how quickly the new settlers could have arrived so far south so quickly. These early people might have used the two continents' west coast as a pathway to settlement but, as [professor of Geosciences Michael R. Waters] noted, it would mean those early explorers would have been 'paddling as fast as they could to get down to the southern tip of South America,' passing up a lot of awfully nice places on the North American coast along the way—such as the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay and San Diego, 'where I would have stopped,' Waters said, half jokingly."

Following this and other sites that suggest pre-clovis finds, Al Goodyear felt it "irresponsible" not to look below the clovis layer at a dig he was working on in South Carolina. "I hadn't done it before, because you don't look for what you don't believe in." he said. What followed was data beyond his wildest expectations. Other finds, such as at the Buttermilk site in Texas give ample evidence that the first inhabitants of the New World preceded the Clovis-first model. So much so, as much as 15,528 artifacts, that Michael R. Waters says "This is almost like a baseball bat to the side of the head to the archaeological community to wake up."

Archaeologists have had some difficulty accepting growing evidence from sites with pre-clovis claims, citing various difficulties in proving ancient occupation. Considering the finds, however, some are expanding their views. David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas remarked, "The gates have been thrown open" to new ideas. A welcome convergence of disciplines in archeology, anthropology, linguistics, biochemistry, remote sensing, computer modeling, and other fields aid the debate of theories and bring together new methods of study and new forms of thought.

The complex of theories today involve the land-bridge, boats and multiple waves of journeyers from diverse directions. "No matter how it happened, you have to look at these people as explorers," says C. Vance Haynes, a geoarchaeologist from the University of Arizona, "probably young guys who were really bent on what’s over the next hill." Answers to peopling the Americas thus continue to be open-ended.

contact us - copyright & disclaimer - search - privacy statement