Across Atlantic Ice: Clovis Origins

I want to talk about the book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture. It was written by Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, both highly respected archaeologists. The point they make in the book is very simple: An important archaeological culture known as the “Clovis” is actually a European culture that traveled east to west from Europe to North America, arriving first along the New England coast and then fairly quickly spreading across the US to the Rockies, and subsequently kinda petering out though there are bits and pieces of Clovis looking stuff farther west.

From the book’s publisher:

Who were the first humans to inhabit North America? According to the now familiar story, mammal hunters entered the continent some 12,000 years ago via a land bridge that spanned the Bering Sea. The presence of these early New World people was established by distinctive stone tools belonging to the Clovis culture. But are the Clovis tools Asian in origin?

Drawing from original archaeological analysis, paleoclimatic research, and genetic studies, noted archaeologists Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley challenge the old narrative and, in the process, counter traditional–and often subjective–approaches to archaeological testing for historical relatedness.

The authors apply rigorous scholarship to a hypothesis that places the technological antecedents of Clovis in Europe and posits that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.

This flies in the face of everything everybody thinks, except for those of us who have been thinking that something like this may have happened all along. I’ve always thought this was possible, if not probable, for two reasons: 1) Clovis looks more like Europe than it looks like anything else, even though I don’t see any immediate comparison (contra Stanford and Bradley who do). I also don’t need an immediate comparison. I don’t need an archaeological culture that looks just like Clovis to be in Europe, since the time period during which such a culture would have existed was during lowest sea level stands. An entire sub-continent worth of land is now inundated by the sea, and if Clovis is truly coastal it would be truly invisible in Europe. Why did Clovis go from coastal to inland in the North Atlantic in the New World and not the old world? Stupid question. People do stuff like that all the time.

If you live many months of the year on the ice at the edge of the sea, Europe and North America are one place.

The second reason is even more compelling and is the first thing I noticed. Despite intransigent denialim by North American archaeologist, Clovis appears in the east first, then moves west, and does not really cross the Rockies. No amount of pretending it is found first in the west (where it hardly exists) and moved east (against the tide of C14 dates) will change those facts.

One might suggest that this causes a problem because Native Americans are from Asia and Clovis can’t therefore be from Europe. It might help to know that in most places in North America, where Clovis occurs, it is followed by nothingness or at best notmuchingness. There is very little continuity from Clovis to later cultures, not enough to require that the same people stuck around everywhere. I regard Clovis as one intrusion in to a mostly empty continetn, not the first, not the last, probably preceded by relative but not complete emptiness in most places in North America, and followed, probably, but periods of population decline probably owing to climate change. But that’s just me; I don’t accept that the past is simple no matter how complex the present is. Rather, I think the complexity of human land use and migration is probably one of those general rules that applies across time and space at archaeological scales.

Comments

  1. #1 Victor
    United States
    November 11, 2012

    Aren’t there any human remains found along side the Clovis points? Wouldn’t an examination of the features give us clues as to the ancestor type of the tool makers?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2012

    There are not skeletal remains that are directly associated with Clovis points, but there are skeletal remains that are reasonably linked with Clovis culture. One problem here is that we can’t argue simplicity when arguing complexity unless we are very careful. Some of the early skeletal material can probably be linked to modern Europeans more easily than to modern Asians but ancient Asian material is not like modern Asian material. So it is complicated. In other words, your hypothesis sounds reasonable but is over simple, but having said that, yes, I see support in the physical remains for the “Across Atlantic Ice” hypothesis generally.

  3. #3 Randy Owens
    November 11, 2012

    “The point they make in the book….”

    I see what you did there.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2012

    You noticed!

  5. #5 rick doninger
    evansville indiana
    November 11, 2012

    Greg, what the good dr.s stanford and waters are not mentioning are the thousands of artifacts being found in the mid west as well as the deep south that show evidence much more controversial than their solutrean hypothesis, but does in fact verify that their ideas are just that ..hypothesis. After almost a decade of amateurs attempting to call attention to the artifactual evidence being found in several states, none of the “brighter lights” of american “pre-clovis” archaeology are even slightly acknowledging what is being found. When discussing these pre-clovis theories, the names stanford, bradley, waters, collins,adovosio, leap to the forefront and rightly so for their work in relation to first American “theory”, but why would such scholarly talent collectively ignore such overwhelming artifactual evidence of a known pre-clovis technology being found by amateurs in exchange for proselytizing a very weak “solutrean collection.

    Thousands of levallois reduction artifacts are being found which mirror mousterian technology found abroad. levaloois points, mousterian points, levallois cores and core tools , scrapers, burins , blades made on levallois flakes, hand axes of the acheulean and mousterian type, along with abraded ochres of various colors and decorative drilled pieces as are found on middle paleo sites abroad have been assembled, testifying to a “techniclogically” older than solutrean lithic industry present right here in the usa. What has been found “flys in the face” of stanford and bradleys’ theory as well as the others mentioned. Yet they all are ignoring the evidence. Why? This is the first time an identifiable technology in sufficient volume to display the literal “industry” has been assembled displaying the entire reduction process in such clearly seen tool production as to leave no doubt about the makers pre determined tool making system. Why does academia show no interest in investigating it further. Why?…If you are intersted in learning more and seeing the evidence, feel free to email me…….rick doninger

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2012

    Rick, I’ve seen your pictures, but I don’t like the looks of them much. I’ve done old and new world paleolithic archaeology, and I’ve dug a lot of holes and I’ve seen the kinds of things you are showing in your photographs and they are, in my view, natural objects. And, I have no problem with pre-clovis or any of that.

  7. #7 John Swindells
    Kentucky
    November 12, 2012

    How do you account for the substantial difference in time between Solutrean remains and Clovis in North America? I have heard Sanford and Bradford in person and they did not satisfactorily answer this.

  8. #8 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 12, 2012

    And here I thought Stanford and Bradley was the only anthropologist entertaining this theory.

    As an outsider layman I see two large problems, besides being asked to support a minority view without having the requisite experience:

    - This is, everything else equal, unlikely by comparison. The 2-3 other migrations so far observed is asian.

    - There are many stumble block mentioned already in the Wikipedia articles, and I don’t see how they are met. Wrong periods and/or “a lack of Solutrean-specific features in pre-Clovis artifacts”, no Solutrean art, et cetera, et cetera.

    An orphan culture is possible of course, see for example the Viking occupation in the same general area. So perhaps the genetic evidence can be made to go away.

    But on the other hand we have evidence of far more unlikely introgressions (Neanderthal, Denisovan). Why would the Clovis appear and disappear as genetic ghosts?

    As for seafaring, I don’t see how it helps with drenched coasts. Either the culture knew how to do this, and there should be depictions inland of those parts of their culture. Or they didn’t have tall stories of fishing boats on epic journeys and sea wrecks et cetera to fantasize about in their art. (But again, I’m no anthropologist. For example, did the art focus on practicalities?)

  9. #9 rick doninger
    November 12, 2012

    Greg, I have sent samples of the tools to several archys in england as well as photos to Dr. Matt Pope as well as others who have actual hands on experience with middle paleolithics. They’re opinion was quite different as they said that it is in fact levallois reduction and they are in fact man made. One of the things that has puzzled them is why they cant even get a response to their inquiries as to why this technology is being ignore. One thing I have found is that nearly all of the american archys who have called them geofacts have little or no actual hands on experience with levallois of any kind from any time period from anywhere. granted, a lot of the photos are of poor quality and my skills are lacking in showing the detail of human manufacture and that is why I have sent actual samples to the few who have the kind of experience which qualifies them to give an expert opinion. You may not have seen any of the latest artifact photos which clearly display the attributes of human manufacture such as bulbs of percussion, bifacial flaking, impact ripples, retouch, etc. Nature does not produce those things repeatedly. levallois technology is a well documented tech and retains characterisics such as core preparation which are seldom confused with natural occurence. As I have welcomed in the past, i would invite you to request to see a particular tool or core that you know would be included in a middle paleolithic assemblage as is found abroad and I would be glad to send you photos of examples from here in Indiana. Levallois points are very iidentifiable because of how they are removed from the core. One has to be familiar with a “flake” industry versus a blade technology which is seen in clovis and later. There is a huge difference. maybe you have seen some of my earliest finds which admittedly contained some natural pieces but in the last couple years the site here in indiana has yielded many specific tools which display all the qualities of levallois technology. Email me at doninger@sbcglobal .net and I will provide you with any particular core or tool which you think would be present in a levallois industry if it is in fact what I and others say it is. or post or email me an example of a middle paleo artifact and i will attempt to match it with a parallel tool type from here. Couldn’t hurt to try? You may be surprised?……rick d.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2012

    John, I personally don’t support (or deny, for that matter) the arguments about Solutrean and Clovis being close. As a North Americanist I see it very differently than that. Keep in mind that the idea that Clovis comes from Europe is not the same exact idea that the Clovis derived from Solutrean.

  11. #11 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 12, 2012

    If my previous comment gets through moderation: I have no idea why the 2nd sentence turned out singular. But I’m still on my morning coffee.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2012

    Torbjörn: I’m not too concerned with Occam’s razor when evaluating the likelihood of crazy stuff humans do! In any event, it is not at all unlikely that humans following an ice edge strategy while sea levels were 120 meters lower than today, permenant pack ice was in New England and south and sea ice linking North America and Europe was equal in extent to the size of, say, 1/3rd of Europe!

    Again, I don’t personally have anything to say in support of the direct Soloutran/Clovis connection. I have things to say about the topic, but not at this time in support of that direct connection. It is just that if you look at all of the different American “lithic cultures” and then the rest of the world, the Clovis looks damn European, not even a tiny bit Asian, and most of the later cultures look mostly uniquely American.

    I personally do not assume that most human cultures left genetic evidence in the present. That would be very difficult.

    There does not have to be depictions of anything. The history of Paleolithic depictions of things does not provide any support for the idea that a particular culture is expected to have depicted stuff of any kind. Also, I reiterate: a coastal ice-edge culture at that time, with sea levels as they were, would not be a guaranteed part of the European record.

    Rick, sounds interesting. Send me your best photos of Middle Pal lithics that you’ve got. Most of my work in Southern Africa, vis-a-vis Lithics, is Middle Pal. I’m not a life long MP nerd like many but I certainly know the material.

  13. #13 Artor
    November 12, 2012

    I was concerned at my first browsing of this, because the first I’d heard of the “Solutrean hypothesis,” it had been seized upon by white supremacists, who were trying to insist that because the first settlers of North America were white Europeans, then all of the Americas are rightly the property of white Europeans. It’s interesting to find that there is actual scientific data to support the theory, separate from the racist arguments that some people have tried to hang on it.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2012

    I know, that is annoying. But again, the genetics does not suggest that Native Americans are “european” and frankly we don’t necessarily want to assume that 12K years ago or more people in Europe were Europeans either.

  15. #15 Tina
    December 1, 2012

    The Paleolithic is that the age of stone tools waaaay beorfe 100,000 years ago around 2 and half million years ago at its dawn. That is the era the diet is based upon, which is *pre-agriculture* and which is based on the (not unreasonable) idea that as much as we have advanced industrially and technologically, our bodies have not kept up that pace and are biologically not much different from our very ancient ancestors. I won’t argue the absolute scientific vailidity of this position and I do not follow this diet myself, but I understand their rationale. Cheers, Tina

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2012

    Tina, the palaeolithi does not terminate before 100,000 years ago. You might be thinking of 10,000 years ago. Also, the
    “Paleolithic” does not necessarily immediately precede the “age of agriculture” where both exist (there is usually a mesolithic and a neolithic, with the neolithic being where “agriculture” usually is found) but that nomenclature does not by any means apply globally.

  17. #17 Matt Musgrove
    Wilmington,NC
    May 7, 2013

    Greg-fascinating subject. Sounds like you might have a paper or even a book ready to publish regarding European origin of the Clovis culture. I have always wondered about the seeming insistence on an Asian origin for the Clovis people despite copious evidence that Asian forerunners of native populations were bone tool users, not stone users. It is hard to imagine people suddenly producing some of the finest examples of stone tool work in the world simply by virtue of a changed environment. Why also is there such resistance to the idea of European boat users when Australian aboriginals clearly used boats well over 40,000 ago?

  18. #18 Nils
    April 9, 2014

    I enjoyed this book not because it’s contrarian, but for the patiently reasoned technical arguments (and cool pictures!).