Film Review: Journey to 10,000 BC

i-ca874a8ec597993c3eed6ae37cee2511-journeyto10000bc.jpgJourney to 10,000 BC is a new made-for-TV documentary about Clovis-era North American archaeology and palaeontology (not to be confused with Roland Emmerich's baroque fantasy feature 10,000 BC). The format of the film is conventional: a voiceover intercut with clips from interviews with scholars. The academics acquit themselves well and get a lot of interesting information across in the brief soundbites allotted them. This is the film's main strength. The voiceover (written by David Padrusch and Ian Stoker-Long) isn't too bad either: there are a few sensationalistic bloopers and endorsements of controversial views, but mainly the information given is correct and delivered in a lively way.

Half-way through the film, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute and David George of Saint Anselm College are given ten minutes to air the controversial Solutrean hypothesis. Briefly, this holds that the Americas were not peopled from Beringia, or not exclusively from Beringia, but (also) from western Europe. The similarities between Solutrean projectile points (France) and Clovis ones (US) are in fact superficial and cannot be taken to indicate any genetic relationship. Yet this is the main argument for the Solutrean hypothesis. Few specialists accept it, and its inclusion is my main scientific point of criticism against the film. As Wikipedia puts it, "The hypothesis is challenged by large gaps in time between the Clovis and Solutrean eras, a lack of evidence of Solutrean seafaring, lack of specific Solutrean features in Clovis technology, and other issues."

The film pushes the Solutrean angle further by mainly using actors with Europid features (and 80s hair-metal wigs, which kind of tends to ruin the impression) to portray Palaeoindians. Then, ten minutes before the end of the film, Beringian immigrants are introduced into the narrative, and they are played by actors with Native American features. Anyway, the message isn't one of white supremacy.

Overall, the film has very poor visuals. It looks cheap, it's repetitive and it conveys a lot of wordless errors. We get endless ugly machinima-level computer animation combined with bluescreened live actors who interact with beasties that aren't visible to them. There are many cloned copies of each digital being, with jerky movements that Harryhausen wouldn't have accepted 40 years ago. The same clips recur time and time again: the viewer will grow to loathe a model of a mammoth head whose beady animatronic eye keeps showing up in extreme close-up to scary music. A wounded digital mammoth stomping on the head of an unfortunate hunter in slow motion is pure slapstick.

Director David Padrusch has a whole excavation team march toward the camera brandishing shovels, then cuts to the first Palaeoindian colonists, walking around in a similar group. We see no children, no elderly people, no luggage, no winter clothing, and the actors are looking around with dreamy astonishment at everything they see. It's as if what they met with in North America were wildly different from what they'd known for all their lives in their area of origin, which in Beringia's case would have been, like, fifty miles to the west.

Berries and nuts are collected in smooth leather dishes that look like upturned cardboard lampshades. Finely tanned and industrially finished animal skins are uselessly stroked with flint scrapers tilted the wrong way, scrapers that would in any case have been applied only at the messy beginning of the tanning process. Late Palaeolithic people sail across the Atlantic to illustrate the Solutrean hypothesis, and the mast is at the aft of the boat. Painful stuff.

I don't know who the target audience of this film is, but the production values suggest screenings at underfunded schools and museums. The production company might actually hire the voiceover guy to record a few introductions to the interviewees and then re-cut the film's soundtrack as a decent radio documentary. But as it is, Journey to 10,000 BC is a pretty sorry excuse for a documentary film.

The film is also reviewed at Archaeoporn .

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I just don't understand!!! If you manage to actually get a budget to do a documentary, why all the cheesy, pathetic pandering to baseless speculations, and time wasted with stupid scenes? I know it's not easy to make good films, but why not demand some kind of basic level of competence from the filmmakers?

It's annoying that the Solutrean hypothesis (wild conjecture more like it) is given so much time. Let's be honest, even if the people supporting this idea aren't racist, the popularity of it is based solely in a deep emotional wish of involving europeans in the peopling of the Americas. Similar looking stone objects appear again and again across the world, for functional reasons. Manufacturing sequence and other aspects of material culture have to be taken into consideration, or it is not archaeology - just mix and match.

At least Emmerich's fantasy version had some kicking good mammoth hunting scenes...

Maybe they thought they would emphasize the controversial theory in hopes of better ratings? Thanks for saving me the time to watch it...

Hey Martin, long time no see. I'm glad you are up to lots of interesting stuff.

I never could buy the Solutrean stuff either, but a couple of years ago Stanford was one of the Stigler series lecturers at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. As I recall his main points:

1)after working in Alaska, looking for Paleo, he found none. Earliest dates obtained were on order 10,000-11,000 BP

2)Clovis dates are oldest in the New England to Virginia area, get more recent into South and even more so onto Plains and most recent in the north into Prairie Provinces.

3)each early (15,000, 20,000, 40,000...) date has been done away with by special pleading--say coal or humate contamination at Meadowcroft--but they continue to pile up and so it is harder to discout a large collection than scattered individuals.

4) they (proto-French/Spanish) had needles, therefore they had umiaks. okey, that last one is pretty hard to buy.

When I got home, I pulled down my few European textbooks, and didn't see any real resemblance with North American Paleoindian assemblages, but, the Azillian (spelling?) assemblages of 17,000-15,000 do look a lot more like Clovis. Of course, these are generic resemblances, but they carry across the whole toolkit.

By Mary Evelyn Starr (not verified) on 12 Jul 2008 #permalink

Regarding Dennis Stanford, I am an anthropology student and had done a project on paleoindian origins, long story short: Stanford's theory, is it well accepted or is he the only one who thinks there is a solutrean connection? Also given all the anti clovis first stuff that has come out latley.

By luke carretta (not verified) on 18 Jul 2008 #permalink

I could not believe my ears when the speaker for "Journey to 10,000 B.C." explains that "Buckminster Fullerine" was discovered by Buckminster Fuller. How the heck did that happen, I ask? Buckminster Fuller -- who worked with geodesic concepts, not nanotechnology -- was already dead for two years when "Fullerine" (or to be exact C60) was created for the first time. Do History Channel people perhaps use seances, who then explained how to do this to Scott? If such a gigantic blunder could slip into this badly written mess, what else is false?

By Turdus Merula (not verified) on 17 Nov 2008 #permalink

An arrival in the American heartland from Asia would have been virtually impossible prior to the Bolling interstadial ca. 14000 years ago, yet we have heavy evidence that the Americas were settled before then. Some version of the Solutrean hypothesis therefore seems the only viable alternative. Beyond that, the chronology fits neatly. The Solutrean ran from ca. 21,000 to about 16,000 BP, and proto-Clovis work shows up at Cactus Hill about 18,000 BP (See Roots of Cataclysm, Algora Publ.NY 2009).

By Richard Welch (not verified) on 22 Jun 2010 #permalink