Late Pleistocene Paleo Indians of the Americas

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Picture of Meadowcroft Rockshelter located to the west of Avella in Washington County, Pennsylvania

The peopling of the Americas is hotly debated by archaeologists. Theories abound, though new technologies and discoveries have shed some light on the topic.

The idea that there were humans in North and South America prior to the Clovis Culture (11,500-10,900 before present) is hotly debated. People divide themselves between two camps,

  • Clovis First
  • Pre-Clovis

Solutrean Theory

According to Constance Holden in the November 1999 issue of “Science,” the Solutrean theory dates back to the 1930’s and 40’s when Frank Hibben theorized that North America was first colonized by people originating in France, Portugal and Spain, known as the Solutrean culture. Their stone points have similarities to the Clovis fluted point. This culture existed 23,000-18,000 years ago (ya), 5000 years before the first know Clovis artifacts.

Though the theory had been pretty much dismissed in the past, it has been revived by Smithsonian’s Dennis Stanford, and though it presents many questions it is one of the theories explored by some Pre-Clovis followers.

Monte Verde Site, Pre-Clovis

The one site that gets the most attention from archaeologists is Monte Verde in southern Chile. It has been a bone of contention between the two factions for some time, but because of advances in dating technology, number and type of artifacts and because of their careful extraction and detailed reporting, Monte Verde has come to be the exception to the Clovis First theory.

Monte Verde is dated at 12,500 BP, making it only a little over 1000 years older than Clovis. According to David J. Meltzer in an article in “Science” magazine, May 1977, humans may have arrived in the Americas as early as 20,000 ya. This is theorized because of the distance of Monte Verde from the Bering land bridge, obstacles such as glacial ice sheets and how quickly people adapted to the new world environment.

Opponents ask why there aren’t more pre-Clovis sites in North America. Some of the answers are:

  • Because of the Clovis First persuasion, archaeologists haven’t been looking in the right places or for the right things or haven’t been looking at all.
  • It is hard to find sites like Monte Verde in North America because they are in soil types that make them vulnerable to contamination.

Sites like Monte Verde and Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania may help direct archaeologists to find more such sites in the United States and Canada.

Complications

The Pre-Clovis theory creates arguments about where and how ice age humans entered the western continents. Some feel that the common theory of the migration over the Bering land bridge between ice sheets doesn’t work for pre-Clovis because the path was not open at the time of the theorized migration. Others suggest that there was a steady flow of small migrations, some succeeding and some failing, making it hard to find early sites in North America because they could be widely scattered. (Metzler)

Other questions are:

  • Did they arrive by boat along either the Pacific or the eastern seaboard, or both?
  • Were there Europeans among them? DNA sides on the Asian migration model, but at least one mitochondrial halotype in Indian cultures, type X, is traced back to Europe. (Holden)

The Debate Goes On

The discovery of Monte Verde, and its now widely accepted pre-ClovisC-14 date, has created more questions than answers about the peopling of the Americas. Theories abound, some more solid than others. No one can say for sure how the indigenous peoples of the Americas got here, but the tantalizing possibility that they were here during the late Pleistocene now exists.

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