First Americans: were they Iberian, not Siberian?
By Andy Coghlan DID some of the first American settlers come from Europe rather than across the Bering land bridge from Siberia to Alaska, as most people believe? The controversial theory is advanced in the book Across Atlantic Ice, launched last week in the US. Co-authors Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter, UK, and Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC claim that glaciers and ice floes spanned much of the north Atlantic Ocean during the last ice age. This bridge lasted at least 2000 years. Between 18,000 and 25,000 years ago, Bradley and Stanford think that Solutrean people from northern Spain and France developed an Inuit-like lifestyle on the ice, and eventually reached America. “We’re using an analogy with Inuit, who expanded all across the Arctic with technologies no more sophisticated than those we know the Solutreans had,” says Bradley. Their key evidence is the discovery of 18,000 to 26,000-year-old tools with a Solutrean appearance at six sites in the eastern US. “Several of these are new finds,” says Bradley. One, a knife embedded in a 22,000-year-old mastodon skull, was dredged up 80 kilometres from the Virginian coast in 75 metres of water. “The youngest the knife can be is 14,500 years old, based on when the land was inundated with sea water,” says Bradley. “The location was land, a barrier island, at the time the blade was deposited.” Solutrean-style tools were not invented by the Asian people thought to have been the first Americans. They supposedly reached Alaska around 13,000 years ago through Beringia, a temporary land bridge across the Bering strait. According to conventional thinking, these Siberian settlers established the so-called Clovis culture, leading ultimately to today’s native Americans. Bradley and Stanford argue that because such advanced tools can’t have come from Siberia, they must have arrived much earlier. The only explanation, they say, is that the Solutreans brought them there as early as 23,000 years ago, over the ice. Other archaeologists are deeply sceptical of the theory, which has been circulating for at least a decade. According to Lawrence Straus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, the Solutrean culture disappeared in Europe around 16,000 to 18,000 years ago – at least 5000 years before the Clovis appeared in America. Straus also doubts that the Solutreans had the technology to cross the ice, and argues that the Clovis developed the sophisticated Solutrean-style tools independently. More on these topics: