Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Ice Age Columbus"

in this documentary film ice age columbus zia the chieftain
It never occurred to me that during the last Ice Age, European hunters might have been blown off course on the massive sub-polar pack ice covering the North Atlantic, towards North America. This thesis, contrasting with the conventional Bering Strait land bridge model of indigenous settlement, has been advanced by Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford. Predictably, there's been massive denial from the "Clovis" contingent defending the standard model of Siberian migration. Still, it's intriguing.

Discovery Channel in 2004 made a documentary you can see here under the clever title Ice Age Columbus. This dramatizes, with re-enactments (did the actors speak Basque?), computer analyses, and interviews, the "Solutrean hypothesis." Before Clovis spear points were found in today's New Mexico, ca. 500 years after the "Beringian" bridge was crossed, there may have been earlier survivors on the other coast who'd emigrated from today's South of France, with distinctive shaped spear tools.

One point, flaked to this standard, has been dredged along with a mastodon, from the waters off Virginia. This artifact is called the Cinmar biface, and if the dating with the wooly beast's remains is correct, dates to 22,000 years ago. The problem is that the shorelines back then, as in the Great Banks off Newfoundland which were probably the "Plymouth Rock" or "Vinland" for the cavemen and women made chilly, floating refugees, have been submerged by the waters after the glacial melting.

The Wikipedia entry linked to the hypothesis tends to argue against the hypothesis. But one link to a 2012 article in the Independent mentions a finding that appears key, despite detractors. The film for all its merits has to compress a lot in a little time. The seals drawn in a cave Bradley shows seem to suggest the natives knew how to hunt them, but the jump from this is too rapid; likewise why the Cinmar biface is not examined more in detail as to its origins invites speculation. So, the Indie piece may cheer on the few proponents of the alternative theory. Other tools from 26,000-19,000 y.a. have been tested, all from the American East Coast. Summing up Bradley and Stanford, it reports that "chemical analysis carried out last year on a European-style stone knife found in Virginia back in 1971 revealed that it was made of French-originating flint." How do the opponents respond to this?

The DNA data appear to be used by both sides. Haplotype X has been asserted as the genetic link between the two continents. It may be that more research has to be done, in a very contested debate.

The docu-drama has a memorable scene imagining millennia later the meeting of the eastward-bound natives with the descendants of the Iberians. That changes this prequel for Thanksgiving, doesn't it?

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