Clovis vs. Beringia: Europe or Siberia? A Review of Across Atlantic Ice

We’ve all heard the prevailing theory of how American Indians came to North America. According to Western science, Native hunters traversed via the Bering Strait Land Bridge, termed Beringia, from Asia to North America approximately 12,000 years ago. It was these Asian immigrants, they propose, who formed the initial population of indigenous Americans.

Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture (University of California Press, 2012), by Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley, urges us to consider another hypothesis: that the members of pre-Clovis culture—the first peoples of the Americas—were from the Ice Age Solutrean Culture of France and Spain.

Bradley became enthralled by the Solutrean hypothesis after he noticed similarities between Upper Paleolithic artifacts in southwestern Europe and Clovis artifacts in North America. Meanwhile, working in Alaska, Stanford identified a lack of Clovis precursor technology. They then joined forces to challenge the Bering Strait Land Bridge theory.

Crucial to the development of their argument is the distinctively shaped, fluted stone spear point, called the Clovis point. Developed by the Clovis people and used to hunt wild game, it is bifacial, usually made of obsidian or chalcedony, and typically fluted on each side. It remains unclear to archaeologists whether Clovis points developed from a single people, or if the technique was merely adopted by many populations because it was considered a superior form of technology at that time.

Stanford and Bradley contend that the more basic the technology, the more likely its independent invention. Using that reasoning, and while indicating similarities among Solutrean points in southern France, points found in Cactus Hill, Virginia, and known ancient Clovis points, the scholars determined that Clovis technology developed independently from a single group—the Solutreans.

The duo’s research attempts to show that the first Americans crossed the Ice Age Atlantic by boat, traveling along the pack ice edge, and arrived on North American shores much earlier than previously believed. Supporting evidence reveals that Clovis sites are likely older than originally thought as well.

Across Arctic Ice offers a respectable argument for the Solutrean hypothesis. But it has not received much serious consideration within the scientific establishment. A big reason is the lack of evidence of Solutrean travel across the Atlantic during Neolithic times. Large gaps in time between the Solutrean and Clovis eras remain unexplained, and DNA evidence has yet to show definitive proof of a genetic link between ancient Solutreans and modern American Indians.

Personally, I am not convinced. That’s why I’d like to see the Solutrean hypothesis tested further. Altogether, Stanford and Bradley present a logical, well-reasoned argument that should be given equal consideration to the current Beringia dogma that Western science is following in blind lockstep.

As I read Across Atlantic Ice, I found myself mentally revisiting passages from Vine Deloria Jr.’s Red Earth, White Lies, in which he soundly repudiates the Bering Strait Land Bridge theory. Not only did Deloria point toward archaeological evidence indicating that Natives were present in the Americas long before Western scholars posit, but he also picked apart inconsistencies in the Beringia theory.

As an American Indian scientist, I find that both the Bering Strait Land Bridge theory and the Solutrean hypothesis smack of arrogance and ethnocentrism. Both presume that the Americas were once vacant until they were populated by outsiders. Why do these theories’ proponents not consider that Indigenous Peoples of the Americas were always here, and that if migration did occur, it could have happened from America and into Europe or Asia? Perhaps such immigration theories are part of a larger effort to dissuade guilt associated with the invasion of the Americas by Europeans, and thereby lessen the significance of the subsequent genocide of Indigenous Peoples.

In today’s scientific establishment, ingrained theories like that of Beringia are not revisited or questioned enough. For that reason, Across Atlantic Ice is worth reading. However until a paradigm shift occurs within the mainstream scientific community whereby the indigenous perspective is given its due, we will never see an accurate picture of our natural world and its laws.