Paulette F. Steeves
Decolonizing the Past and Present of the Western Hemisphere (Americas)
Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress (2015)
I have found in my research that there are hundreds of reports on Pre-13,200 calBP or Pre-Clovis sites which have been dismissed a priori by American archaeologists, yet there are very few published critiques of those same sites. In considering the possibilities of earlier initial migrations, I have found that scholars who reject Pre-Clovis sites do not often discuss the environmental possibilities of east-west migrations during the Pleistocene.
Studies based on sites in the Eastern Hemisphere indicate that early modern humans were adapted to living in diverse environments prior to 100,000 years ago and were present on the mainland and islands of Asia, Europe, and Africa. There is also a well-known history of mammalian migrations between the Eastern and Western continents spanning across millions of years (Prothero 2005:1; Rybczynski et al. 2013:1550; Wallace and Hulbert 2013:1). Archaeologists who denounce the possibilities and evidence for Pre-Clovis migrations have historically ignored the evidence of the global history of human migrations, paleoenvironments, and intercontinental mammalian migrations that shed light on the very questions they ask. Environmental records strongly infer that the worst time to cross the Bering Land Bridge was after 24,000 ybp during the post-Last Glacial Maximum period.
Initial migrations, whether 13,200 calBP or earlier, took place during a time when the continents were divided into nations and not identified by the specific cultural and political units which are common today. When archaeologists use contemporary nation’s names to discuss migrations of ancient peoples, they infer that thousands of years prior to the existence of Asia and America, Asians walked across Beringa and instantly became Americans. Such claims made in the name of Western Science and often accepted as fact by the general population are not exposed for the absurdity of their claims (Deloria 1997:73).
Tom Dillehay who excavated the Monte Verde site in Chile stated that when radiocarbon tests came back as older than 12,000 ybp, he was startled, since he had been taught that such dates were impossible (Dillehay 2000:xv). He stated he had been taught the Clovis culture represented the first people whose initial migrations took place around 11,200 years ago (Dillehay 2000:xv). James Adovasio who excavated the Meadowcroft site in Pennsylvania stated that on receiving the facts that his site dated to older than Clovis, he was not that surprised, but he knew that his ‘‘career was about to veer off into the archaeological badlands’’ (Adovasio and Page 2002:xiii).
What he was referring to was that the dates for the Meadowcroft site ‘‘put people in Pennsylvania some four thousand years before any human being was supposed to have set foot in this hemisphere’’ (Adovasio and Page 2002:xiv). The guarded Clovis First time frame was not in any way logical but was argued to represent a ‘‘cherished dogma’’ (Adovasio and Page 2002:xiii). Archaeologists’ experiences of having their sites overly scrutinized and of being academically bashed for reporting Pre-Clovis sites makes no sense, at least not in a world where science is expected to rule over opinion and bias.
In recent years due to mounting evidence of Pre-Clovis of pre-13,200 calBP sites such as Monte Verde in Chile (Dillehay 2000:15), archaeologists are now more accepting of the possibilities of earlier sites (Waguespack 2007:63). However, even with the presence of hundreds of sites providing evidence for earlier Pleistocene initial migrations, contemporary academics remain skeptical of sites which date to more than a few thousand years earlier than Clovis time frames. This is the same agenda as the Clovis First hypothesis regarding diminishing the time frames of initial migrations, just allowing that humans arrived in the Western Hemisphere a few thousand years earlier than Clovis time frames (Meiri et al. 2014:7; Goebel et al. 2008). Such theories, which propose a recent boundary of time for the earliest date of initial migrations, continue to ignore a vast body of data on earlier Pre-Clovis sites located throughout areas of North and South America.
When discussing initial migration possibilities, it is important to remember that we do not have a clear understanding of earliest sites in either the eastern hemisphere regions of Asia or the northern hemisphere regions of North America. Discussions of earliest human migrations are based on what we know from recorded sites, and gaps in the archaeological record suggest there is a lot we do not yet know. Further research and discovery of new sites and evidence is paramount to furthering discussions of links between sites in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. However when early humans have been present in the Eastern Hemisphere for over 1.8 million years and a land bridge between the east and the west has been available for much of that time, why would it have been impossible for people to arrive in the Western Hemisphere at earlier than Clovis dates?
The environmental record provides strong evidence that it would not have been impossible at all. The record of early human sites in the Eastern Hemisphere informs us that early human were very capable of traveling great distances through diverse ecological zones.
For millions of years northern areas of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres were connected by a wide low laying land mass that was periodically inundated with seawater. The area which is now known as the Bering Land Bridge was available for intercontinental migrations for much of the last 100,000 years (Wright 1991:138) and throughout much of the Pleistocene (Adovasio and Page 2002:620). During the last 1.6 million years, glaciers advanced and retreated facilitating mammalian migrations across the land bridge between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres in both directions (Adovasio and Page 2002:62). The environmental evidence suggests that the most difficult time to migrate across the Bering Land Bridge was during or after the LGM 24,000–14,000 years ago. The majority of proponents of the Clovis First hypothesis have conveniently left this discussion out of their arguments as it is a point that supports the possibilities of earlier initial migrations to Western Hemisphere.
The facts as discussed remain, and the Clovis First hypothesis of initial migrations after 13,200 calBP was never based on any proven scientific facts or data (Bryan 1986:2). The Pan Hemispheric Clovis culture was created from over-simplified theories based on fluted tools, which were ‘‘uncritically lumped together’’ (Dillehay 2000:27). The fluted Clovis tool and the boundary of time for its initial appearance became, and most often remains, a dangerous border to cross in American archaeology.
Evidence for Great Antiquity
When I had reviewed published literature which discussed over 300 pre-Clovis sites in the Western Hemisphere, I realized that there were far more than just a few well-recorded and documented sites. I also realized that this area of research had much to offer in illuminating the past and in work to decolonize historical initial migration paradigms and Indigenous histories. Pre-13,200 calBP or Pre-Clovis sites in the Western Hemisphere number in the hundreds and are located throughout the Northern and Southern continents.
There are far too many to list in this article; however, a sample is included in Table 1. This list of sites represents a small fraction of the possibilities for future Paleolithic research in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the site collections may be available for further study and new excavations may be feasible at some site areas. The inclusion of a site in this list does not represent a site that is not controversial or that does not warrant further work. Many of the sites in this list meet or exceed the required reasonable scientific criteria. Scientific criteria are described by Adovasio and Page (2002:99) as follows:
• Undeniable artifacts or osteological remains that were unmistakably human.
• An indisputable context (such as direct stratigraphic association with extinct Pleistocene animal remains).
• A valid and reliable control over chronology… which meant an undisturbed stratigraphy (Adovasio and Page 2002:99).
Many of the sites on this list have been discussed by archaeologists as problematic based on one or more arguments. However, the majority of the sites have not benefited for a published critique based on first-hand knowledge, site visits, or collection studies. Tom Dillehay (2000) argued that many discussions which dismissed pre-Clovis sites as illegitimate were often based on invented mistakes.
‘‘In their haste to defend the Clovis First model, they fantasized floods and other natural events to explain the association of the different cultural traits often found at non-Clovis sites, or, worse they invent mistakes in the analysis of those sites to give them cause for dismissing them. What this all boils down to is the politics of science and the replacement of one paradigm by another’’ (Dillehay 2000:xviii).
I am not saying that all Pre-Clovis sites are not problematic; many would benefit from further testing and research. I do however agree with Herbert Alexander (1978) who argued that ‘‘we have had the evidence of human antiquity in the Americans for a long time, and we should insist that it be used’’ (22). A great deal of energy has been spent on arguments denying a pre-13,200 calBP human presence in The Western Hemisphere. The energy and resources spent on denial may be better utilized by training students in Paloelithic studies.