Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trading One Zombie Model for Another: Why I am Fed Up with the Beringia Standstill Model and the journals and conferences that don't consider alternatives

Marnie Dunsmore

As you can tell from the title, I am fed up with the fact that models that contest the Beringia Standstill Model[0] are not adequately funded or even considered.  I note that several very well funded DNA papers and archaeology papers have come out recently supporting the Beringia Standstill Model, while researchers that propose a Pre-Ice Age presence in North America are not adequately funded, or not funded at all, and are not published in "prominent" well funded journals such as Science.

Here are the reasons why alternatives to the Beringia Standstill Model should be more adequately funded and published:

1.  Speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up in Canada and who knows Canadian archaeologists working in areas at the southern end of the "Ice Free" corridor, posited to have been a path by which humans travelled to and from the Americas, I can attest to the fact that funding for Pre-Clovis archaeology in Canada is terrible to non-existent.  Many Paleaolithic archaeologists in Canada are trained in Europe, do their research primarily at European or Middle Eastern sites, and actively avoid research on Pre-Clovis archaeology.  They avoid the topic of Pre-Clovis archaeology in order to preserve their careers and not affront the now very well established cadre of Clovis First archaeologists, who again are mostly trained in Europe.  Archaeologists who attempt to publish Pre-Clovis results are often defunded and even pushed out of the field of archaeology.  This is especially the case in Western Canada.

2.  Known Pre-Clovis sites in Florida, in the Delmarva Peninsula, in Maryland, in Kansas, and in South and Central America should be better funded [1][2].  Funding is minimal and inadequate at many of these sites.

3.  The distribution of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups in the Americas, namely haplogroups A, B, C, and D, according to Behar[3], split from the mitochondrial tree earlier than 30,000 thousand years ago (before the last Ice Age).  Given the distribution for these haplogroups[4][5], it is equally likely that the branching of these mitochondrial haplogroups occurred in the Americas, as in Asia or Beringia. Given that Beringia and Siberia were cold, while many areas in the Americas were temperate [2], during the Ice Age, the likely expansion of the A, B, C and D haplogroups during the Ice Age was in the Americas south of the glaciers, not Beringia or Siberia (as proposed in the Beringia Standstill Model.)

4.  The Clovis First Model and the Beringia Standstill Model are at odds with the narratives of most Native Americans, who instead argue for a Pre-Age Age presence in the Americas.[7]

5.  There is ample evidence that Modern Humans were in Siberia and Beringia tens of thousands of years before the Ice Age.  Given that sea level data indicates that there were long periods before the Ice Age (when Modern Humans were in Beringia) when there was an easily walkable path from Beringia to Florida, to the American Central Plains, to the American East Coast and to points further south, it is highly improbable that highly mobile large game hunters over tens of thousands of years would not easily have moved back and forth between the Americas and Eastern Eurasia[5][8][9][10].

6. According to a recent paper, bison crossed between Asia and the Americas ∼195–135 thousand years ago and ∼45–21 thousand years ago during sea level lowstands[6].  If so, given that bison were a popular game animal for Modern Human Siberian Paleolithic hunters, it is highly improbably that they would not also have made the crossing from Siberia to the Americas ∼45 to ∼25 thousand years ago before the closing, due to the last glaciation, of the Ice Free Corridor running from the Canadian Yukon to the American Central Plains.

7.  Autosomal DNA studies indicate that populations in the Americas and Siberia became separated between 26,000 and 14,000 years ago.  This indicates that populations between the Americas and Eurasia were connected, likely by their long distance hunting strategies, and only became separated first by the glaciers starting 26,000 years ago, and second by the flooding of Beringia starting 14,000 years ago[5][10][11].

8.  Research on Pre-Clovis sites, especially sites older than 18,000 years, has been actively suppressed for decades.  A recent article by Canadian journalist Heather Pringle  discusses how evidence of an archaeological date of 24,000 years before present  at the Bluefish Cave site in the Canadian Yukon was suppressed for over twenty years.  Prominent archaeologist Cinq-Mars was marginalized [12].  Heather describes the broader implications of these scientific blockades, which can leave dysfunctional and unsupportable "zombie models" in place for decades. The Beringia Standstill Model is simply another "zombie model" and a very cautious retreat by Clovis First supporters to avoid the possibility of Modern Humans being in the Americas at a time frame that is contemporaneous with them establishing themselves in Europe approximately 45,000 years ago.

I note that prominent conferences such at the Paleoanthropology Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia at the end of March (by the way, to be held on never ceded Salish territory in downtown Vancouver), continue to entertain papers supporting only the Beringia Standstill model, but not alternatives.  Given the weight of evidence, this cannot be seen as objective, and the unlevel funding supporting the Beringia Standstill Model can only be seen as another example of formerly Clovis First too cozy ancient DNA researchers, archaeologists, and their supporters, feeding at the trough.

Paleoanthropology Society
2017 Annual Meeting

March 28 and 29
Vancouver Hyatt Regency
Program (pdf)

Distribution of site specific papers and posters:
Africa: 38
China: 1
Australia: 1
Europe and SW Asia: 24
Central Asia: 1
Beringia Standstill Model: 1
America Paleoanthropology (South of Beringia): 0

Note that many of the papers presented on Europe and Africa are from the Upper Paleolithic and are contemporaneous with dates on sites in the Americas that are not presented at this conference.  The National Science Foundation runs this conference and is therefore directly responsible for the lack of inclusion of American sites in its conference.

Mark Collard, an author of several papers on Neanderthals at this conference, is the Chair of Canadian Evolutionary Studies and Professor of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia.  He was trained in the United Kingdom.  None of his research focuses on the Americas before the Paleoindian period 13,000 years ago.  He was supervised by Professor Bernard Wood.


[0] Tamm et al., Beringia Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders, PLOS One, September 5th, 2007.

[1] Jonathan C. Lothrop, Darrin Lowery, Arthur E. Spiess, Christopher Ellis, Early Human Settlement of Northeastern North America, PaleoAmerica, 2:3, pp. 192-251, 04 Oct 2016.

[2] James S. Dunbar, The Search for Paleoindian Contexts in Florida and the Adjacent Southeast, PhD Thesis, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 2012.

[3] Behar et al, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root, American Journal of Human Genetics, 90(4): 675–684, 2012 Apr 6.

[4] Roberta Estes, New Native American Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups, DNAeXplained Blog, March 2, 2017.

[5] Wong et al., Reconstructing Genetic History of Siberian and Northeastern European Populations, BioRxiv, December, 2016.

[6] Froese et al., Fossil and genomic evidence constrains the timing of bison arrival in North America, PNAS, February 3, 2017.

[7] Paulette Steeves, Decolonizing the Past and Present of the Western Hemisphere (The Americas), Archaeologies, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 42–69, April 2015.

[8] Liu et al., The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China, Nature, Volume: 526, Pages:  696–699, 29 October 2015.

[9] Mietje Germonpré , Sergey Fedorov, Petr Danilov, Patrik Galeta, Elodie-Laure Jimenez, Mikhail Sablin, Robert J. Losey, Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 78, 2017.

[10] Raghevan et al., Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans, Science , 21 Jul 2015.

[11] Eelco J. Rohling, Robert Marsh, Neil C. Wells, Mark Siddall, Neil R. Edwards, Similar meltwater contributions to glacial sea level changes from Antarctic and northern ice sheets, Nature, 430, 1016-1021, 26 August 2004.

[12] Heather Pringle, From Vilified to Vindicated: the Story of Jacques Cinq-Mars, Takai Magazine, March 7th, 2017.

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