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The Peopling of the New World: Alternative Hypotheses
Since the Era of Exploration, the peopling of the New World has received endless scrutiny. Albeit a general consensus on the Asiatic origins of all Native Americans, the exact manner in which these populations arrived on the shores of North America remains avidly debated. Certainly, the “Ice-Free Corridor” hypothesis, which posits that colonizing groups gained admittance into Alaska via the Bering Strait, maintains perhaps the most accepted scenario for the peopling of the Americas, yet several alternative routes have received increasing consideration by scholars over the past several decades.
The first of these unconventional theories maintains that migratory populations approached the New World along the coast of Siberia, traveling along the southern shoreline of the land bridge and completing their journey by following the Pacific Northwest Coast. While some of the migration would have been completed on foot, the majority of this theory suggests the utilization of boats. Considering that open-water boats were in regular use in Southeast Asian water as early as 60,000 B.P., it is very likely that watercrafts would have aided in the colonizing of America over 30,000 years later.
A second alternative, termed as the “big-game-hunter” scenario, proposes the dual use of coastal and interior routes by multiple waves of nomads in search of big-game animals. Despite the plausibility of this hypothesis, it is tainted by the endemic bias of Pleistocene man as a dependent and simple creature, whereas recent archaeological evidence has suggested a highly adaptive population capable of fiber-woven basketry, fishing technologies, and food preservation strategies. These innovations would have thereby negated any need to pursue large game across such an expansive distance.
The final, lesser-known hypothesis has recently been revived by North American scholars and considers the Atlantic as a possible migratory course. This trans-oceanic crossing would have originated on the edge of southwestern Europe and deposited the roving nomads far below the originally suggested Alaskan entryway. The greatest substantiation for such a scenario is elicited by the proposed “Solutrean Connection”, which reveals striking similarities between Upper-Paleolithic European tool technology and the New World Clovis culture.
The question of exactly how the first peopling of America occurred may never be adequately answered. In truth, the only concrete evidence that any hypothetical migration ever occurred is human presence, and nothing more.
Copyright Lilith Eden 2011. All Rights Reserved
Adovasio, J.M., Pedler, David. "The Peopling of North America." North American Archaeology. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2008. pp. 30-56