Was North America First Settled by Stone-age Europeans?

Credit: NOAA
Map of Bering Sea. The Bering Strait is the 
comparatively shallow area between Alaska and Siberia.

One of the more interesting arguments in paleontology is between supporters of the theory that the first inhabitants of North American migrated from Asia across the Bering Sea (the majority view), and a small group of researchers who feel that the very first residents came along the edge of the Atlantic ice sheet from Europe.

The research reported below focuses on one piece of evidence cited by supporters of the European immigrant theory:  an ancient stone blade recovered off the coast of Virginia in the early 1970s by the crew of the trawler Cinmar that establishes a European presence many thousands of years before Columbus, the Vikings, the Knight's Templar, or Frodo and the Elves.

The headline, "Alternate theory of inhabitation of North America disproven,"  appears to me to be an overstatement of the researcher's stated scope of research.

From my reading, the research does establish that the Cinmar stone blade evidence dates from a different time than when the ice bridge reached from Northern Europe to North America.  So, the Europe "Firsters" should not be able to cite this as evidence of their theory.  Does this disprove the entire theory? It doesn't appear to.

What other evidence presented by European Firsters was examined?  The press release doesn't say.

Having that out of the way, this report is one of many of interest for an author or screenwriter working on a story set in the Americas prior to the sixteenth century.  If Europeans did establish themselves in the Americas as long ago as 18,000 BCE, what would have happened when they met the first Asian migrants?  Did they meet?  What happened to the European descendants?  A story like this presents quite a few possibilities to explore. 

Read the report, and draw your own conclusions.
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Alternate theory of inhabitation
of North America disproven

The most widely accepted theory of the inhabitation of North America is that humans migrated from Siberia to Alaska by means of a 'land bridge' that spanned the Bering Strait. However, in the 1990s, a small group of researchers proposed that North America was first settled by people from Europe, who moved from east to west via a glacial 'ice bridge.' Now, researchers have definitively disproven the ice bridge theory.

There has long been a debate among scholars about the origins of the first inhabitants of North America. The most widely accepted theory is that sometime before 14,000 years ago, humans migrated from Siberia to Alaska by means of a "land bridge" that spanned the Bering Strait.

However, in the 1990s, a small but vocal group of researchers proposed that North America was first settled by Upper Paleolithic people from Europe, who moved from east to west through Greenland via a glacial "ice bridge." Now, researchers at the University of Missouri, working with colleagues the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and elsewhere have definitively disproved the ice bridge theory.

Ancient America:
An Investigation Into
the Enigmas of
America's Pre-History
by Paul Devereux

Click on image for details
One piece of evidence that advocates of the ice bridge theory rely on comes from the Chesapeake Bay. In the early 1970s, the crew of a scallop trawling vessel, Cinmar, was operating off the coast of Virginia when it hit a snag and pulled up an ancient stone blade, along with pieces of a mastodon skeleton. Since radiocarbon dating isn't available on inanimate objects, scholars correlated the date of the blade with the mastodon, which they could date at more than 22,000 years old.

"For more than two decades, proponents of the ice bridge theory have pointed to similarities between North American stone blades such as the one allegedly dredged from the Chesapeake and blades left by Solutrean foragers in western Europe," said Michael J. O'Brien, a professor of anthropology at MU and dean of the College of Arts and Science. "We know, however, that Solutrean culture began around 22,000 to 17,000 years ago, which is later than North American dates pointed to by ice bridge theorists as proof that Solutrean people populated North America. That includes the date from the Cinmar mastodon."

Mizzou scholars, including O'Brien's postdoctoral student, Metin Eren, and graduate student Matthew Boulanger, point to the lack of first-hand accounts from the crew of the Cinmar who recovered the blade and mastodon remains. All published accounts were first written by proponents of the Solutrean hypothesis. According to a telephone interview of the ship's captain, he "took particular note of the water depth" and "plotted the area on his navigation charts."

"While the interview indicates that the Cinmar captain took detailed notes, researchers never indicated that they actually observed the charts," O'Brien said. "In fact, captains keep 'hang logs' in which they record readings when they hit obstructions on the ocean floor. We reviewed countless snag reports from the Bay and the time frame when the snag should've occurred and didn't find anything to corroborate the story. One of the most famous snags of all time -- when the crew pulled up a mastodon -- and it's just not reported."

While researching the history of the stone tool, its recovery and whereabouts for more than 40 years, the team also found inconsistencies with the origins and the ownership of the ship itself. The research team found that discrepancies in photographs of the Cinmar, the size of the ship and where it was assembled all point to contradictions in key pieces of the ice bridge theory.

"Until inaccuracies are cleared up, there really is no reason to accept the find as evidence of anything connected with the early peopling of North America," O'Brien said.

Related stories:
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Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. Metin I. Eren, Matthew T. Boulanger, Michael J. O'Brien. The Cinmar discovery and the proposed pre-Late Glacial Maximum occupation of North America. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 2015


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