Last month’s release of The Ice Bridge, an episode in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series The Nature of Things has once again revived public discussion of a controversial idea about how the Americas were peopled known as the “Solutrean hypothesis”. This idea suggests a European origin for the peoples who made the Clovis tools, the first recognized stone tool tradition in the Americas. As I was one of the experts appearing on the documentary, I want to share my thoughts about it and why I see the ideas portrayed within as unsettling, unwise, and scientifically implausible.
First, in addition to the scientific problems with the Solutrean hypothesis which I’ll discuss shortly, it’s important to note that it has overt political and cultural implications in denying that Native Americans are the only indigenous peoples of the continents. The notion that the ancestors of Native Americans were not the first or only people on the continent has great popularity among white nationalists, who see it as a means of denying Native Americans an ancestral claim on their land. Indeed, although this particular iteration is new, the idea behind the Solutrean hypothesis is part of a long tradition of Europeans trying to insert themselves into American prehistory; justifying colonialism by claiming that Native Americans were not capable of creating the diverse and sophisticated material culture of the Americas. Unfortunately, the producers of the documentary deliberately chose not to address this issue head-on, nor did they include any critical perspectives from indigenous peoples. While supporting the agenda of white nationalists was not the intent of the producers or of the scientists involved, it would have been appropriate for the documentary to take a stand against it, and I and many archaeologists are disappointed that they did not. [Continue reading…]
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