I was kind of fascinated today to run into an article about the Solutrean Hypothesis -- a claim that the one of the earliest stone tool "cultures" in the Americas, the Clovis Culture (named after the town of Clovis, NM where examples of these stone tools were first identified) was derived from the Solutrean stone tool culture which was situated in southern France and northern Spain from 22,000 to 17,000 years ago. According to the Solutrean Hypothesis, members of the Solutrean culture worked their way across the northern Atlantic by sea -- hunting seals and other arctic animals on the ice in the manner of the Inuit -- until they reached North America and thus spread out across North America. The hypothesis doesn't deny the generally accepted theory that "Native Americans" are the descendant of Asian peoples who crossed from Siberia into North America via the Bering land bridge roughly 14,000 years ago, it simply holds that the Solutrean people had got to the Americas first. Given that genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that the peoples inhabiting the Americas when Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century were descended from Asian peoples, the assumption would presumably be that the Solutrean people died out or were genetically overwhelmed by a much larger population with an Asian ancestry.
The two biggest current proponents of the Solutrean Hypothesis, Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, have a book coming out next month in which they put forward their case: Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture. My initial impression, reading around, is that the case is kind of thin, though I'm intrigued enough that I may see if I can find a copy through the library when it comes out.
One of the things that struck me most, however, reading around was the political significance that people seemed prepared to give to the issue, as if it had some sort of moral significance whether the ancestors of the American Indians had in turn displaced some earlier people who had come from Europe rather than Asia.
I find the idea of these stone age migrations fascinating, of course, and it satisfied our curiosity to try to figure out what happened, but I can't quite understand why anyone would think it had moral or political significance whether the people who first reached the Americas did so from Asia or from Europe. I mean, we're talking about 15,000+ years ago. In human terms, that's so long ago it's kind of hard to wrap one's mind around.
The idea seems to be that if the ancestors of the American Indians had, in turn, displaced some other people in the Americas, that this has something to do with the way they in turn were displaced by Europeans -- the more so if that other people had originated several thousand years before in Europe. This, however, is quite wrong. Whether the manner in which group A treats group B has everything to do with what A does to B and nothing to do with what B's ancestors did or where they were from.
There is not some one people that really and truly owns a region. We are all, on this mortal earth, migrants, not natives.
Learning Notes Week of March 20
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