Figure 1. Sketch of a 19th Century Native American miner on the shores of Lake Superior.
This is also how Robert Griffing (a currently popular painter of early Indian encounters) has been painting them. Given that this seemed to conflict with what I remembered of their origins, which was that they crossed into America from Asia, I began to read the odd book on the subject, and since it has a little to do with earlier climate changes, I thought to write a post on where I see the state of the current debate on the subject.
When I started writing this I thought it would be relatively easy to just find a couple of references with the dates, from which the European influence would be easy to pick out. Well, after re-writing this post several times, I have to confess that was a bit naïve. It turns out that there are several controversial pieces of information out there, which mean that this is not the simple story I had expected to tell. And that one post is multiplying into a short series.
For a start there are several different groups that might have made the migration from Siberia, although recent results from the Genographic Project suggest, according to Dr. Wells that their results favor the group that started in Mongolia.
Then there is the question as to when the original group came. The oldest excavated archeological site in Alaska is at Swan Point and dates from about 14,300 years before the present (BP). But there is a site in Southern Chile, at Monte Verde which may date as early as 14,220 BP, and David Meltzer (in “First Peoples in a New World”) noted that there was some site evidence that might go back as far as 33,000 BP.
The debate on when Europeans first arrived on the American continent has grown to include debate on both the shapes of the early weapons that were used, and the origin of the “Clovis Point” point shape that became most common, as well as the more recent debate on the origin of one of the genetic markers (the X2 haplogroup) that appears in members of a number of Indian tribes.
As I read more material, the different views became more complex to explain, and so one post is now morphing into three or more, particularly given the recent press release from UCSB on a paper that has evidence of a meteor strike which initiated the Younger Dryas cold period some 12,900 years ago.
These new data are the latest to strongly support the controversial Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) hypothesis, which proposes that a cosmic impact occurred 12,900 years ago at the onset of an unusual cold climatic period called the Younger Dryas. This episode occurred at or close to the time of major extinction of the North American megafauna, including mammoths and giant ground sloths; and the disappearance of the prehistoric and widely distributed Clovis culture.I do not plan on getting into the somewhat detailed and complex set of arguments as to what was the cause of the Younger Dryas. Some say it was caused by the collapse of a very large ice sheet covering North America that flooded the Atlantic and changed the circulation patterns for a while, others – as above – point to the evidence of meteoric impact. But it does give a point of reference relative to the time periods involved.