San Francisco, CA – In January, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation released an episode called “The Ice Bridge” as part of its series “The Nature of Things,” adding to a growing body of evidence that the first peoples in the Americas were from Europe. The Solutrean hypothesis, suggests a European origin for the peoples who made the Clovis tools, the first recognized stone tool tradition in the Americas.
Up to now, the Solutrean hypothesis has been dismissed as a conspiracy intended to deny that Native Americans were the indigenous people of North America. But a growing body of scientific evidence is undermining the sustainability of that claim.
Recent scientific and archaeological discoveries have found remnants of humans who bore all the physical traits of Europeans and Asians who crossed over to the North American continent during the last ice age by using the frozen passage way now known as the Beringen Strait, but the Solutrean hypothesis provides another possibility of Europeans coming across the frozen ice bridge from what is today northern Europe to North America.
These discoveries are now providing the physical evidence that Native Americans simply did not have the diverse and sophisticated material culture of the Americas. The producers of “The Ice Bridge” dealt with this issue most convincingly in their documentary. The sophistry of the material culture of these early European settlers to North America set the groundwork for later generations of Native Americans to spread across the continent.
Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford, proponents of the Solutrean hypothesis, base it on the claim that the North American Clovis stone spear points are the technological descendants of a subset of those made by the Upper Paleolithic southwestern European Solutrean peoples. Specifically they cite fact that both are made by a technique known as “overshot,” with flaking as evidence for their common origin. From this starting point, Bradley and Stanford propose a hyperdiffusionist scenario in which a group of Solutreans migrated across the Atlantic Ocean to North America via an “ice bridge” approximately 20,000 years before present, using a frozen passageway via what is today Greenland, Iceland and Nova Scotia.
Bradley and Stanford also accept that although the majority of Native American ancestry comes from a group of Siberians who lived in Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum approximately between 23,000 to 13,000 years before present, they claim that “great numbers” of Solutreans must also have migrated to North America via the north Atlantic route.
Until now, archaeologists had taken this idea and dismissed it on the basis of insufficient evidence. But now that evidence of early humans, who existed even before Native Americans have been discovered in what is today Alaska, bearing all the hallmarks of Europeans both in terms of bone structure, skin and hair coloration, the Solutrean hypothesis is beginning to gain traction once again and the possibility of a crossing over the Atlantic ever more likely.
The Solutreans are believed to have crossed the Atlantic via the ice bridge somewhere between 20,000 and 13,000 years ago. Which is consistent with the archaeological record that shows that Solutrean points were made consistently for 7,000 years. Even during these early stages, early Europeans saw the value of standardization and were able to pass down effective tool building techniques to future generations with no written historical record.
Although there is no evidence of boat use, or tools used for making boats at Solutrean sites, it is likely that these early Solutreans crossed over from Europe to America via a combination of both boats as well as foot. Given the primitive tools and materials of the time, it is highly unlikely that any of these early vessels would have stood the test of time. But “The Ice Bridge” documentary points to an image of a fish and an auk in a French cave, indicating clearly of a sophisticated seafaring culture, capable of crossing the Atlantic. French caves as well as Spanish caves have far more elaborate cave drawings and paintings than as found in any other part of the world.
The existence of a year-round “ice bridge” across the Atlantic during the Last Glacial Maximum is also supported by paleoclimate data. In fact, with the seasons just barely forming as the earth thawed, the “ice bridge” would likely have existed for far longer than would be imagined before the Solutreans would have had to rely on boats to make the Atlantic crossing with multiple stops.
The tools used by the Solutreans also used a unique overshot flaking technique, a technique which the Clovis tools of Native Americans later adopted. The technique was effective and preserved by subsequent generations of settlers from Europe as well as Eurasia, which explains why tools found in India also point to European origins.
Radiocarbon dates of Clovis sites also show a pattern one would expect if people diffused into North America from the east coast, as postulated by Stanford and Bradley.
Geneticists, too are starting to discover more evidence as well which backs the Solutrean hypothesis. In fact, improved DNA tests have shown non-Siberian descended populations present in the genomes of ancient Native Americans and since the ancient Beringians could not have been the source of that DNA, it most likely would have come from European sources. All contemporary and ancient Native Americans, including the only known ancient individual buried in association with Clovis tools, show descent from an ancestral population with Siberian as well as non-Siberian roots, the first time such a discovery has been made.
The “Ice Bridge” documentary sheds more light on this discovery and discusses how a that a particular mitochondrial haplogroup (a group of closely related maternal lineages) known as X shows a connection between North America and Europe. In the documentary, pediatrician Stephen Oppenheimer asserts that the presence of haplogroup X in an ancient North American population shows how there is indisputable evidence for a European connection between ancient Native Americans and Europeans. The documentary makes this case persuasively with graphics and maps showing the presence of this haplogroup in both Europe and North America.
Standford, Bradley, and Oppenheimer also shed light on how Solutreans would have had X because it’s seen in contemporary white European populations. Today, lineages of haplogroup X are found widely dispersed throughout Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America, but their origins can be found in ancient European populations. We can reconstruct their evolutionary relationships – much like you can reconstruct a family tree – by looking at patterns of shared and derived mutations. Lineages found in the Americas, X2a and X2g, are descended from the lineages (X2b, X2d, and X2c) found in Europe.
X2a is of a comparable age to other indigenous American haplogroups (A,B,C,D), which suggest it was derived from a separate migration from Europe. Finally, the oldest lineage of X2a found in the Americas was recovered from the Ancient One (also known as Kennewick Man), an ancient individual dating to about 9,000 years ago and from the West Coast and who has now been linked to the ancient Beringians. This suggests that the ancient Beringians may have admixed with the Solutreans, resulting later on in the Native Americans. In other words, two different European populations from entered the North American continent from East and West before the Native American race was developed.
Kennewick Man’s entire genome has been sequenced and shows that he has no ancestry from European sources, but instead shares ancestry with the ancient Beringians who had crossed over on the ice bridge over from Alaska.
The “Ice Bridge” documentary is adding to a growing body of evidence that is questioning the underlying assumptions that Africa was the cradle of humanity and that Native Americans arrived on the North American continent first. While there may be strong social and political reasons for maintaining this narrative, improved DNA sequencing techniques are undermining these assumptions.