|28 February 2004
Did first Americans arrive by boat?
Tools and animal remains found on islands off the California coast have raised the possibility that the first Americans arrived by boat. A report in American Antiquity suggests an alternative to the traditional view that the earliest migrants trekked across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age. The theory is based on archaeological analysis of 9,000-10,000-year-old tools found on Eel Point on San Clemente, one of the eight offshore Channel Islands. Researchers are proposing that the tools may have had the same functions as those used for boat-building by Chumash Indians in the early 20th Century. For example, a triangular ‘reamer’ closely resembles a Chumash ‘canoe drill’, used to expand an existing hole in a wood plank. The animal remains found at the site show that the occupants hunted dolphins, sea lions and seals and collected mussels.
The finds are seen as evidence that the Channel Islanders were accomplished seafarers and were voyaging by sea at least 8,000 years ago. Professor Mark Raab of California State University points out that the nearby island of San Miguel was occupied 12,200 years ago, indicating that sea travel began even earlier. And: “People had settled St. Nicholas island, some 60 miles from the nearest land, between 8,000 and 8,500 years ago. Clearly people were getting around in some kind of watercraft. The only food resources on the Channel Islands effectively come from the sea. Living there means an intensely maritime way of life.”
The possibility that early colonisation spread through coastal exploration is rejected by some researchers, who maintain that the earliest Americans were the Clovis people, who entered the New World across the ‘Beringia’ land bridge. “The basic problem [for the coastal migration theory] is that all boats are made out of organic material that just don’t preserve in the archaeological record,” said Professor Knut Fladmark, of Simon Fraser University in Canada. Professor Fladmark believes that people were building boats 40,000-50,000 years ago and cites evidence that Australia was colonised by this time even though there was no land bridge to South East Asia. “Until you find the boats there will remain a cadre of archaeologists who will insist on not accepting this,” says Professor Fladmark. Professor Raab agrees that evidence of the seafaring theory may never be anything other than circumstantial: “Sea level rise since the last Ice Age flooded much of the coastline of North America, presumably drowning any possible evidence of early coastal migrations.”
Source: BBC News (26 February 2004)
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