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Coming Into America

Were the First Americans European?  
Illustration of Clovis peoples migration

Where did the Clovis people come from? Dennis Stanford believes some may have come from the Solutrean people in Europe.

For years it was believed that Clovis people came through Alaska using a land bridge from Siberia, then traveled south just as ice sheets across Canada were breaking up. So archeologists have long looked for signs of Clovis people in Alaska.

In 1989, road builders in Alaska's Tanana River valley accidentally uncovered a site called Broken Mammoth. With artifacts dating back 14,000 years, it was the oldest site in Alaska-but it held no Clovis points. Later, another nearby site yielded artifacts a few hundred years older, but still no Clovis points. It did, however, contain microblades and scrapers typical of Siberian and Russian sites going back more than 20,000 years.

For Alaska state archeologist Chuck Holmes these findings suggest that early Alaskans weren't the predecessors to Clovis. And he's not alone.

Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution spent years in Alaska and found no connection between Siberian artifacts and Clovis technology. His new theory is that Clovis people came not from Siberia, but from Europe. The Solutrean people of France and Spain were their predecessors, he says.
Photo of Clovis spear shaft wrench.

This Clovis spear shaft wrench was made first by the Solutrean people --found in France and Spain.


Shared technology-including bifacial points and a spear shaft wrench made of mammoth bone-and cultural traits suggest the two are related. But, as Stanford explains to Alan, there are two problems with this theory. First, the Solutrean culture is 5,000 years older than Clovis. Second, how did the Solutreans cross the Atlantic Ocean to get to North America?

A site in Virginia called Cactus Hill may hold some of the answers. Artifacts found there have been dated at 18,000 years-too early for Clovis, but just right for Solutrean. Stanford believes a fossil walrus jaw found in the nearby Chesapeake could suggest how the Solutreans made their way to North America. Ice-loving walrus could only have reached the Chesapeake during the height of the last Ice Age, around 15,000-20,000 years ago. Stanford says that's when the Solutreans got here, and they did it by bringing their boats along the ice edge which stretched across the ocean at the time.

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