Paleoamerican Odyssey

By Kelly E. Graf; Caroline V. Ketron et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
After Clovis-First Collapsed:
Reimagining the Peopling
of the Americas

Jon M. Erlandson

ABSTRACT

From the ruins of the Clovis-First paradigm, which dominated 20th-century American archaeology, archaeol-
ogists have proposed several alternative models for the peopling of the Americas. Coastal and maritime per-
spectives now play a much larger role in such colonization models, buttressed by some recent archaeologi-
cal, genetic, and paleoecological data. With increasingly robust genetic data suggesting that the Americas
were first colonized by humans migrating out of northeast Asia and Beringia between ~18,000 and 14,000
years ago, archaeologists must construct viable models from a very sparse pre-Clovis archaeological record.
I believe the very scarcity of pre-Clovis sites is significant—suggesting that we may be missing an important
part of the record. Small and highly mobile populations may explain the scarcity of early sites in some re-
gions, but rising post-glacial sea levels and the inundation of vast areas of the continental shelves are also a
major problem. From these sparse records, we must reevaluate Paleoindian settlement chronologies using
principles of good chronological hygiene, reexamine key sites long dismissed by Clovis-First proponents,
and reimagine the peopling of the New World.

KEYWORDS: Coastal migration theory, Kelp highway hypothesis, Stemmed points, Pacific Rim


Introduction

With the collapse of the Clovis-First model, the credibility of the coastal migration theory as a viable alternative for the peopling of the Americas has grown. A variety of genomic, paleoecological, and archaeological evidence now suggests that the Americas probably were first colonized by humans originating in northeast Asia and Beringia, between about 18,000 and 15,000 calendar years ago. If a coastal migration around the Pacific Rim played a significant role in this process—a hypothesis not a certainty—postglacial sea level rise of 100 m or more, along with heavy glaciation in the Pacific Northwest and the tectonic history of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, seriously complicates the search for the First Americans. Considerable progress has been made in recent decades, but the Coastal Migration Theory and Kelp Highway Hypothesis are still being actively studied and evaluated. As a result, after more than a century of research we still cannot say when or how the First Americans reached Pacific shores and the rest of the New World. If it was in the late Pleistocene, however, it is safe to assume that most of the sites left behind by coastal migrants now lie submerged, often in relatively deep water and kilometers from the modern shore.

Geoscientists and archaeologists have been warning us about the effects of postglacial sea level rise on coastal archaeological records for decades (e.g., Shepard 1964; Emery and Edwards 1966; Shackleton et al. 1984), but terrestrial archaeologists and grand synthesizers have largely ignored such warnings. In considering the potential effects of sea

Museum of Natural and Cultural History and Department of
Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403–1224;
e-mail:jerland@uoregon.edu

-127-

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