A Solutrean Solution?

by: FireTag

March 17, 2012

Science knows that the Norse (Vikings) colonized Greenland a millennium ago, but the colony didn’t stick when colder temperatures returned following the Medieval Warm Period. Average daily temperatures in Greenland warmed about 3 degrees F before the plunge back into a Little Ice Age (which itself only ended well into the 19th Century) that forced withdrawal of the colony, leaving behind little more than the ruins of a stone church at Hvalsey.

The Norse reached the North American continent and tried, unsuccessfully, to settle there before the cold returned. They established a base on the northern tip of New Foundland at L’anse aux Meadows and tried to establish trade routes (and, perhaps, other settlements) into and beyond the Gulf of St. Lawrence. When the colony in Greenland failed, there was no platform to mount any expedition to return to America by the northern route.

But the presence of the Norse indicates that the northern route could have been viable at times in the past, particularly if North America had been uninhabited at the time.  (The Norse were strongly resisted by the early “Canadians” who the Norse called Skraelingar.)

In fact,  recently, more and more evidence has been showing up that the northern route across the Atlantic has been open — and used — much farther in the past than anyone thought. By comparison, those peoples who crossed to America from Siberia were young’ns.

As reported last month by the Independent:

“A remarkable series of several dozen European-style stone tools, dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, have been discovered at six locations along the US east coast. Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, discovered by archaeologist Dr Darrin Lowery of the University of Delaware. One is in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia. A sixth was discovered by scallop-dredging fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land. The similarity between other later east coast US and European Stone Age stone tool technologies has been noted before. But all the US European-style tools, unearthed before the discovery or dating of the recently found or dated US east coast sites, were from around 15,000 years ago – long after Stone Age Europeans (the Solutrean cultures of France and Iberia) had ceased making such artifacts. Most archaeologists had therefore rejected any possibility of a connection. But the newly-discovered and recently-dated early Maryland and other US east coast Stone Age tools are from between 26,000 and 19,000 years ago – and are therefore contemporary with the virtually identical western European material.”

As a happy Marylander, I was intrigued enough to follow up by reviewing some things I’d seen previously in a NOVA science documentary:

NARRATOR: Clovis and Solutrean spear points not only look alike, they are made the same unusual way. To Stanford and Bradley, this was a powerful clue that prehistoric explorers had come from Europe and brought with them the technology that transformed Stone Age America: the Clovis Spear Point….Stanford and Bradley needed to find some artifact in the Americas to bridge the time gap. They scoured Clovis sites across the continent, places where other archaeologists had been digging for years. Then, from a site called Cactus Hill, in Virginia, a possibility, a point that resembled the Solutrean style, and it dated far earlier than the Clovis.”

The key issue here is how did the Solutreans make the journey during the peak of the last Ice Age. Well,  modern peoples of the North American Arctic have learned to turn their lemon-of-a-climate into lemonade by living off the food bounty that the sea gives them along the edge of the ice pack, and have successfully spread from Alaska to Greenland. The Solutreans could have done the same.

Small boats made of natural materials can easily traverse the sea in hop-and-a-skip voyages between the ice floes that cluster along the edge of the ice sheet, and if the weather turns bad, they can be pulled up onto the ice and used as portable shelters. When the Solutreans run out of room to continue spreading west because they run into a continent, they find themselves — ta dah — on the continental shelf of a Delmarva Peninsula enlarged because of all the ocean water locked up in the continental glaciers.

But if the Solutreans did get to America first, and brought with them the seeds of the technology that would become the dominating hunting weapon of the Clovis point thousands of years later, why did they, rather than the Siberian migrants, not inherit the continent? The DNA of the existing native peoples in America is dominated by four types (denoted A, B, C, and D) that has clear Siberian roots, but does not have similar European sources. Similarly, hunting weapons from Siberia that pre-date Clovis points are made by pressing small flakes of sharpened flint into the sides of spears. (The Clovis point is tied to the end of a spear, making the spear points easy to recover without damage and “reload”.) So the European technology outlived the European gene line, apparently, even though there are isolated pockets of DNA type X in eastern North America:

“… NARRATOR: There was a fifth source of DNA of mysterious origin. They called it X, and unlike A, B, C and D, they couldn’t find it anywhere in Siberia or eastern Asia. But it was similar to an uncommon lineage in European populations today. At first, they thought it must be the result of interracial breeding within the last 500 years, sometime after Columbus.

DOUGLAS WALLACE: We naturally assumed that perhaps there had been European recent mixture with the Ojibwa tribe and that some European women had married into the Ojibwa tribe and contributed their mitochondrial DNAs.

NARRATOR: But that assumption proved wrong. When they looked at the amount of variation in the X lineage, it pointed to an origin long before Columbus, in fact, to at least 15,000 years ago. It appeared to be evidence of Ice Age Europeans in America.

DOUGLAS WALLACE: Well, what it says is that a mitochondrial lineage that is predominantly found in Europe somehow got to the Great Lakes region of the Americas 14,000 to 15,000 years ago.”

What happened to the American Soletreans was truly catastrophic, but it is unclear what triggered the catastrophe. After warming from maximal ice conditions for thousands of years, the climate turned cold — much worse, and much faster than the cold that doomed the Viking colonies.

The onset of this “Younger Dryas” event plunged northern temperatures, as recorded by isotope ratios in the ice on the summit of the Greenland ice cap, by as much as 27 degrees F below today’s temperatures. And the change appears to have occurred in a decade or less. The Delmarva was buried under the debris of dry winds, producing an ancient dust bowl. And the Clovis point cultures throughout much of North America rapidly declined, if not disappeared entirely.

The effects were worst around the North Atlantic — although records of glacial re-advance show that even the Pacific Northwest was affected by the cooling — and so searches for explanations focused on what could have suddenly happened in that region of the world. Initially, changes in the circulation of the North Atlantic waters which might occur as increases in melting glacial ice lowered water salinity were suspected. Too low salinity, and North Atlantic surface waters can not sink as they cool approaching the pole. If they can’t sink, they can’t return to the equator at depth and rewarm. If they can’t rewarm, they can’t re-rise to the surface and return Northward carrying heat through an ancient analogue of the Gulf Stream.

However, the cold deep water takes something on the order of 1000 years to make a complete circuit (those flows are actually ocean-basin wide, unlike the narrow surface currents concentrated at the west side of the basins, and so are much, much slower moving), and so don’t really explain an event with the suddenness of the Younger Dryas.  So the case remained open for another suspect.

And if you want to redistribute atmospheric energy, melt a lot of ice to fool with North Atlantic salinity, and maybe burn the foliage of much of North America as well in a period much less than a decade, there isn’t anything that might fit the bill as well as an extraterrestrial impact above, or even into the ice sheet itself.

University of Oregon archaeologist Douglas Kennett proposed such an explanation, which was also the subject of a NOVA documentary, after geologists discovered an organic-rich layer dated to the Younger Dryas called a “black mat” at a number of Northern locations. As Popular Science noted, Kennett’s theory depended on being able to identify large number of shock-compressed microscopic particles (nanodiamonds) in the carbon layer and in the ice sheets from the time of the Younger Dryas. These nanodiamonds would have been raining out in the debris of any impact, even if the impactor shattered in an airburst and never rreached the ground to leave a crater. And Kennett reported finding them at the appropriate age layer in the Greenland ice.

“The theory soon drew a firestorm of criticism, with a concurrent paper dismissing the nanodiamond results as a false positive. The nanodiamond theory was all but ignored by mid-2011 after many groups of scientists could neither corroborate nor replicate the results. Now comes Isabel Israde-Alcántara et al., writing in the same journal that published the nanodiamond refutation.

“This time, the researchers studied a different location — a lake in central Mexico instead of Greenland — and used a different set of techniques to take their measurements. The team studied a 10-centimeter-thick, carbon-rich layer dating to 12,900 years ago, which contained nanodiamonds, carbon spherules and other material. Israde-Alcántara and colleagues at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicólas de Hidalgo in Mexico and the U.S. Geological Survey report their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

This does not resolve the issue, but the difference of the environments, as well as the different — and more clearly extraterrestrial — crystalline structure in some of the nanodiamonds makes it more difficult for opponents to propose an alternative explanation as a false positive.

So what does this tell us about the origin of Americans, particularly from the standpoint of historicity in Book of Mormon interpretations? As I’ve argued here, believers in BofM historicity should just learn to take “yes” for an answer regarding the ancient origin of DNA in the Native American populations. Trying to force-fit a chronology for the Jaredite crossing into a Jewish biblical calendar simply borrows biblical problems for the Book of Mormon. Ether leaves gaps in its record in which many thousands of years of history could be fit, with only the most memorable of oral traditions eventually being written down for permanent preservation.

What we are learning is that boats fitted as an Arctic design are important to the peopling of America, and are feasible thousands of years earlier in pre-history than are boats suitable to cross the vast equatorial Pacific by a Polynesian route. As I also argued here, appreciation of the Arctic origins of Native American culture may help us better understand some of the quirks of the Book of Mormon language.

We are learning that peoples can arrive in America, and vanish, leaving nothing detectable of their DNA; yet the cultural advances and technologies they bring or invent once here still transform the civilizations they leave behind.

And we are learning that the universe itself can rise up and smash them down just when things seem to be going swimmingly. I wonder if there isn’t a Book of Solutrea carved on a rock out there somewhere.

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22 Responses to A Solutrean Solution?

  1. Bob on March 17, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Interesting post.
    As I have told you before, in getting my degree in Anthropology, I studied under one
    archaeologist. He worked on the first Colvis site in New Mexico in the 1930s. He went on to map the land route of people from Asia, by way of Alaska and Canada (took him four years). I watched hours of his glass slides of sites he found during his mapping. I guess that makes me a “Colvis” guy.

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  2. FireTag on March 17, 2012 at 12:02 PM


    Ah, but are you a “Clovis first” guy? :D Or does an earlier crossing from Iberia by the Solutrean culture also make sense?

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  3. Stephen Marsh on March 17, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    Firetag — excellent points. I remember when people used to insist that the Vikings never landed on Newfoundland …

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  4. Bob on March 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    #2: FireTag,
    I think a sea going Culture could go just about anywhere on the water_and did. If they understood the Trade winds, the ocean currents and how the water hit on the side of the boat to show the currents. The know the stars. They could see the thunderheads over inlands hundreds of miles before seeing the island. they followed birds and fish and seaweed. They could ‘read’ the waters temperature, etc.
    We know, one way or another, man ended up EVERYWHERE on the earth. It just a question of how, when and why.

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  5. FireTag on March 17, 2012 at 10:04 PM


    Yes. Australia got populated tens of thousands of years before America, and even with sea level down during ice ages, Asia to Australia is a bit of a swim. :D Thus, we should not be surprised if boats are one of the earlier human inventions, even if we can’t pick apart how the technology developed because primitive boats would not be made of stone by definition, and so they would be among the least likely artifacts of stone age cultures to be preserved.

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  6. Bob on March 18, 2012 at 1:43 AM

    For an archaeologist, artifacts are his canon. No artifact=no archaeology. If you are into ‘story’, you are in Cultural Anthropology. Archaeology require an object in hand. But ‘boats’ can be found in pictographs, which would be an artifact.
    Most of the good ‘stone artifacts’, are made of glass (obsidian). The important trade of obsidian can be folowed much like DNA. To see who was trading with whom, and how far the trade routes were.

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  7. FireTag on March 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM


    Cultural anthropology it is, then, in regard to the peopling of Australia. The evidence for the early arrival of humanity there is clear cut to experts (although Australia is not an area whose origins I’ve ever reviewed except as it related to plate tectonics).

    All I’m saying about Australia, then, is that aboriginal presence is sufficient to infer boats existed capable of crossing a good bit of open ocean. (I prefer that to ancient astronauts with teleporters.)

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  8. Bob on March 18, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    #7: FireTag,
    It took 200 years for ‘Americans’
    to develope a wagon that could cross the Great Plains. Otherwise, it was horse or foot only.
    Lewis and Clark were looking for a boat route to the Pacific, but never found it.
    I am sure many early groups did reach the Americas by boat. But most walked.

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  9. prometheus on March 18, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    I am reminded of the remarkable provenance of folk tales around the world – how traditional stories from India have similar versions in the Americas, and whatnot. On top of that, I also find it interesting to consider the amount of archaeological evidence, as it were, that is buried under cities, farmland, lost in river deltas and whatnot.

    Not much of substance to contribute other than to point out how much there is yet to be discovered and figured out.

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  10. FireTag on March 18, 2012 at 2:10 PM


    No dispute really with your point, except that boat travel is easier than foot travel, which is why Lewis and Clark penetrated up river valleys through the great plains,(those dratted Rockies thwarted the grand plan.) hoping that there would be nothing worse than the equivalent of a Cumberland Gap somewhere, as there had been to facilitate movement across the Blue Ridge.

    Boats would be preferred if available to settle America, though I have no doubt that many people did go across Beringia (when the climate was suitable) by foot.

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  11. Bob on March 18, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    #10: FireTag,
    “A study published in 2007 in PLoS Genetics, led by University of Michigan and University College London researchers, suggests that the Bering land bridge migration occurred 12,000 years ago, that every human who migrated across the land bridge came from Eastern Siberia, and that every Native American is directly descended from that same group of Eastern Siberian migrants”.
    The route for the Bering land bridge migration was maybe a hundred miles wide from Asia to say Settle. The climate around 10,000-12,000 years ago was about the same a today’s Idaho. Generations lived on and crossed bridge.

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  12. FireTag on March 18, 2012 at 4:09 PM


    I am aware of the conclusions of the study, and do not doubt the existence of the land bridge. There are also studies, which can be easily reached through the links I put in the OP, which indicate that boats were used to travel much farther south along the West Coast of the Americas much more quickly than walking diffusion would occur.

    This makes perfect sense in terms of the land bridge idea. If the land bridge was free of ice, so was the ocean off of the coast, and boats can work, too.

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  13. Bob on March 18, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    Yes_ boats would be faster.
    But the land bridge brought thousands of people over hundreds of years (walking and living)__boats did not.

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  14. Bob on March 18, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    #10: FireTag,
    After two grueling trips across the Rockies, Lewis and Clark were shown the Bozman Pass by the indians, where one can easily walk thru the Rockies.

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  15. FireTag on March 18, 2012 at 10:35 PM


    I’m not sure whether we are disagreeing or just misunderstanding each other. Settlements show up on isolated (from landward passage) coastal islands off California and even much farther southward within a thousand years of their appearance in the far north. When I say boats were “faster”, I meant that they permit diffusion over much longer distances in shorter time scales.

    In post-Columbian America, for example, the Europeans penetrated into the continent from the St. Lawrence and Mississippi watersheds by small boat much earlier than by walking or by wagon. Indeed, most of the major cities of the colonies are built at the “fall line” where rivers such as the Potomac (DC), Susquehanna (Baltimore), Delaware (Philadelphia), and Hudson (NYC) come out of the uplifted rocks and meet Coastal Plain sediments. That is so even when the cities were scores of miles upstream from the river mouth. Moving supplies inland from the fall line was a much harder proposition because boats were less usable.

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  16. Bob on March 19, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    #15: FireTag,
    I Think it’s just misunderstaning. I am talking about a BoM settling by boat instead of Walking over the Bridge. I know all about the impotence of the boat in settling ‘America’, after that time. Even the large and small Brich cannoe used (importantly) in pre-Columbian times.
    Even today, one can not dismiss the valus of the ‘boat’ over the train, or airoplane.

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  17. FireTag on March 19, 2012 at 12:30 PM


    I think the overall trend in the sciences on the subject of the Siberian crossing is TOWARD the increasing importance of boats in the story of the early colonization. This doesn’t eliminate the notion that migration by land across Beringia occurred, but it paints it (and the story in Ether) in a broader context.

    I think believers in the Book of Mormon should just take yes for an answer on this one.

    They say one picture is worth a thousand words, so let me add a link to a north-pole-centered map of the globe:


    The North Pacific Gyre (surface current) runs from the East Coast of Asia “north” and then continues beyond the pole down along the West Coast of North America back toward the equator before returning westward toward Asia. It did so at the time of the Beringia land bridge as well, and ran quite nearly parallel to the land bridge. It’s a perfect environment for the Jaredite drifting sealable boat scenario.

    Oh, and at the same time, there were inland “great lake” fresh melt-water lakes along much of the Russian Plain, providing the many water bodies the Jaredites would have to cross before they reached the “great waters”.

    Doesn’t prove the story of Ether, but it hardly makes Beringia a show-stopper either.

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  18. Bob on March 19, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    #17: FireTag,
    “Doesn’t prove the story of Ether, but it hardly makes Beringia a show-stopper either”.
    But I have thousands of artifacts and lots of land sites, what do you have?
    Or (in poker). I have a full house, you are still trying to flop a hand :)

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  19. FireTag on March 19, 2012 at 1:37 PM


    The point is that Beringia and Ether are NOT mutually exclusive descriptions. It isn’t explanation x OR y; it’s explanation x AND y.

    Slow vehicles stay in the left lane (walking across Beringia); fast vehicles stay in the right lane (boats). It’s the SAME highway when you look at it from a polar-centered rather than an equator-centered flat map that distorts perspective.

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  20. Bob on March 19, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    #19: FireTag,
    The thing is how many people are you moving? Are you taking about one small group by boats? How are you suppling them? Did they leave a mark?
    Generations of tribes lived on the land route without ever leaving it. Caves were lived in, amimals lived and died on the route, trees grew and died, etc.
    All small boats groups seemed to have failed at living in America(?) But they did leave their marks. How many English ships did it take to settle the East Coast?

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  21. FireTag on March 19, 2012 at 3:52 PM


    Good points, and I think there are good answers. The design of a drifting fleet in the North Pacific gyre along the ice pack edge permits the Jaredites to play the same supply game the Solutreans played in crossing the North Atlantic thousands of years earlier. (The Solutreans paddled against the currents; Jaredites got to drift because the gyres go from west to east in the northern latitudes.) Solutreans pulled up their boats on the ice to take shelter; Jaredite boats, being larger, sealed and wallowed. Even if they capsized in a storm, you bounced around a bit inside and then popped the other, now upright side. The design is even childproof against a kid falling over the side. :D That allows you to pack a larger breeding population into a much smaller fleet.

    So the Jaredites cruise into Siberia, birth the “next generation” in Siberia taking full advantage of, err, “local DNA sources”, let the mammals of Siberia continue to interchange naturally with those of North America as they’ve been doing during inter-glacials throughout the Pleistocene so there is a non-marine (e.g., caribou) food supply waiting in the New World that works the same as what they’ve been eating in Siberia.

    Then you hop aboard the express, drift for a few months, and leapfrog well southward of all those settlers hiking down the west coast, taking generations as you noted.

    The trick to having a small boat group succeed in colonization of the Americas seems to be (as demonstrated by both Solutreans and Vikings) establishing yourself widely far away from purely northern latitudes and dependency upon Old World trade BEFORE the climate turns cold again.

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  22. Greendraken on January 27, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    I am a bit late on this, but personally, I believe in the Solutrean Solution. A theory should answer as many questions as possible, and be open to changes when new information becomes available. This is a good theory! A meteor struck the Ice Cap around Michigan, now pretty much proven, destroying the Mega fauna and most, if not all all of the Solutreans, and also causing the Younger Dryas. As for boats, one man per boat is a kayak, not suitable for migration. A skin covered, open boat with a rectangular sail, like the Ancient Irish had, could carry about 14 or more people with supplies (like Saint Brendan’s voyage). Pictures of this type of boat are found in caves in Iberia and Southern France, dating about 15,000 – 12,000 years before present. Thank you for allowing me mt 2 cents.

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