On Saturday morning in Falls Church, VA., Smithsonian’s Dennis Stanford spoke about his theory of the first Americans and his new book that will be coming out at the end of the year. The talk was nothing short of fascinating. Dr. Stanford believes that early Europeans associated with the Solutrean culture in southern France and northern Spain likely traveled to North America on skin boats following the sea ice that stretched from Europe to North America.
Archeological evidence continues to push the earliest inhabitants back in time. Sites like Cactus Hill, VA and Meadowcroft, PA already suggest people prior to the Clovis culture. Much of his talk however focused on new finds in and around the Delmarva peninsula. Most notably, a scalloper dredged up an entire Mastodon head along with a bipoint about 20 miles off the Virginia coast where, once upon a time during the Pleistocene, the location would have been marshy land. Dr. Stanford announced the radiocarbon date for the Mastodon at 22,000 BP (I think it was BP, and roughly 22K plus change). This discovery, named after the ship Cinbar, features a bipoint that looks like a Solutrean point made from a rhyolite rock sourced to Maria’s Furnace in PA. Another interesting find (near the James River?) suggests a very old point type made of a French chert.
Since most of the earliest inhabitants would have been out on the continental shelf, Dr. Stanford is making an effort to survey watermen in the Chesapeake about possible prehistoric finds.
His paper is still awaiting publication in Science. I believe his theory might be most forcefully challenged by geneticists. He showed a map of prehistoric people and their migration based on matrilineal DNA. A pulse of early people seemed to spill over into eastern Canada from Europe on the map. He admitted that geneticist would balk at the map. Scholars will undoubtedly be analyzing his theory and evidence with great scrutiny.
New finds, like the 11,000 year old burial of a shaman in Texas who does not have shovel-shaped incisors, are sure to enliven the fascinating debate of the first Americans.