I would like to make it clear from the start that my knowledge of the early occupation of the Americas is very limited. It is a peripheral interest of mine. I don’t feel competent enough to make many pronouncements on the late Pleistocene timing of the migration(s) from north-east Asia into the Americas. Instead I focus primarily here on showing, contrary to reports eminating from both pseudoscientific and unfortunately some portions of mainstream archaeology, that the origins of the Paleoindians lay in mainland Asia.
Christy Turner has identified what he terms the “Mongoloid dental complex” for East Asia, consisting of two patterns: Sinodonty and Sundadonty. The latter is regarded as having a more generalised morphology and having a longer ancestry than its offspring, Sinodonty. Through multivariate studies, Turner has demonstrated that the dental remains of both ancient and modern Indians are more similar to each other than they are to dental complexes from other continents. The Sinodonty patterns of the Paleoindians indentifies their ancestral homeland as north-east Asia.
A detailed summary of Turner’s work is available at
This sounds easy enough so far. However, as always within palaeoanthropology, something crops up to challenge the prodominant hypothesis. Joseph Powell and Jerome Rose’s analysis of the Kennewick Man has led them to conclude the dentition of KM more closely aligns with Sundadonty than Sinodonty: “Cranial and dental discrete traits presented a difficulty in analysis. These features could only be scored as “present” or “absent” in Kennewick, while they are recorded as a percentage of “presence” or “absence” in comparative samples. In order to statistically assess the Kennewick discrete data, we elected to follow a procedure outlined in Powell (1993) for converting frequency data to presence/absence form in statistical analyses. All comparative sample frequencies were converted to a set of ones or zeros following Powell (1993), and these data were then used to generate posterior probabilities of group membership for an unknown sample using logistical discrimination (Jobson 1982). Typicality probabilities were not generated for these analysis, though such an approach would be possible. Cranial discrete data for eight variables in 20 world-wide samples provided a statistically significant discrimination (log-likelihood chi-square 24.93 at 7 d.f., p = 0.0008) of samples into “Amerindian” and “Non-Amerindian” groups. Under this method, Kennewick had a probability of 0.0000 for membership in Amerindians and 0.9998 for membership in Non-Amerindians. The procedure was repeated using dichotomized dental data. In this analysis, 44 samples were divided into Sinodont (including American Indians) and Sundadont groups. The discriminatory power of this method was significant (log-likelihood chi-square 43.360 with 7 d.f, p = 0.0001) for the dental data. Kennewick had a probability of 0.48460 for membership in the Sinodont group, 0.93769 for membership in the Sundadont group. The analysis was repeated using a third group, composed of Paleoindian and middle Holocene samples, in addition to the Sinodont and Sundadont populations. Early Holocene American samples were separated from the main east Asian dental patterns because they exhibit a mixture of features that occur in high frequency in both Sinodonts and Sundadonts (see Powell in press and Powell 1995). Based on this analysis, the Kennewick specimen had a posterior probability of 0.0055 for membership in Sinodonts, 0.5940 for membership in Sundadonts, and 0.4005 for membership in the early Holocene group.”
Turner (2002) has subsequently responded: “All my analyses of prehistoric and living Native Americans and comparative samples (>25,000 individuals) indicate they possess the
Sinodont dental pattern, which is found only in Northeast Asia and the
entire New World. On the other hand, Powell and Rose (1999) propose that
the controversial Kennewick Man, initially claimed to be a Caucasoid, had
a Sundadont dentition. However, these workers have not yet indicated which
dental traits they used to reach this conclusion, nor have they indicated
how they handled the problem of dental wear. With advanced wear, Sinodonty
can be mistaken for Sundadonty. This can be appreciated in Figure 5, which
shows frequencies for several traits in Sinodonts and Sundadonts. With
wear, traits that vary in degree of expression, such as marked incissor
shovelling and infrequent molar cusp numbers in Sinodonts can be
misidentified for less marked expressions more common in the Sundadont
pattern (Burnett et al. 1998). Even traits such as root number can be
confused in older individuals when cement accretion has been excessive.
Chatters (2000) has also called Kennewick a Sundadont, but his assessment
can be evaluated since Chatters listed the six dental traits he used to
reach this conclusion. Only three of his traits are part of the eight
trait suit I originally proposed for differentiating between Sinodonty and
Sundadonty (Turner 1990a). On this small basis, I personally would not
have drawn any conclusion about dental affinity, even though the traits
Chatters used for affinity assessments are not usually affected by wear.” ”
Genetic evidence is also persuasive in arguing for an Asian origin of the Paleoindians. For a while there has been a question mark hanging over whether haplotype X is indicative of a European contribution to the Paleoindian gene pool. In an article entitled “The peopleing of the New World: Present evidence, new theories and future directions” in a 2000 edition of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 8(1), Stuart Fiedel wrote the following:
“Although the A, B. C, and D haplotypes occur widely in the modern populations of Mongolia, central China, Tibet, and Taiwan, the highest frequencies yet found in any Asian population have been reproted recently for the Tuva and Buryat of southern Siberia, where 72.2 and 52.4%, respectively, of sampled individuals belong to one of these four haplotypes (as compared to 48% of Mongolians) (Derevianko et al., 1998). The B haplotype seems to be absent among the modern people of northeastern Siberia, indicating that a population replacement probably occurred there, millennia after the departure of Paleoindian ancestors (Schurr et al., 1999). Haplotype X, present in North American native groups including Ojibwa, Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Sioux, and Yakima, has not yet been seen in any East Asian population, but a distantly related mtDNA type has been reported recently in European populations (e.g., Finns, Italians, and Druze). As haplotype X is not accompanied by other typical European haplotypes in Native Americans, it seems that it cannot be ascribed to early historica admixture with Europeans (Brown et al., 1998). Furthermore, this haplotype also has been found in some prehistoric North American skeletal populations. Perhaps, the presence of X in Europe is a legacy of the various Turko-Mongolian invasions (e.g., Huns in Italy, Mongols in Austria) or the earlier migrations of Uralic peoples. Alternatively, it may be a trace of possible ancient genetic exchange and cultural contact between Trans-Baikal Upper Paleolithic Caucasoids and North Chinese/Mongolian proto-Mongoloids. Such an exchange could also explain the more recent evidence derived from a study of Y-chromosome DNA polymorphisms (Karafet et al., 1999; Santos et al., 1999). The most common Native American Y haplotype, designated as haplotype 31, is present in almost 90% of the tested males in some groups (including populations of so-called Amerinds, Na-Dene or Athapaskan speakers, and Eskimos). Second in prevalence is haplotype 10, found in 30% of native North American males, and also present, at a low frequency, in Mongolia and India. Haplotype 10 seems to be the immediate ancestor of haplotype 31, and also is ancestral to haplotype 20, found in central Siberians (e.g., 70% of KEts and 17.4% of Altaians) and (very rarely) in Native Americans. Haplotype 10 also appears to have given rise of haplotype 1, which is common in European Caucasoids as well as (subcontinental) Indians. All of these Y-chromosome variants are absent in Chinese and Japanese males. Curiously, the Buryat, who show such a high frequency of the ancestral American mtDNA types, do not belong to the same lineage as Native American males. So, southern/central Siberia seems to be the area where two ancestral gene pools overlap: one encompassing the female lineages of America, northern China, and Mongolia, and the other a male lineage that is ultimately related to the ancestors of modern Europeans, and not to East Asian mongoloids. Such lack of congruence between male and female ancestry has been observed in numerous other cases and may reflect exogamous movement of women between patrilineal bands (Karafet et al., 1999; Seilstad et al., 1998)”
I have been informed by an academic from the University of California he will shortly be having an article published in Evolutionary Anthropology analysing these so-called European migrations. Doug Weller, on Paleoanthro mailing list, has also made a number of pointers: there is a 5000-year gap between the end of the Soluterean and the Clovis traditions, covered by LG Strauss (“Solutrean Settlement of North America? A Review of Reality”, American Antiquity 65(2) 2000: 219-226). Weller also informed Paleoanthro that Haplotype X has subsequently been found in Siberia and cited the following:
“* R.S. Malhi and D.G. Smith. 2002. “Brief Communication: Haplogroup X Confirmed in Prehistoric North America.” Am. J. of Physical Anthropology 119: 84-86.
* Abstract: Haplogroup X represents approximately 3% of all modern Native North american mitochondrial lineages. Using RFLP and hypervariable segment I (HVSI) sequence analyses, we identified a prehistoric individual radiocarbon dated to 1,340 =/- 40 years BP that is a member of haplogroup X, found near the Columbia River in Vantage, Washington. The presence of haplogroup X in prehistoric North America, along with recent findings of haplogroup X in southern Siberians confirms the hypothesis that haplogroup X is a founding lineage…(p. 84)
* Derenko et al [2002. “The Presence of mitochondrial haplogroup X in Altaians from south Siberia,” Am. J. Human Genetics 69: 237-241] reported the presence of haplogroup X in altaian populations from southern Siberia, where the other four Native American founding haplogroups are also present.”
There has been much talk both within and outside American palaeoanthropology of the Lapa Vermelha child resembling Africans more closely than north-east Asians. A 1999 study by Walter Neves et al. provides a different perspective on this matter and in actual fact it turns out there is no contradiction between their results and that of Turner’s dental studies:
Walter A. Neves, Joseph F. Powell, Andre Prous, Erik G. Ozolins2 and Max Blum. Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid I: Morphological affinities of the earlies known America. American Genetics and Molecular Biology, 22, 4, 461-469 (1999)
Abstract: “Several studies concerning the extra-continental morphological affinities of Paleo-Indian skeletons, carried out independently in South and North America, have indicated that the Americas were first occupied by non-Mongoloids that made their way to the New World through the Bering Strait in ancient times. The first South Americans show a clear resemblance to modern South Pacific and African populations, while the first North Americans seem to be at an unresolved morphological position between modern South Pacific and Europeans. In none of these analyses the first Americans show any resemblance to either northeast Asians or modern native Americans. So far, these studies have included affirmed and putative early skeletons thought to date between 8,000 and 10,000 years B.P. In this work the extra-continental morphological affinities of a Paleo-Indian skeleton well dated between 11,000 and 11,500 years B.P. (Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid 1, or �Luzia�) is investigated, using as comparative samples Howells� (1989) world-wide modern series and Habgood�s (1985) Old World Late Pleistocene fossil hominids. The comparison between Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid 1 and Howells� series was based on canonical variate analysis, including 45 size-corrected craniometric variables, while the comparison with fossil hominids was based on principal component analysis, including 16 size-corrected variables. In the first case, Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid 1 exhibited an undisputed morphological affinity firstly with Africans and secondly with South Pacific populations. In the second comparison, the earliest known American skeleton had its closest similarities with early Australians, Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 103, and Taforalt 18. The results obtained clearly confirm the idea that the Americas were first colonized by a generalized Homo sapiens population which inhabited East Asia in the Late Pleistocene, before the definition of the classic Mongoloid morphology.”
The conclusion ends with: “There is no necessity of invoking the occurrence of trans-oceanic migrations to explain the pattern of biological affinities we have been finding for the first Americans. The best way of reconciling the pattern of morphological similarities found in this work with common knowledge about human evolution in East Asia is to assume that both the first Australians and the first Americans shared a common ancestral population in mainland Asia. This ancestral population could well be represented by hominids similar to the Zhoukoudian Upper Cave people (Kamminga and Wright, 1988; Wright, 1995; Neves and Pucciarelli, 1998) and its ultimate origin can be traced back to Africa. The idea that East Asia was occupied by an Australian-like population by the end of the Pleistocene has gained more support recently. Matsumura and Zuraina (1999) described a very well-preserved skeleton from Gua Gunung, Malaysia. The specimen is aged 10,200 B.P. and is said to be a late representative of a non-specialized morphology, similar to Australian Aborigines, in East Asia. If our inferences are correct, the Americas could ultimately be seen as part of the first expansion of anatomically modern humans out of Africa, which started during the beginning of the Upper Pleistocene. Recent acceptance of Late Pleistocene dates for the occupation of the site of Monte Verde, Chile (Meltzer et al., 1997), now suggests that populations colonizing the New World may have crossed the Bering Strait earlier than previously thought. This makes our suggestion still more plausible.”
Then there is also C.L. Brace et al’s paper in the August 2001 edition of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), entitled “Old World sources of the first New World human inhabitants: A comparative craniofacial view”.
Introduction: “Human craniofacial data were used to assess the similarities and differences between recent and prehistoric Old World samples, and between these samples and a similar representation of samples from the New World. The data were analyzed by the neighbor-joining clustering procedure, assisted by bootstrapping and by canonical discriminant analysis score plots. The first entrants to the Western Hemisphere of maybe 15,000 years ago gave rise to the continuing native inhabitants south of the U.S.�Canadian border. These show no close association with any known mainland Asian population. Instead they show ties to the Ainu of Hokkaido and their Jomon predecessors in prehistoric Japan and to the Polynesians of remote Oceania. All of these also have ties to the Pleistocene and recent inhabitants of Europe and may represent an extension from a Late Pleistocene continuum of people across the northern fringe of the Old World. With roots in both the northwest and the northeast, these people can be described as Eurasian. The route of entry to the New World was at the northwestern edge. In contrast, the Inuit (Eskimo), the Aleut, and the Na-Dene speakers who had penetrated as far as the American Southwest within the last 1,000 years show more similarities to the mainland populations of East Asia. Although both the earlier and later arrivals in the New World show a mixture of traits characteristic of the northern edge of Old World occupation and the Chinese core of mainland Asia, the proportion of the latter is greater for the more recent entrants.”
The conclusion states: “A combination of two different regional populations appears to have been involved in the initial human expansion into the Western Hemisphere. The regions in question were a mainland East Asian core located in China north of the Tropic of Capricorn and south of the Gobi Desert, and a northwestern component originally running from near Moscow to the Atlantic coast of Europe north of the Mediterranean Sea. The archaeological record indicates that both of these components had been separate in the Middle Pleistocene. The northwestern component expanded eastwards to exploit unoccupied terrain at the northern edge of Asia in the Middle Paleolithic ca. 200,000 years ago. The reduction in robustness that produced the ��modern�� form from an archaic version of Homo sapiens in the Late Pleistocene led to the emergence of people of similar appearance at the northwestern and northeastern edges of the Old World. Technological developments and climatic amelioration starting 17,000 years ago allowed the population segment across the northern edge of the inhabited Old World to extend north toward the previously uninhabited Arctic (8). At the eastern end of this range, contact with the indigenous core population of mainland East Asia led to the incorporation of some of their genetic characteristics, making those who were first able to move across Beringia into the New World properly characterized as Eurasian. After the end of the Pleistocene, the development of agriculture led to a major expansion of the core population of mainland East Asia and its increasingly important contributions to the subsequent movements into the New World, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. A schematic representation of the placement of the original populations and their subsequent movements and combinations is depicted in Fig. 5. The solid arrow labeled 1 represents the Middle Pleistocene movement across the northern edge of the Old World (49). The Australia (59). Arrow 3 shows the terminal Pleistocene initial entrance into the New World (8, 11, 12), and the arrows labeled 4 show post-Pleistocene expansions made possible by the utilization of new food resources related in part to the development of agriculture (27). Arrows 1 and 2 represent single population
expansions into unoccupied land. Arrow 3 represents movement into unoccupied land but by a population with both European and Asian roots. Arrow 4 represents a technology-based expansion of different populations into areas that, with the exception of Oceania, were already occupied. The consequence was a much greater rate of genetic exchange than had been true for any of the earlier movements.”
Before moving on, I would like to quote at length from Wolpoff (Paleoanthropology 1999: 733-4): “a number of scientists have noted that they [the earliest North Americans] could easily have been derived from Asians such as those presented at the Zhoukoudian Upper Cave. A. Hrdlicka, and subsequently his replacement at the Smithsonian Institution T.D. Stewart, argued for decades that no early Native American remains fall outside the range of variation found in living Native Americans. They demonstrated that attempts to show significant evolution came from isolating a few archaeological specimens with seemingly archaic characteristics and assuming that they were early. There was, however, substantial adaptive variation to the wide range of American environments and the increasingly diverse cultural adaptations (including indigenious Neolithic revolutions and several dense, stratified population centers). The Americas stand as a model for how quickly these changes can occur. Descriptions of the few early remains are relatively incomplete, with several exceptions. Only three sites with human remains can be dated to older than 10 kyr using techniques not dependent on bone collagen or amino acid dating, which seem especially problematic for the North American material because of treatment (preparation, storage) after their discovery and have been quite misleading (Table 110). In order of decreasing age, the best-dated older specimens are from Guitarrero Cave in Peru, Tepexpan in Mexico, and Marmes rock shelter in Washington State, all dated to within the 13-11 kyr span…. The fifty fragments of a subadult from the Marmes rock shelter were described as indicating a robust but modern-appearing individual with some “Mongoloid” features, a description that hardly distinguishes it from other Native Americans. As a whole, the early Native American sample cannot be distinguished from modern Native Americans by any particular set of features.”
In turning to other issues, note that unless otherwise stated all references to works published in 2002 refers to papers in the published proceedings of the “The First Americans: The Pleistocene colonization of the New World” (Nina Jablonski, 2002, ed.) conference.
Elias (2002: 10-11) states, “It is generally believed that the Beringian lowlands remained ice-free because the Bering Land Bridge blocked Pacific moisture from entering many interior regions. Paleoclimate studies have shown that Beringia had sufficient cold climate to develop and sustain glacial ice sheets, but this region lacked sufficient moisture to grow glaciers. [My note: see Tracing Graham Hancock’s Shifting Cataclysm for further details on Siberia’s climate.] … The various climatic factors interacted to yield intervals of interglacial and interstadial warming at 130,000-120,000 year BP.., 110,000-100,000 yr B.P., 87,000-75,000 yr B.P., 60,000-30,000 yr B.P., and the Holocene. Low points in the isolation curve correspond with the times of mountain glacial advances in Eastern Beringia, and the build up of continental ice sheets to the east. These intervals include 120,000-110,000 yr B.P., 75,000-60,000 yr B.P., and 25,000-18,000 yr B.P.” Of further interest is Upper Palaeolithic sites such as from Ust-Mil 2 and Ikhine dating to c. 35kya (West (ed.) American Beginnings: The Prehistory and Palaeoecology of Beringia :543) in western Beringia. Evidence from sites such as the Tanana and Nenana Rover Valleys, Bluefish Caves, Trail Creek Caves and Lime Hills Caves show that Eastern Siberian was inhabited by a minimum of 15kya, with the first humans colonising the mammoth-steppe during the middle Upper Palaeolithic (26-19kya). The reference for the latter information is Ted Goebel’s “Pleistocene human colonisation and peopling of the Americas: An ecological approach” (Evolutionary Anthropology 1999 8(6): 208-226).
There is a problem in the migration of peoples from Beringia into the Americas in that there is a distinct lack of early sites in the Mackenzie Corridor. West (American Beginnings: 556) has this to say, “However, despite some relatively intensive archaeological survey along some portions of the corridor, no evidence whatsoever has been found that would substantiate any sort of movement at 11,500 or perhaps 11,300 years ago. Confronted, then, with the fact that such a move must have been made and the fact that the first evidence of a successful passage is found beyond the southern end of the corridor with nothing intervening, the conclusion of a rapid, determined passage seems inevitable. Carrying this one giant speculative step further, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that there must have been a strong element of desperation in this passage. (That may equally have been the case for the presumed mammoth fauna elements being hunted.) The movement need not have taken more than a few years; it may have been accomplished in much shorter time. It may have been made easier by the warming (Allerod) that preceded the intense cold of the Younger Cryas event. If this reconstruction has any validity it may be speculated further – and regretfully – that direct evidence may never be found for the reason that virtually nothing would have been left behind by a small group that spent little time at any one encampment. What impelled the move south ? From where in present-day Alaska or Yukon might such a group have originated? Was this a small band that, pressed to seek new hunting grounds, had wondered far to the east and found itself in a virtual cul-de-sac – a restricted, linear region with severly constrained possibilities ? In such a situation perhaps the only means of extending their hunting territory would have been either to retreat in the direction from which they came or to follow such game as was available southward into perhaps more promising, unoccupied country. While the lateral boundaries could not be described as pressing in on this hypothetical small band, neverthless those barriers – the Laurentide and the Cordillean ice masses – were there. Even though it is likely that both sides of the corridor were vegetated, the appearance would have been that of being constrained by continuous mountain walls, sometimes near, sometimes far away. At any rate, in this vacuum of direct evidence, one thing is probably safely asserted: Beringian perseverance won through.”
Since 1996, the year in which America Beginnings was published, hypotheses regarding coastal migrations have been further developed from their prior early beginnings and these are reviewed favourably by Jon Erlandson (2002, “Anatomically modern humans, maritime voyaging, and the Pleistocene colonization of the Americas” in “The First Americans”).
Meltzer (2002, “What do you do when no one’s been there before? Thoughts on the exploration and colonization of new lands” in “The First Americans”: 52) brings forth a point which has been raised many times on this message board, namely “should we necessarily expect skeletal forms of this antiquity to look like modern Native Americans, even if they are Native American ancestors? Perhaps not. Over 9000 years separate these early forms and modern Native Americans. One can imagine a fair amount of evolutionary change in the relatively plastic morphological attributes of the skull over that time.” This has been emphasised and demonstrated by the analyses of C.L. Brace et al. and Walter Neves et al., by Turner’s findings regarding the Sinodonty dental pattern, and by Steele & Powell’s (2002) “Facing the Past: A view of the North American human fossil record”.
Now to enter into more contoversial territory – that of the age of various sites and the validity of their archaeological assemblages. I might as well put my head into the lion’s mouth and discuss Pedra Furada. Tom Dillehay (in “The Late Pleistocene Cultures of South American. 1999 Evolutionary Anthropology 7(6): 206-216) has this to say on pages 209-10: “Most questionable are the deeper layers of the Monte Verde I site in Chile and of the Pedra Furada site in Brazil, where modified stones and features hint at a possible human presence earlier than 20,000 years ago. Much more reliable is the Monte Verde II site, which has been securely dated to about 12,500 years ago.”
The dates for Pedra Furada of c. 50kya are from radiocarbon, which for this time period is known to be inaccurate. Also, the so-called stone tools are from quartzite which I know from personal experience to have easily fracturing properties. Klein (1999. The Human Career) on pages 562-3 explains further: “At Pedra Furada, a stratigraphically consistent series of radiocarbon dates implies human occupation from before 48 ky ago until roughly 6.1 ky ago. The cultural origin of the flaked stones and of well-delineated hearths dated between 10.4 and 6.1 ky ago is not disputed, but the evidence for older occupation is more problematic because it is based primarily on crudely flaked quartzite cobbles and on dispersed charcoal. The cobbles originated from a cemented layer (or conglomerate) in the cliff face approximately 100 m above the shelter, and the flaked examples might thus be “geofacts,” created when cobbles weathered out naturally and struck the hard ground below. Such a process is unlikely to have mimicked human flaking very often, but the flaked specimens were selected from a vastly larger number of unflaked ones. Occassional natural bushfires nearby could similarly explain the dispersed charcoal, and Pedra Furada may soon join the long list of dubious claims referred to above.”
At the moment I am leaning towards a date of post 25kya but pre-14kya as the timing of the first migrations into the Americans through Beringia.
To finish off, if anyone has half an hour to spare, surf over to the University of T�bingen’s website. Scroll down, click on “Actual News” and then again on “Advances in the Study of Human Evolution and Dispersal”. In the audiostream archive is a presentation by James Steele a talk entitled “New models of human dispersal applied to the peopling of the Americas”. This is not a compulsory component of the course but he presents thought-provoking ideas.
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