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The Bering Strait Theory

Native American oral traditions have long been ignored and passed off as superstitious myths. Although the theoretical objective of anthropology is to implement the ideology of cultural relativism to all cultures, anthropologists have often failed to do so. Unfortunately, anthropologists have been especially indifferent to the case of Native Americans. Anthropologists in general are guilty of ethnocentricism but archaeologists are definitely leading the pack. Although some archaeologists have good intentions, most are unwilling to consider that Native Americans have preserved an ancient history in their oral traditions. The unwillingness to reach a compromise between archaeological and Indigenous knowledge is a tragedy that the field should work hard to overcome otherwise archaeology will forever rely upon inaccurate data. The Bering Strait theory is the holy grail of archaeology. This theory first conceptualized by Spanish priests who believed the natives to be the lost tribe of Israel is the backbone of many other theories and if it were to fall, the currently accepted model of human history would have to be reconstructed. Because it was believed at the time that primitive people couldn’t travel across water, the only logical conclusion was that they crossed over from the Bering land bridge that was supposedly exposed after the last ice age 12,000 years ago. According to Jeffrey Goodman, “the host of more or less fanciful theories on Indian origins put forth over the past four hundred years exemplifies a still-discernible tendency to draw large, often misrepresentative conclusions about Indians from an inadequate store of facts.”1 These fanciful theories are a result of the method that anthropologists employ: they begin research with a pre-conceived notion of what they will find and where their discoveries will fit into human history. The absurdity of this method is apparent when archaeologists argue that the Bering Strait theory is valid. Not only are their arguments illogical, they contradict the plethora of evidence that has been found. According to Kenneth L. Feder, an archaeologist who accepts this theory, “when Beringia became exposed as sea level fell, people adapted to their interior habitats of northeast Asia would have been able to expand their territories by moving east through the interior of the land bridge and then into the interior of northwestern North America.”2 Assuming this statement is true, these people must have had a motive to leave their homes in Siberia and travel across the ice-free corridor. Jared Diamond proposes that “…when the first Clovis hunters emerged from the ice-free corridor, they saw before them the Great Plains stretching to the horizon, empty of humans but teeming with herds of mammoths and other beasts.”3 The great herds of megafauna was thus the motive for these Paleolithic hunters to leave their homes and enter the New World in order to hunt a land teeming with prey. If this were true, one would expect there to be evidence that these travelers were megafauna hunters and that the megafauna actually crossed Beringia beforehand. To the dismay of archaeologists however, this has not been the case. Archaeologists tell us there was an ice-free corridor that was formed after the last ice age around12,000 B.P. Geologists and Biologists have gathered substantial evidence demonstrating that although Beringia may have been ice-free, the weather conditions were not suitable to accommodate a migration of megafauna or humans. First of all, “… it was not until just 8,000 years ago that the ice-free corridor opened up – 4,000 years too late to make the Bering route scenario work.”4 If of course a few brave herds of megafauna ventured to cross the ice-free corridor after 8,000 B.P., they would be met with “a set of rugged mountain ranges on both sides of the Bering Strait [which would be] a major barrier even if a land bridge does exist.”5 The Bering Strait was a barren wasteland which would have been a major deterrent to both megafauna and/or Paleolithic hunters and not an appealing paradise as archaeologists have claimed. Froelich Rainey has pointed out that “under the current weather conditions, northwestern America and northeastern Asia present the most insurmountable barrier to human communication anywhere in the world and the ice age must have been much worse.”6 In conclusion, the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the outdated pre-conceived assumption that there must have been a lush paradise to accommodate the herds of megafauna waiting patiently for the ice-corridor to develop in order so that they may rush across into the New World. According to Dr. Arthur Jelinek of the University of Arizona, “there is no evidence at all that any herds of reindeer or any other animals crossed the land bridge. The harsh weather seems to be a deterrent for any migration through Beringia.”7 This lack of any animal remains in the corridor presents a peculiar problem to archaeologists that they have been hard pressed to solve. They are however content with basing their theory upon this absence of evidence. Thus archaeology moves on. If there was no megafauna migrating to the New World, then what other motive could have stimulated a migration of Paleolithic hunters? Goodman points out that “To pass through the 625-kilometer corridor would take fifty days if man traveled a very brisk 14 miles a day or 3 miles per hour based on an eight-hour day; at this rate of travel, it is unlikely that he could have carried a fifty-day food supply.”8 Discarding the false notion that megafauna migrated south and Paleolithic man was close behind, there would be no other motive for the migration to occur. It is highly unlikely that these Paleolithic hunters would make the trip into a cold, dangerous, barren wasteland if there were no visible incentives for doing so. In light of the contradicting evidence, archaeology continues to rely upon the Bering Strait theory and has developed a scenario for the entirety of Native American history based upon this false doctrine. The accepted date of entry into the New World therefore is based upon the time period of the end of last ice age. The Clovis point findings made in 1932 support the idea that the earliest date of entrance in the New World must have been roughly 12,000 – 13,000 B.P. (based upon the date of 13,000 B.P. attained at Santa Rose Island in California for human remains) and anything that contradicts these dates is wrong.9 From that point on, Clovis Point has become the holy grail of archaeology and all Native American studies are based upon this theory. Any evidence found that even remotely contradicts the Clovis Point theory is immediately criticized and/or disregarded by the majority of archaeologists who unfortunately subscribe to this doctrine. Clovis Point was not the first flawed theory to become indoctrinated into archaeology however. Although there has been a wide range of speculation (including the lingering belief that survivors of Atlantis and Mu, or the lost tribes of Israel colonized the New World), The first scholarly inquiry regarding the date of early man’s entrance into the New World was addressed by Dr. Ales Hrdlicka. Hrdlicka argued that man entered the New World by way of Beringia no earlier than 3,000 B.P. Because Hrdlicka had many scholars on his side, his doctrine remained valid for three centuries.10 Because archaeologists lacked the courage to confront the imposing figure that Hrdlicka had become, it took the curiosity of a cowboy in New Mexico named George McJunkin to finally debunk the theory. McJunkin was riding along the Cimarron River when he discovered several flint spear points that were grooved at the tip (these grooves are today called “fluting”) and noticeably longer than the usual points found in the area. Along with these points were massive bones which would later turn out to be the remains of a larger variety of bison that had been extinct for 10,000 years. J.D. Higgins who was director of the Colorado Museum of Natural History in Denver managed to retrieve and analyze the bones. He then came to the conclusion that the association of the bison bones and spear points was conclusive evidence that early man was in the New World by 10,000 B.P. This new doctrine called Folsom Point became the dogma of the field until 1932 when the Clovis Point took it’s place.11 Although Higgins successfully maintained his status in the academic world, the few scholars who have ventured to refute the Clovis Point theory based on solid evidence were severely ostracized and their careers were destroyed. In 1951, Dr. Thomas Lee who worked at the National Museum of Canada excavated a site in Sheguiandah, Canada. When the site was analyzed, it dated to between 30,000 and 100,000 B.P. Because his work conflicted with the accepted Clovis Point doctrine, the museum at which he had worked fired him and his papers on the findings were mysteriously stolen. Lee claimed that both Canadian and American scholars blacklisted him and enforced an eight-year period of unemployment upon him. His friend who was a prominent anthropologist articulated dismay at his discoveries and quickly advised Lee to rebury his site and rebuild his career upon doctrinally acceptable guidelines.12 The archaeologists at the top of the power structure obviously have significant influence in the field and are able to manipulate the overall knowledge that is incorporated into the archaeological field. This is unfortunate because they are upholding data that is severely flawed and should have been discredited long ago with the initial discoveries of early dates of man in the New World. Understandably, the Anthropologists after Lee have decided not to challenge the Clovis Point theory and those who have discovered sites that offer evidence of dates older than 12,000 B.P. swiftly rebury them to save their reputation in the field. E.F. Greenman and Werner Muller both adhered to this practice for the majority of their careers. Instead of discarding their evidence however, they preserved it and waited patiently for their careers to come to an end. At that point, they published their data knowing they would be viciously attacked. E.F. Greenman published an article titled “The Upper Paleolithic and the New World” in the February 1963 issue of Current Anthropology and in it argued that there is no evidence of a migration from Asia to America through the Bering Strait. He went on to propose that there is more evidence supporting an arrival in the northeastern United States and not through the Bering Strait by way of open water canoes.13 Because Greenman wisely published his findings at the end of his career, the subsequent blacklisting did not affect him. Werner Muller was a well-respected anthropologist before he published his book America: The New World or the Old? in which he argued that the finds made at Hueyatlaco, Calico, and Toca de Esperanca provide us with strong evidence that there has been human occupation in the New World for over 200,000 years. After his book was published, he was dismissed by the academic community as being “a little crazy” although he had been considered a responsible scholar beforehand. Not only did Muller discredit the Bering Strait and Clovis theories with his findings, but he also ventured to refute the theory of evolution as it stood. Muller did not have only archaeologists attacking him but physical anthropologists quickly began an assault upon his work when he ventured to address the discrepancies in their precious evolutionary timeline. Muller theorized that based on the evidence in America, it was overwhelmingly clear that the emergence of man probably did not occur in one place but most likely occurred on several different continents.14 According to Goodman, “During the first half of the twentieth century…the academic world took a very conservative view of Indian origins, maintaining that man was a relative new-comer to the New World, a position it generally adheres to even now.”15 This is an unfortunate result of academic politics and the timid reluctance of anthropologists to oppose those scholars with substantial power. Therefore, if a certain paradigm exists in the field, and many powerful scholars adhere to it, nobody will dare question it because by doing so they would also be questioning the powerful proponents of the theory which would in turn jeopardize their careers. The problem therefore is not that there hasn’t been any sites found older than 12,000 B.P. but that the scholars in power do not allow archaeologists to dig beneath the Clovis strata. It has already been demonstrated that those who venture to do so will be unjustly refuted and their careers will be destroyed. Few anthropologists desire these severe repercussions and are thus reluctant to publish any evidence that might contradict the doctrine. The harsh attacks made upon these anthropologists who are simply attempting to contribute additional knowledge to the field is appalling. The treatment of these scholars fails in comparison to the degree to which Native Americans are attacked for their claims to knowledge. Although anthropology is ideally bound to the doctrine of cultural relativism (whereas no one culture is superior to another and all cultures are equally valuable), anthropologists have scoffed at the idea that Native Americans could actually possess accurate knowledge of their own origins and history. Because of this attitude, Native American elders are reluctant to reveal their oral traditions that relate to their origins; for no one likes to be ridiculed. But it would be beneficial if anthropologists were to finally implement the idea of cultural relativism into their own research and accept the knowledge of Native Americans as equally valid as their own. The question at point here is whether or not Native Americans could have memorized ancient historical events. The evidence provided by the oral traditions we have today suggests that Native Americans have indeed preserved an ancient memory within their culture. And the archaeological evidence overwhelmingly supports what the elders have been telling us all along. Instead of denying them the fact that they actually know something, anthropologists should be comparing and verifying their own data with that of the Natives. Native Americans have a specific way of revealing their historical knowledge. Their oral stories are often embellished with interactions between historical events and supernatural beings. Anthropologists have thus denied them their knowledge based on their assumption that because supernatural beings are involved, it must be a mythical story with no historical backing. This is unfortunate because history has taught us this is not the case. The lost city of Troy and Noah’s Flood were both discovered based upon written evidence that was an exact copy of ancient oral traditions. The Odyssey and the Holy Bible are nothing more than the written form of oral traditions of the Greek and Hebrew people. Although interactions between supernatural beings permeate the stories, no one today can deny that they are historical events simply shrouded in the biased beliefs of the respective cultures. In the case of Native Americans, they “have aggressively opposed the Bering Strait migration doctrine because it does not reflect any of the memories or traditions passed down by the ancestors over many generations.”16 All of the recorded Native American traditions tell us that their ancestors did not migrate to the New World from Asia but that they originated here or arrived by way of islands long ago. It has already been proven by many archaeologists that the Native American oral traditions are extremely accurate and reflect historical facts that can be verified with archaeological sites. The problematic question is how far do these oral traditions reach into history? With the evidence we currently possess, it is apparent that the oral traditions reach deep into ancient history many thousands of years. David M. Pendergast and Clement W. Meighan have proven that the memories of the Paiute in particular are records of historical fact. They have accomplished this by correlating data collected from Paiute elders with the archaeological evidence that was available on the Paiute at the time. They have pointed out that “…the collective knowledge of the group seems to include an abbreviated but accurate history of events and peoples some 800 years in the past.”17 The informants described a people called the Mukwitch who occupied an adjacent area to that of the Paiute in Utah between 800 A.D. and 1150 A.D. They described the Mukwitch use of metates, their relatively short stature, the structure of their houses, and their specialized diet of deer and wild plant foods. All of their descriptions were subsequently verified by the archaeological digs conducted by Pendergast and Meighan. The informants all had no previous knowledge of local archaeology and only one spoke English; thus eradicating the idea that they could have attained their information any other way. Pendergast and Meighan thus concluded that, “… the investigation of such folk histories is well worth the attention of anthropologists. The archaeologist in particular should explore the possibilities of correlating historical traditions with archaeological data, since the historical information may substantiate, and in some cases broaden, inferences based solely on archaeological materials.”18 These two archaeologists have succeeded in correlating historical traditions with archaeological data and although their work should be crucial to the advancing of archaeology, their method has largely been dismissed. While Pendergast and Meighan have clearly proven oral traditions can span hundreds of years, W.D. Strong has proven they can span thousands of years. In 1934, Strong published a convincing article detailing the Native American knowledge of the wooly mammoth. The Naskapi describe a monster they call Kátcheetokúskw (present in many of their myths) as being very large, having a big head, large ears and teeth, and a long nose with which he hit people. When presented with photos of modern elephants, the informants said they fit the description of Kátcheetokúskw as represented in their oral history. The Penobscot of Maine describe a huge animal with long teeth that leaned against certain trees to sleep (noting that when these beasts lay down, they could not get back up). The Ojibwa and Iroquois note the existence of a large beast that once ranged through the forest and was so strong that it would easily knock down any trees that stood in it’s path. These “elephant” legends are rampant in many other Indigenous cultures such as the Micmac, Alabama, Koasati, and Chitimacha.19 In the article, Strong anticipates the onslaught of conservative anthropologists and in his concluding argument complains that, “To date, palaeontologists have seemed more willing to grant recency to the mammoth than have the majority of American anthropologists to grant any geological antiquity to the American Indian.”20 Strong’s insights are very revealing as it is apparent that the rift between the Bering Strait theorists and the opposition was in place by the early date of 1934. More importantly however, if Native Americans have preserved accurate descriptions of the mammoth, they must represent an oral history going back thousands of years. In 1944, M.F. Ashley Montagu confirmed Strong’s finding in an article published in American Anthropologist. The Osage of Missouri persevered a record of an incident that involved the encroachment of a herd of megafauna upon the land of the smaller animals already living there. The Osage of course incorporate supernatural beings into their account and attribute the encounter to the actions of the Great Spirit. At a certain period, many monstrous animals encroached upon the territory (along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers) of the much smaller animals already living there. The Osage were forced to abandon their homes and refrain from hunting because the gigantic animals posed a deadly threat. They remained at a sufficient distance however to witness the courageous smaller animals attack the invading monstrous animals. After a long battle, the larger animals prevailed and continued their march eastward. The Osage then burnt some of the bodies as an offering to the Great Spirit while the rest were buried in the Pomme de Terre (which was later called Big Bone river). The Osage considered this to be a sacred place thereafter and subsequently gave offerings periodically to commemorate the battle. In 1839, American settlers seized the sacred land to the great dismay of the Osage and began the construction of a tub-mill (a machine used to pound corn). After digging, the settlers discovered a mass of bones, which were identified as those of young mastodons.21 The fact that the Osage story correlated precisely with the findings made by the settlers is adequate evidence that the oral history of Native peoples goes back into deep time. It can thus be concluded that Native American oral history is very ancient indeed. To further test the limits of its extension into time however we should examine those oral traditions relating to geological formations. The Klamath have preserved an oral tradition detailing the violent eruption of Mount Mazama. According to the Klamath account: “Red-hot rocks as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The Chief of the Below World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountains and in the valleys. On and on the Curse of Fire swept until it reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, the people found refuge in the waters of Klamath Lake.”22 Dr. Howel Williams of the University of California at Berkeley has confirmed this account with geological testing of the site. According to his findings, there were heated avalanches spewing until the peak finally collapsed into the center of the volcano. The eruption is dated to 6,500 B.P. and human artifacts such as sandals have been found beneath the ashes, which indicate a human occupation before the eruption. It is apparent from the oral traditions that these people were the Klamath and they have obviously preserved the history of their people for at least the past 6,500 years.23 In the case of Mount Multnomah (which is a grouping of three adjacent volcanoes) in Central Oregon, informants from the Warm Springs reservation provided Ella Clark with the following account of its creation: “Klah Klahnee, the Three Sisters, was once the biggest and highest mountain of all; it could be seen for many miles. One time the earth shook for days, and the mountain boiled Inside. It boiled over, and hot rocks came out of the top of It. Flames and smoke rose high in the air. Red-hot stones Were thrown out in ever direction. Many villages and many Indians were buried by the rocks. When the mountain Became quiet again, most of it was gone. Only three points Were left.”24 This is an accurate account of the formation of Mount Multnomah that was later confirmed by a geologist named Edwin T. Hodge. In 1924, Hodge did extensive fieldwork at the Mount Multnomah site. He concluded that the three adjacent volcanoes were once a part of a larger, once standing ancient volcano. Hodge said that this ancient volcano erupted in what was a gigantic explosion and subsequently formed the three smaller volcanoes present today.25 The Native American account obviously requires that this particular tribe was present when the original volcano erupted and created the three peaks. There is no other way to explain how they could have attained such accurate knowledge of the eruption beforehand. A major problem arises however with the date of eruption calculated by Hodge using the potassium-argon dating method. The date given by Hodge is approximately 25 million to 27 million years ago. Although it cannot be denied that the Warm Springs tribe was present during the eruption, it is highly unlikely that oral history can be stretched this far deep into time. The problem then is not with the oral tradition but with the dating method. According to Cremo and Thompson, the Potassium-argon dating method is very inaccurate. They cite an incident whereas “…scientists have obtained ages ranging from 160 million to 2.96 billion years for Hawaiian lava flows that occurred in the year 1800.”26 Hodge himself has doubts about the dating method as he relates that “The most striking peculiarity of the Three Sisters region is the obvious youth of the many volcanic floods, volcanoes, and cinder fields…[and] these black, scoriaceous, volcanic rocks look so young that many are convinced that they have congealed within historic time.”27 Although Hodge admits the volcanic rocks appear to be very young, he goes against his own logic and maintains the eruption occurred 25 million to 27 million years ago. Perhaps a random guess at the date of eruption would have made as much sense. Vine Deloria Jr. concludes that, “the idea that people have only been in the Western Hemisphere for 12,000 years is simply an agreement among scholars who neither think nor read and who have been stuck on a few Clovis and Folsom sites for a generation.”28 However grim the statement sounds, it is unfortunately true. The politics of Anthropology have become more important than the attainment of objective knowledge and the field has suffered greatly. For the past seventy years, anthropologists have blindly followed the Bering Strait and Clovis Point theories without testing the validity of the doctrines for themselves. Because of this blind faith, anthropologists have been forced to abandon the principles of cultural relativism and have instead adopted an ethnocentric approach, which marginalizes the cultures they are supposed to be preserving for the advancement of the field. Only until Anthropology becomes a truly holistic discipline based upon data that actually correlates with the oral traditions of the very people they are studying will it begin to produce objective knowledge that can be verified. - by Itztli Ehecatl