Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture by Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley

Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture. Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012, 319 pages.
The Palaeoblog occasionally gets sent books to review which we get around to doing eventually. This one, dealing with the origins of the first Americans, falls more under archaeology than palaeontology, so I've asked the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's John Otis Hower Chair of Archaeology, Dr. Brian Redmond, to review this for us. Thanks Brian!
Who were the first Americans? When did they come to the New World and by what routes? These questions have maintained a featured place in archaeological inquiry since the era of Thomas Jefferson, the recognized father of American Archaeology. This much-awaited book by two leading Paleoindian scholars argues for an origin, not from northeastern Asia as conventionally proposed, but across the north Atlantic from Iberia during the late glacial maximum, some 20,000 years ago. Using detailed, but not overly technical, presentations of late Pleistocene stone tool assemblages from Siberia to Chesapeake Bay, the authors state their case for the origin of the classic Clovis tool kit in eastern North America from Upper Paleolithic, Solutrean, migrants from Europe. Bradley uses his substantial experience as a stone tool analyst and flint-knapper to point out the intriguing similarities between bifacially-flaked spear and knife points found on both sides of the Atlantic. But most previous scholars have judged such a connection untenable due to the three to twelve thousand years that separated Solutrean from Clovis hunters. To fill the gap, Stanford and Bradley cite a growing body of archaeological evidence for a “pre-Clovis” occupation of eastern North America as early as 25,000 years ago. This overview of the evidence is highly informative, well-illustrated, and brings to print the newest data for Clovis progenitors in the mid-Atlantic region. The authors even make a good case that Solutrean seal hunters from Europe could have migrated north and west along the north Atlantic ice front and ended up in North America. Much less convincing is their claim for real historical affinity between Solutrean, pre-Clovis, and Clovis. In the end, the still sketchy pre-Clovis data base severely weakens the argument. But the book remains a fascinating and informative read for all students of the earliest American history.