The Oregonian
Aug. 31, 1998

                 America's early people may have come by boat from

                 Researchers at an OMSI symposium present evidence of ancient coastal routes,
                 possibly used earlier than once thought

                 By Richard L. Hill of The Oregonian staff

                 Toss out those old textbooks about America's first immigrants.

                 New evidence suggests the earliest people in the
                 Western Hemisphere may have arrived by boats
                 along coastal routes from Asia to North America
                 rather than just across an ancient ice bridge that linked
                 the two continents. They also may have arrived earlier
                 than previously thought.

                 Eight leading U.S. and Canadian researchers
                 presented those views Saturday at a daylong
                 symposium -- "Peopling of the Americas: The Pacific
                 Rim Hypothesis" -- in the Oregon Museum of Science
                 and Industry. The symposium was offered in
                 conjunction with OMSI's "Missing Links-Alive!"
                 exhibit on human origins that runs through Sept. 7.

                 The scientists said emerging evidence from
                 archaeological sites indicates that people in
                 skin-covered boats moved along the Pacific coast into
                 Alaska and northwest Canada and eventually down to
                 Peru and Chile during the past ice age, which ended
                 about 10,000 years ago. A conservative estimate is
                 they began migrating about 15,000 years ago.

                 "The 'Clovis-first' theory is dead," said Robson
                 Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of
                 the First Americans at Oregon State University. The
                 decades-old theory holds that mammoth hunters
                 crossed into North America from Siberia about
                 11,500 years ago when the two regions were
                 connected by a land bridge exposed when the sea
                 level dropped during the ice age. Named after
                 distinctive stone-tipped weapons that were found near
                 Clovis, N.M., in the 1930s, the theory holds that a
                 group of hunters traveled down an ice-free corridor
                 between ice sheets in western Canada, then spread
                 throughout the hemisphere.

                 Bonnichsen, a longtime critic of the theory, said a
                 12,500-year-old site excavated near Monte Verde,
                 Chile, has led researchers to examine how the first
                 Americans spread so quickly throughout the
                 Americas. One of the most plausible ways, he said,
                 was by boat.

                 "The coastal environment would have provided more
                 subsistence than an interior route," Bonnichsen said.
                 "Current thinking is there were some refugia along the
                 coast, spots that weren't glaciated. Coastal routes
                 provide for easier, faster movement of people."

                 Rolf W. Mathewes, a professor of biological sciences
                 at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said a
                 study of the ancient environment shows that the
                 Pacific coastline 10,000 to 15,000 years ago was a
                 "much better option of travel" than across a frigid
                 interior route.

                 Mathewes described the "lost world" of a coastal strip
                 of land from Alaska to the Queen Charlotte Islands
                 off British Columbia that is now under more than 300
                 feet of water. He said glaciers didn't go all the way to
                 the coast in many spots, providing vegetated
                 "steppingstones" where maritime travelers could
                 survive. He said food would have been plentiful from
                 the ocean, as marine mammals, salmon and shellfish
                 were abundant.

                 He said that 14,000 years ago, the present Hecate
                 Strait between Queen Charlotte Islands and the
                 mainland was a treeless, flat terrain covered with
                 herbs, roots and other vegetation such as crow
                 berries that provided an abundant food resource in
                 the summer. Driftwood would have provided fuel for

                 "About 12,000 years ago, the environment changed
                 dramatically, and the open landscape was colonized
                 by trees," Mathewes said. "This perhaps would have
                 been when people made a final push south. A
                 forested environment would have been more difficult
                 to live in."

                 E. James Dixon, curator of archaeology for the
                 Denver Museum of Natural History, said the concept
                 of an interior, ice-free corridor is flawed and that a
                 coastal route "would have been much more viable" for
                 moving families and supplies.

                 Dixon and other scientists have been investigating
                 coastal caves in southeast Alaska, looking for
                 evidence of early inhabitants. In 1996, they found the
                 bones of a 23-year-old man in a small cave on Prince
                 of Wales Island. Radiocarbon dates indicate the
                 remains as being between 9,200 and 9,800 years old.
                 Tests show the man's diet primarily consisted of
                 marine mammals such as seals and otters.

                 "These are the oldest human remains found in
                 Alaska," Dixon said, "and we're seeing a pattern
                 emerge of sites all along the coast showing human

                 Investigating the coastal migration theory is
                 challenging, however. Sea level has risen more than
                 300 feet along the North American west coast since
                 the end of the ice age, submerging whatever sites
                 might have been there. Thick forests also have
                 covered the area, making exploration difficult. No
                 evidence of skin boats has been found; the
                 Northwest's rainy condition quickly decomposes
                 organic material.

                 Michael J. Moratto, an archaeologist at California
                 State University at Fresno, described several
                 locations in California as being possibly inhabited by
                 early humans as long as 14,000 years ago.

                 Moratto said the best archaeological site is Daisy
                 Cave, on an island in the Santa Barbara Channel off
                 southern California. He said archaeologist Jon M.
                 Erlandson of the University of Oregon has excavated
                 cultural evidence dating back nearly 12,000 years at
                 Daisy Cave. "His work implies that watercraft were
                 being used as long ago as that," he said.

                 Ruth Gruhn, professor emeritus in the anthropology
                 department at the University of Alberta, said
                 numerous coastal sites in Peru, Ecuador and Chile are
                 being studied that are 10,800 to 12,000 years old.

                 At least three, and possibly four, migrations took
                 place, said C. Loring Brace, a professor of
                 anthropology at the University of Michigan. An expert
                 on skull and facial features, he said some of the
                 remains he's studied appear to be related to the
                 ancient Ainu of Japan, and others are related to
                 people in northeast Asia, southeast Asia and China.
                 "It's quite clear that different migrations brought
                 different groups of people," he said.