The Washington Post
Monday, September 6, 1999; Page A13

Early Migrants May Have Come by Land and Sea

                  By William Booth
                  Washington Post Staff Writer

                  SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—Forty years ago, an archaeologist named
                  Phil C. Orr discovered a few bits of human bone embedded in the
                  crumbling wall of a dry creek bed at a place called Arlington Canyon, way
                  out on the wind-swept island of Santa Rosa off the California coast.

                  Orr and his colleagues, using the best methods of their day, estimated that
                  the bones, two femurs, were old. Really old. But they did not know what
                  they had.

                  After spending years on a shelf at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural
                  History, the bone fragments were returned to the laboratory, in this case
                  one of the most sophisticated radiocarbon and molecular dating facilities in
                  the world, the Stafford Research Laboratories of Boulder, Colo., and
                  were found to be approximately 13,000 years old--making the fragments
                  the oldest human remains ever found in the New World.

                  That is enough to make the discovery highly significant, and to provide
                  further support for the gathering consensus that the human migration into
                  the Americas occurred much earlier than previous dogma held.

                  But it also raises another, equally tantalizing question: If Arlington Woman
                  (and they guess she was a woman based on the size of the femurs) was
                  found on an island miles off the California coast, how did she get there?

                  "You have to conclude," says John Johnson, the archaeologist at the Santa
                  Barbara museum who decided to redate the bones, "that she did not swim.
                  They had boats."

                  They had boats?

                  Generations of schoolchildren have been presented with another scenario,
                  of early humans trekking across the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and
                  then, as soon as the great glacial sheets receded and opened up an ice-free
                  corridor along the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, hunters following
                  the big game down across the North American plains, down and down,
                  until they reached the end of the migratory road, at the tip of South

                  Now, with the new finds, and in particular that of the Arlington Woman,
                  another scenario presents itself.

                  The maritime route.

                  "There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn't have had boats 13,000
                  years ago," says Knut Fladmark, an archaeologist at the Simon Fraser
                  University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the earliest proponent of a
                  coastal migration hypothesis in the 1970s. "Why should boats be any
                  stranger than the development of sophisticated projectile points and
                  sophisticated hunting strategies?

                  It is sort of a psychological barrier. We just don't happen to imagine the
                  earliest migrants traveling by boat, but there is more and more evidence to
                  suggest that is exactly what they did."

                  Fladmark points out that early humans reached Australia about 40,000
                  years ago, and Australia was an island continent back then, unconnected to
                  Indonesia. Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California also was an island,
                  even with the lower sea levels.

                  If the newest discoveries and their dates hold, it makes a lot of sense, says
                  Fladmark and others, that the scientific community is now rallying behind
                  maritime migration scenarios.

                  The land bridge over the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska was
                  established 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, as sea levels fell. But the early
                  migrants would have been bottled up, waiting for the gradual opening of an
                  ice-free corridor between the immense glaciers that clung to the Pacific
                  Coast and the Rocky Mountains. That corridor did not open until about
                  11,500 years ago.

                  The traditional dogma held that they waited, until the first evidence of
                  so-called Clovis points, the sharp stone projectile spear tips found in
                  Clovis, N.M., with a date of about 11,200 years ago.

                  But the archaeological community was set on its ear in the last few years
                  with other finds. There is the ancient hunting camp discovered in Monte
                  Verde in southern Chile, which shows evidence of human occupation--and
                  a diet of mastodon meat, as well as mushrooms, shellfish, berries and
                  nuts--about 12,500 years ago.

                  There also is fresh evidence of an early human presence in southern Peru,
                  at another seaside encampment that dates to 12,000 years ago, with
                  further evidence of a maritime-based diet of fish, seabirds and shellfish, as
                  well as wild fruits and vegetables.

                  So how did the early migrants get there? The current theories suggest they
                  might have traveled along the coast, exploiting the rich resources where sea
                  meets land, and traveling with some sort of watercraft.

                  "What does it mean to say that the peopling of the Americas was done by
                  boat?" asks Rob Bonnichsen at the Center for the Study of the First
                  Americans at Oregon State University.

                  It means our earliest ancestors in the New World were mariners. Indeed,
                  they were mariners who brought dogs along, and were smart enough to
                  exploit the rich coastal resources.

                  What kinds of vessels?

                  "We have no earthly idea," says Don Morris, an archaeologist at the
                  Channel Islands National Park who collaborated with Johnson on the
                  redating of the Arlington Woman's remains found there. "They could have
                  employed reed boats, just bundles of cattails, the sort of craft that survived
                  into current times. They also could have used some kind of dugout

                  Fladmark adds to that list of possibilities some kind of watercraft made of
                  animal skins, perhaps of seal skins, which the early migrants would have
                  employed as clothing, stitched together. Fladmark guesses that if they
                  could stitch together a nice, warm parka to weather the brutal cold of the
                  Arctic, they might have kept sewing until they made a boat that floated.

                  When the first Europeans arrived along the California coast in the 16th
                  century, they found a thriving maritime culture, particularly among the
                  Chumash Indians, who lived along the coast and out on the Channel
                  Islands off Santa Barbara, and were skilled paddlers of seaworthy canoes
                  made of driftwood planks.

                  Morris and others imagine a migration in which early travelers hopped and
                  skipped down the coasts. "People come along and lunch is served in every
                  tide pool. You just stroll along the coasts, eating as you go." He makes it
                  sound like the early-bird special at Red Lobster. "And when you face a
                  headland or some physical obstacle, you get in your boats--whatever the
                  heck they were--and keep moving. And what is drawing them? The farther
                  south you go, the warmer it gets."

                  At present, the traditional dogma--of migrants moving by land following
                  mastodons--still works. That is how many newcomers spread across the
                  plains. But it is clear that the maritime scenario also holds water, and that
                  the story of human arrival in the Americas is emerging as a tale of by
                  land--and sea.

                  Arriving by Foot or by Boat?

                  Recent discoveries have provided evidence that the earliest migration into
                  the Americas occurred by boat.

                  11,500 years ago Corridor opens through ice sheets

                  20,000 years ago Land exposed by drop in sea level

                  13,000 -- 12,000 years ago Bering Strait land bridge crossing

                  11,200 years ago Clovis, N.M.; arrowheads

                  13,000 years ago Santa Rosa island; female skeletal fragments

                  11,500 years ago Amazon; human skeleton

                  12,000 years ago Coastal Peru; camp

                  12,500 years ago Monte Verde, Chile; encampment

                  Plank canoes were the seafaring vessels used by the Chumash Indians of
                  Santa Rosa Island when Europeans arrived.

                  8,000 years ago Kennewick man

                  SOURCES: Newsweek; Illinois State Museum

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