Alternative Ameridian
Migration Routes

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Alternative AmerIndian Migration Routes to the Americas

A paper by

Garry L. Earles, a graduate student
 pursuing his M.A. in History at Fitchburg State College (1997)


The essence of this issue concerns the long-standing debate as to the peopling of the Americas (i.e. North, Central and South America), specifically regarding the migratory origin of the American peoples.

For decades this debate has centered on what can commonly be called the Clovis versus the pre-Clovis controversy. Succinctly put, this debate states that the earliest known inhabitants of the Americas came out of Africa, with a migratory path through China, on through Northeast Siberia, across Beringia (i.e. the Bering Straight Land Bridge) and into North America, from whence all other American peoples emanated.1 "Since the 16th Century, the Bering Strait region has been viewed as the likely route for peopling of the New World from Asia."2 Supposedly, these earliest inhabitants date to c.11,200 B.P., secured by accepted dating techniques of archaeological discoveries in Clovis, New Mexico, thus the term Clovis people.

Accordingly, it has long been held that these Clovis people and the 11,200 B.P. date stand solidly as the opening gambit for further migration, principally in a North to South direction. Many who have come to be known as the "Clovis Police"3 have clung to this hypothesis and have stood steadfast in their belief system even though there is mounting evidence to the contrary.

In light of the above outlined situation, what are the probabilities of other, heretofore posited but unconfirmed, migrations to the Americas? This is the question that will be addressed in this essay.


In any discussion of migratory patterns, one needs to consider numerous factors that provide appropriate, albeit necessary, evidence. While surely an incomplete list, various migratory perspectives include anthropology, archaeology, climatology, genetics, geology/geography, linguistics (glotto-chronology), material culture, mythology, population, technology and trade/exchange routes.4

In discussing such perspectives, it is important to acknowledge that each one provides a specific perspective, a clue if you will, and that the more clues one has, the clearer the picture becomes due to the cumulative effect. The analogy, one taken from early childhood, is that of "connecting the dots." It is while connecting the dots in a numbered sequence, that one begins to slowly and surely identify the emerging shape. Such a process is obviously uni-dimensional. For all intents and purposes, there is no 3-D image to detect, it is all quite linear. In attempting to determine migration patterns and the consequent locations of ancient peoples (e.g. settlements), one needs to decipher the multi-layered components behind the actual dots. This is to say that one can view the dot as an actual physical location such as, for example, Olduvai, Tanzania; Clovis, New Mexico; Old Crow Flats, Alaska; Meadowcroft, Pennsylvania and Pedra Furada, Brazil. While these "dots" have been located, it is the essence of the dots and the spaces between them that symbolize the unknown and demands a multi-dimensional approach to gain necessary knowledge, hence the need to involve as many disciplines (aspects) as possible.


At this point the question of alternative migration routes to the Americas becomes somewhat altered, or enhanced, depending upon one's mindedness. I would suggest that those harboring a diffusionist vision tend to be more linear in their approach. They have determined that, for the purposes of our essay, mankind began in a specific spot and migrated outward (i.e. diffused) and can therefore be chronologically plotted. Further, it is suggested, that such believers tend to attempt to place all discoveries, no matter the discipline, in a certain schema in order that the "dots" connect up to produce the desired image.5

Contrary to such a belief system is that of parallelism whereby the hypothesis is that corollary, if not identical, occurrences appear simultaneously. The posture here is one that concedes to reliable data while acknowledging that there just aren't sufficient dots to clearly define the image. That is to say that while it appears quite clear that there indeed was a migratory pattern across Beringia into the New World that diffused outward into other parts of the Americas, who is to say that separate, parallel migrations did not also occur?

POSITION Clovis; Diffusionism

Until the discovery of Lucy by the Leakeys at Olduvai, the age horizon for mankind was much younger. And, although Lucy is accepted as around 3.5 million years, new discoveries are attempting to push that limitation even further back up the evolutionary chart. Even assuming such discoveries will become substantiated, this essay will use Lucy's location and age as an appropriate jumping off point (i.e. a dot).

Once Lucy's descendants ventured out of Africa, it is quite clear that over the millennia, various paths were taken. Simply put, some went east and some went west. Is it possible that whichever direction they headed, some of these ancient clans eventually arrived in the New World? Let's see.

Taking a look at China, Russia (Northeast Siberia), Southeastern Asia, Japan and Australia we can view various dots on the landscape. A known location in China, the Zhoukoudian cave, provided a multi-component site with dates as far back as 400,000 - 500,000 B.P. A key discovery was that of microblade technology; the use of a jaw bone as a knife. This technology is also evident at Dyuktai near Lake Bikal in Siberia, the island of Hokkaido, Japan, on Anangula Island in the Aleutian Islands and in North America.6 A good dot connection.

An interesting phenomena that had its beginnings in China surrounds that of tooth enamel. Using the Long River as a focal point, it was discovered that, assuming due primarily to climate demands, a sort of Rice/Wheat Line became evident whereby south of the line it was still possible to grow rice and north of the line, harsher grains like wheat were grown. In synch with this, sundodonty, or thin tooth enamel evolved in the south for the rice eaters whereas sindodonty or thick tooth enamel evolved as was required to process harsher grains. The curious aspect regarding tooth enamel is that all those in the Americas are sindodants!7 This dot connection also looks good.

Working backwards from New Mexico and the Clovis point (which was determined to be made from Knife River Flint from the Dakotas), one finds Clovis styled points in Asia at the Uptar site in Siberia.8 I suppose the difficulty here is to know which dot came first in order to determine the direction of the line to be drawn.

There are other "hits" in addition to those mentioned above; for example the existence of pygmy mammoths on both Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean and on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California, each an isolated area.

Basically, there seems to be little if any debate concerning the efficacy of this migratory position. It seems certain that Paleoindian migration did occur as outlined above; namely north through Eastern Siberia, across Beringia and into North America.

POSITION - Pre-Clovis; Parallelism

The mounting evidence in support of the pre-Clovis stance consists of apparent secure dating between 18-24,000 B.P. at the Meadowcroft rock shelter in Pennsylvania9 and even more so at Pedra Furada in Eastern Brazil, supposedly with secure dating in the range of 25-30,000 B.P.10

These peculiarities raise more questions than which the current state of information is capable of explaining. If the 11,200 B.P date of Clovis is, without a doubt, the earliest known entry into the Americas, then how does one explain the Meadowcroft date? How does one explain the existence of the Pedra Furada site and its apparent date? Anomalies such as these raise the distinct possibility of additional migratory incursions into the Americas that would have had to pre-date the advent of the Clovis folks.

Apparently, in Japan, there is a confirmed date of human activity of 100,000 B.P.11 In Australia, there is evidence to suggest dates in the wide range of 60,000 - 175,000 B.P.12 Even with the continental shelf areas being exposed during glacial maximums, boat/sailing technology would certainly have been required for habitation of these locations. Following from this is the logical assertion that such peoples would surely have been able to proceed across the Pacific and encounter the west coast of South America long before the advent of Clovis.

One possible migratory route would have taken pre-historic peoples from Australia to New Caledonia and continued in an easterly direction to Tonga/Samoa, thence to Easter Island and Hawaii.13 As other alternatives it has been postulated that the Japanese ventured eastward to the western shores of Peru and that others, possibly Phoenicians, went east across the Atlantic Ocean on known currents, although any record left by the Phoenicians does not pre-date Clovis.14


While the puzzle of migration times and routes of humans to the New World, is for now, an ever-evolving mystery story without a definitive climax, one can only rely upon the indisputable evidence currently at-hand and must, due to a lack of sustainable corroboration, refrain from inappropriate inferences.

A reasonable review of the literature, while raising more questions than it is capable of answering relative to this essay, nonetheless provides vast amounts of data in the continuing support of a Beringian only entry into the Americas and that while pre-Clovis folks may have in fact existed, evidence to support such a belief is not sufficient.

This very issue was delineated by David S. Whitley and Ronald I. Dorn in their article entitled, "New Perspectives on the Clovis vs. PreClovis Controversy."15 Whitley & Dorn suggest that the issue of a Clovis occupation is a solved issue. Rather, they believe, the issue is one of whether the first migration was one of Clovis or pre-Clovis.16 They further go on to state that:

    ... the growing number of early South American claims, their failure to correlate with expectations of a Clovis-first hypothesis and the continuing absence of convincing pre-Clovis sites in North America have led some researchers to question the one hypothesis that both sides of the debate have always accepted: first entry by land in the Bering Strait region.17
Clearly, Whitley and Dorn contend that a pre-Clovis migration did occur although they leave unattended the concern regarding non-Beringian migration routes to the Americas.

In a brief article by Thomas Traumann wherein he discusses genetic evidence of the first Americans, he notes:

    The accepted theory says that the first humans to reach the Americas came from what is now Mongolia around the year 10,000 B.C. However (paraphrasing two south American researchers] ...before that, another group arrived, from China, and that this same stock also provided the first settlers of Polynesia and Australia.18
Traumann does note in his article that the first migrants were apparently wiped out by the succeeding ones, whose genetic traits were then perpetuated.

While this evidence speaks to a pre-Clovis migration, it does nothing to dispel the Beringian first entry thesis.


After serious consideration of the issues inherent in this essay, some final comments are in order. Although the initial thesis concerned alternative migration routes, other than Beringia, to the Americas, it is this writer's opinion that such a thesis begs expansion. Accordingly, I would like to suggest that the thesis also include the following:

1. The Clovis vs. pre-Clovis Controversy. Although migrations may have transpired from other than through Beringia, the real question is when they occurred. Clearly, the significance here is whether or not they pre-dated Clovis. If they did not, the migration is moot.

2. Beringia as First Entry. Assuming appropriately corroborated evidence can be produced to signify a pre-Clovis existence, it does not, in and of itself, dismiss Beringia as the point of first entry into the Americas.

Consequently, in order for alternative migration routes to be meaningful, they must first be proven to pre-date Clovis and simultaneously be proven to have come via a route other than through Beringia.

While the above citations point to the existence in the Americas of a pre-Clovis population, nothing seems to point, at this time, to an entry point other than Beringia. Perhaps the overriding issue here is one of preservation. It just may be that the evidence necessary to predate Clovis which would allow an opening for migratory routes other than through Beringia, has not survived. Is it a cosmic accident that appropriately tested and accepted remains fall predominantly within the Pleistocene period? Genetic, linguistic and material culture clues aside, the encompassing aspect is one of climate. The universe is first and foremost a physical occurrence and the wide variety of climatic changes that occurred over time and its impact on physical artifacts should not be underestimated.19

reprinted from the Social Sciences Journal

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