The Japan Times
November 3, 1999

Scientists say Iberians 1st N. American settlers

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) In a radical new view of prehistory, two prominent archaeologists claim North America's first inhabitants may have crossed the icy Atlantic Ocean about 18,000 years ago from Europe's Iberian Peninsula.

The theory, presented at a weekend conference, is at odds with the long-held notion that the continent's first settlers came across a land bridge from Asia. The conventional view typically depicts wandering cave men wrapped in animal hides and lugging enormous spears, crossing the land bridge from Asia to hunt woolly mammoths.

Archaeologists say some nomads almost certainly made their way into Alaska and found an ice-free "highway" down into the continent about 13,500 years ago. Their culture has been named Clovis for their distinctive weapons, which have been found in digs across the continent.

But according to the new theory, the continent's first inhabitants may have crossed the Atlantic slightly more than 18,000 years ago from the Iberian Peninsula - the area that encompasses Spain, Portugal and southwestern France. Belonging to a group known as the Solutreans, the pre-modern explorers are believed to have originally settled along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, according to the researchers. Over the next six millennia, their hunting and gathering culture may have spread as far as the American deserts and Canadian tundra, and perhaps into South America.

The researchers, Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, concede the Solutreans may not have been the only "paleo-explorers" to reach the Western Hemisphere.

But judging by their distinctive style of projectile points and other clues in the archaeological record, they may have been the first settlers who brought to North America what, until now, has been considered the Clovis culture. "There is very little in Clovis - in fact, nothing - that is not found in Solutrea," said Stanford, who is the anthropology curator at the Smithsonian Institution. "Their blades are virtually indistinguishable."

Bradley, an independent researcher from Cortez, Colo., and Stanford offered their stunning reinterpretation of the standard settlement theory at an archaeology conference in Santa Fe.

The meeting was devoted to re-examining Clovis research seven decades after it was accepted as historical bedrock.

Other scientists say the Solutrean alternative is such a radical departure that it might take years to adequately evaluate. Stanford and Bradley's new explanation, they noted, is based primarily on comparisons of projectile points and other artifacts already discovered on both sides of the Atlantic.

No unequivocal Solutrean settlement remains have been found in North America, they said.

Researchers who believe the Bering Sea land-bridge theory is outdated point to sites at Monte Verde, Chile as well as Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina as being settled in 12,500 B.C. to 16,000 B.C.

But Clovis defenders say many artifacts from those digs are so crude that they may be rocks that have broken naturally rather than being stone tools fashioned by prehistoric hands.