Alternate theory of inhabitation of North America disproved

April 27, 2015 by Jeff Sossamon, University of Missouri-Columbia
Alternate theory of inhabitation of North America disproved
Michael O'Brien and colleagues recently published a study that definitively disproves the ice bridge theory which claims ancient peoples used an ice bridge across Greenland to inhabit North America. Credit: College of Arts and Science

There has long been a debate among scholars about the origins of the first inhabitants of North America. The most widely accepted theory is that sometime before 14,000 years ago, humans migrated from Siberia to Alaska by means of a "land bridge" that spanned the Bering Strait. However, in the 1990s, a small but vocal group of researchers proposed that North America was first settled by Upper Paleolithic people from Europe, who moved from east to west through Greenland via a glacial "ice bridge." Now, researchers at the University of Missouri, working with colleagues the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and elsewhere, have definitively disproved the ice bridge theory.

One piece of evidence that advocates of the ice bridge theory rely on comes from the Chesapeake Bay. In the early 1970s, the crew of a scallop trawling vessel, Cinmar, was operating off the coast of Virginia when it hit a snag and pulled up an ancient stone blade, along with pieces of a mastodon skeleton. Since radiocarbon dating isn't available on inanimate objects, scholars correlated the date of the blade with the mastodon, which they could date at more than 22,000 years old.

"For more than two decades, proponents of the ice bridge theory have pointed to similarities between North American stone blades such as the one allegedly dredged from the Chesapeake and blades left by Solutrean foragers in western Europe," said Michael J. O'Brien, a professor of anthropology at MU and dean of the College of Arts and Science. "We know, however, that Solutrean culture began around 22,000 to 17,000 years ago, which is later than North American dates pointed to by ice bridge theorists as proof that Solutrean people populated North America. That includes the date from the Cinmar mastodon."

Mizzou scholars, including O'Brien's postdoctoral student, Metin Eren, and graduate student Matthew Boulanger, point to the lack of first-hand accounts from the crew of the Cinmar who recovered the blade and mastodon remains. All published accounts were first written by proponents of the Solutrean hypothesis. According to a telephone interview of the ship's captain, he "took particular note of the water depth" and "plotted the area on his navigation charts."

"While the interview indicates that the Cinmar captain took detailed notes, researchers never indicated that they actually observed the charts," O'Brien said. "In fact, captains keep 'hang logs' in which they record readings when they hit obstructions on the ocean floor. We reviewed countless snag reports from the Bay and the time frame when the snag should've occurred and didn't find anything to corroborate the story. One of the most famous snags of all time—when the crew pulled up a mastodon—and it's just not reported."

While researching the history of the stone tool, its recovery and whereabouts for more than 40 years, the team also found inconsistencies with the origins and the ownership of the ship itself. The research team found that discrepancies in photographs of the Cinmar, the size of the ship and where it was assembled all point to contradictions in key pieces of the ice bridge theory.

"Until inaccuracies are cleared up, there really is no reason to accept the find as evidence of anything connected with the early peopling of North America," O'Brien said.

The study, "The Cinmar discovery and the proposed pre-Late Glacial Maximum occupation of North America," recently was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Explore further: American mastodons made warm Arctic, subarctic temporary home 125,000 years ago

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2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 27, 2015
Shoot the messenger and ignore the message if you do not like what it says. The mastadon and stone tool still exist, do they not? Even if doubt has been cast on everything else, the fact remains that we have evidence dredged up from a reported location. This article is almost as bad as a news campaign to further a biased agenda.
4.7 / 5 (12) Apr 27, 2015
Chain of Custody used in the fields of history, art history, and archives as a synonym for provenance (meaning the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object, document or group of documents), which may be an important factor in determining authenticity. It appears that at each varification opportunity which should exist for this dating evidence, there is no reliable corroboration. So the baby must be thrown out with the bath water.
3.8 / 5 (11) Apr 27, 2015
Ha, the theory hit a snag.

@Tangent: Don't be ridiculous, the article explains that. If you can't provide contextual evidence, which is usual archaeology MO, it can be fake, mistaken context, et cetera et cetera.

Your comment is exactly as bad as the usual conspiracy theory (of "a biased agenda" vs, say, a proven consensus as here), full of fury, signifying nothing.

ADDED: Oops, I didn't update, and missed Karlsbad's better explanation. But I like my pointing out the conspiracy "not-thinking", so I'll let it stand.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2015
Shoot the messenger and ignore the message if you do not like what it says. The mastadon and stone tool still exist, do they not? Even if doubt has been cast on everything else, the fact remains that we have evidence dredged up from a reported location. This article is almost as bad as a news campaign to further a biased agenda.

It's irrelevant. There are human skeletons in S. America dated to before 30k years ago, so neither of those theories could be correct. They'd have had to migrate there during the previous warm period.
Professor Plum
3 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2015
I think the only conspiracy here is in publishing "definitive" findings in keeping with the previous publications. I'm sure numerous examples exist in archaeological findings that would be embarrassingly absent a proper chain of custody. It doesn't mean they don't exist or that the purported collection did not occur...or that further evidence might surface at a later date. So definitive is relative.
3 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2015
I had a similar reaction to that of Professor Plum. The title and the first paragraph states emphatically that researchers "have definitively disproved the ice bridge theory". And then they close the article with "Until inaccuracies are cleared up, there really is no reason to accept the find as evidence of anything connected with the early peopling of North America,"

Just because they are rejecting artifacts as evidence does not "disprove" the ice bridge theory. It just means it is still a "theory".

Not a very scientific interpretation of the data/facts (imho).
5 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2015
"Nichols' paper used six independent linguistic methods for calculating American Indian antiquity and she determined that it would have taken a minimum of 50,000 years for all of the American Indian languages to have evolved from one language, or 35,000 years if migrants had come in multiple waves. She concluded that, "The unmistakable testimony of the linguistic evidence is that the New World has been inhabited nearly as long as Australia or New Guinea"
4.5 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2015
ForConsideration, you seem to be confusing the meaning of theory here and the meaning of the closing sentence. A theory means a model that explains how things are. When someone said they found artifacts they proposed a theory of the ice bridge based on that evidence. However, the evidence is on shaky grounds, since there seems to be no logs or record of the finding. Even if you have thing A that is very much like thing B, that doesn't mean they're connected, coincidences do exist.
What the closing line means is that until all inaccuracies are cleared up about the artifact used to back up the ice bridge explanation, there's no reason to believe that the ice bridge is a good model of how the americas came to be populated. That's what they mean disproved, they've proven there's no evidence to back it up, which doesn't mean evidence couldn't appear in the future, but as we see it now the ice bridge explanation is very unlikely.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2015
"There has long been a debate among scholars"

Why the huge debate?
Whose ox is being gored if Europeans settled in North America 10,000 years ago?
Useless Genius
3 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2015
Even if it is disproved that people mainly settled here via the "glacial bridge," people still came that way, to the continent. Some stayed; far earlier than Columbus' trek. Probably, even before Leif Ericsson. Most may have came over the Bering Land Bridge, but there were those that did come across the Greenland "glacial bridge." We are natural explorers, so we surely would've left Europe, as well as Asia. Oh well, it doesn't seem like anyone can ever agree. No one wants to collaborate, only force others to compromise. Especially, when both ideas are viable. Ah, I'm done. It'll become even more redundant. I'm too stupid to argue these two points.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2015
Why not both?
not rated yet Apr 28, 2015
Some thoughts about the article.
In part the seminal book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn, holds that supporters of the old, current scientific belief have to die out before the newer beliefs of the younger scientists become accepted.
Questioning the evidence in a legal trial is de rigueur. So, it should be in a scientific "trial" or examination of the evidence. Prior to that examination, there has to be rules or it quickly degenerates into a "King-of-the-Hill" contest of might versus right. One rule is that of common and accepted definitions of ALL terms by all interested parties. Another rule is an accepted test or examination procedure of the evidence upon which all parties can agree. The results of the test should be repeatable and verifiable. According to Feyerabend, the results should be falsifiable. con't
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2015
Wiki says, "A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false." The last rule should be a set of decision guides which help determine if the results of the test are accepted or rejected.
It would appear that the questions about the evidence chain-of-custody do not discredit the theory or hypothesis that European Cro-Magnons crossed over to America. It does add support to the hypothesis that the evidence could be fake. In a court of law, the prosecutor has to prove the case that an event (crime) occurred. There has to be a Perpetrator (Perp or cause) and a Victim (Effect). The Perp has to have the Means, Motive, and Opportunity to commit the act (crime). There has to be evidence that the Perp did the deed. The "Theory of the Crime" must be plausible. Alternative theories of the crime must be plausible, also. No "Swamp Gas" explanations allowed.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2015
Eye Witness testimony should be cooberated by at least one or two other witnesses to be plausible. Evidence has to be linked to the Perp at the scene(s) of the crime. [All this from watching 20+ years of Law & Order] This is where the Chain-of-Custody hypothesis comes in.
There seems to be other supporting evidence in other locales which support the plausible hypothesis that Cro-Magnons were here in small numbers at that time.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2015
when did ONE SINGLE HYPOTHESIS ever shut down decades of research, done by the head of the SMITHSONIAN anthropology department... this argument is BARSTOOL CERTIFIED, AT BEST...and remember this...this numbnut is getting paid and teaching this spineless report...this is ALL the old conservative MORON, liars, scared of the truth, have to ADD to the discussion???...THIS ALONE should make most FIRST GRADERS see the ridiculous notion of this mans idea, because, no one above first grade would waste time with such a pitiful argument
3.7 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2015
I am not usually drawn into such discussions, which too often turn into people being unkind to one another. However in this case, such a gross misuse of the term 'disproven' is too much to bear, even for me. Shame on the authors and shame on this web site for printing such things.

John Wilson
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2015
Also we can't find where the ship was built or who owns it.

1. In many circumstances most ship owners do not want to be known as the ships owner for obvious liability reasons.

2. Does the ship exist? Good. Did it bring up the artifacts? Alright. Does where the ship was built really and truthfully matter to the nature and circumstance to the find? Do the archaeology. Then disprove the theory.

A thief gets caught with an ancient Egyptian artifact. Does the fact that it was held by a thief impact it's relevance to Egyptian history?

Using the lack of accuracy from a crew of fisherman is hardly anything to reason on. The earlier claims that have archaeological basis is where the evidence against the theory should have stopped as the later application of the ships and crews inaccuracies have little impact on the artifacts being admissible.
1 / 5 (2) May 18, 2015
Add to my post of 4/28: a further perusal of this article suggests that blame for the enthusiastic misuse of the notion of proof should be laid at the feet of Jeff Sossamon rather than Dr. O'Brien et. al. It is a hoary tradition of debunkers to wait until the means of verification for evidence is so far in the past as to be difficult to retrieve and then to proclaim a hoax or some such silliness. Even so, the best that can be claimed is a weakening of the Solutrean case, not a definitive disproof. That claim simply reflects a lack of understanding on the part (I suppose) of Mr. Sossamon. Or perhaps wishful thinking...

John Wilson
1 / 5 (2) May 23, 2015
Add to my 4/28 & 5/18 posts: As I consider further, I think I have misconstrued Mr. Sossamon's intent here. This seems to be more like advertising or phishing, where the intent is to mislead the unwary who (like most people) are not well versed on the Solutrean controversy. The headline declaring a disproof is what is likely to stick in their memories, adding yet another confirmation of the solidity of the Beringia-only hypothesis. So Mr. Sossamon would seem to be another zealot defending that sorry dogma. Perhaps the really sad thing here is that would countenance and actively propagate such errant nonsense.

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