Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The First Surfer Nation

This week's TIME Magazine has a good cover story on Kennewick Man, the 9,400-year-old skeleton discovered in Washington in the 1990s. The essay had two main points of interest: A) recent analysis of Kennewick Man indicates that he probably resembled an Ainu or native Siberian, not a European as previously thought, and B) he probably belonged to a coastal culture that relied on fishing and shellfish-collecting for its livelihood. The latter observation links Kennewick Man to a growing body of evidence that early Americans migrated from Beringia down the Pacific coast of North America, thereby bypassing the glaciers that covered Canada and the northern United States during the last Ice Age.

The coastal-migration thesis makes it unnecessary to assume that early Americans reached the non-glaciated parts of the Americas by using a temporary "ice-free corridor" through the ice sheets, a hypothesis advanced by W.A. Johnston and Ernst Antevs in the 1930s and popularized by C. Vance Haynes in the 1960s. Johnston, Antevs and Haynes postulated that the ice-free corridor appeared about 12-13,000 years ago, shortly before melting ice caps submerged the Bering Land Bridge. They used this odd hypothesis to support the notion that there could not have been any human presence in the Americas prior to 9,000-10,000 BCE, a belief that archaeologists held for decades before it was finally discredited by Tom Dillehay.

The article notes that researchers are now pushing the date of first human migration to the Americas as far back as 28,000 BCE, based on mitochondrial DNA studies. That said, it is startling to realize that the first Americans may have been primarily boaters and beach dwellers. I suspect it's only a matter of time before we find the first Native American surfboards.

No comments: