Now before talking about the Solutrean Hypothesis, you must first realize that the Solutreans were not modern Europeans. The signature Haplogroup for Europeans is Haplogroup U, which doesn’t exist anywhere in genetic studies of Amerindians until after Columbus.
They may or may not have had white skin, as the gene variants that are currently responsible for white skin in modern Europeans had not yet evolved. To the extent anyone cares about that.
At most you could say that these people were “proto-European”, and that feels arguable.
They probably didn’t look like this
I first looked into the idea because I thought perhaps it showed the “Europeans” were the first into the Americas. So I guess you could say I had some “racist” motives to look into it.
However I have since found the hypothesis to be interesting in and of itself, and so am writing about it here.
The Basic Idea
One of the proposed pre-Columbus migration routes into North America is not from Asia, but from Northern Spain and France, a people known as the Solutreans. The main proponents of this idea are Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley.
Solutrean site locations
Around 24,500 BC was the last glacial maximum, and the Solutrean hypothesis is that the Solutreans traveled along the ice edge to the Americas at some point:
Stanford and Bradley‘s proposed routes across the Atlantic for the Solutrean migration
Hypotheses of the peopleing of North America, photo from Smithsonain Magazine
The proposed dates of arrival actually predate most Siberian settlement of the Americas.
The lines of evidence for the Solutrean hyptohesis are genetic admixture and technological origin of the Clovis culture – the first known human culture in North America. “Culture” in this sense refers to the technology used in the region – not language, religion or race. The Solutrean culture is used in the same sense.
The genetic evidence shows admixture of Caucasian haplogroups most concentrated in the Northeastern US and Canada. The technological evidence shows that the most likely origin or Clovis technology is from the Solutreans, and there are multiple reasons to believe this is the case.
- Haplogroup X and R admixture vs. Siberian haplogroups
The first piece of genetic evidence is the distribution of Haplogroup X2a in North America, radiating out from precisely the region it would have landed in if it were a product of migrants from Europe.
Haplogroup X2 distributions, Oppenheimer 2014
Haplogroup R is interesting. One common retort is that this haplogroup is a product of post-1500 European admixture. The problem is that it is R-M173 that is most common among the “Native Americans”, not R1b. R1b is the variant most common in Spain, France and Britain, while R-M173 is more common in Ukraine, Belarus, Eastern Poland and Western Russia. So it seems unlikely to be a product of the Western European colonizers.
Haplogroup R1 distributions
Haplogroup Q distributions
Haplogroup C-M217 distributions
In my opinion, the DNA evidence alone is enough to conclude that some people from the old world came to the Americas, and a Solutrean crossing fits the genetic data the best.
- East – West Movement of sites
There are multiple lines of evidence that the settlements of North America during the Clovis period moved from the Eastern US / Canada to the west. There are a few lines of evidence of this.
First, an analysis of material movement shows that, in general, the rocks at Clovis sites, when they are not the same as those in the surrounding area, almost always come from further east. They very rarely come from further west, indicating that most of the movement in the Clovis culture were from east to west.
Cache movement, Stanford and Bradley
Second, there is more diversity of toolmaking in the east than in the west. In general, when looking at a “culture”, the location where there is more diversity of techniques in making whatever artifacts constitute the culture is considered to be the likely location of the culture’s origin. It doesn’t necessarily mean the origin is in the east – there could be other reasons for the greater diversity – but it’s another sign that it is.
In addition, the “proto-clovis” sites of Cactus Hill, Krajacic and Meadowcroft are all in the northeastern US.
Solutrean points above, Cactus Hill points below
a – Solutrean
b- Cactus hill
At Cactus hill, points were found in a layer beneath the Clovis artifacts and were dated earlier. Similar “proto-clovis” technology is not found further west.
- Not in Siberia
It is perhaps important to understand that Dennis Stanford actually came to the Solutrean hypothesis AFTER attempting to prove that Clovis culture came out of Siberia. He spent decades trying to find proof of Clovis culture and / or precursors in Alaska and northwestern Canada, and in his estimation came up empty.
Once Siberia was opened up, the investigations there found radically different tool-making techniques than what existed in North America.
Solutrean / Clovis “overshot flaking” toolmaking
Arrowhead making in Siberia using wedge-shaped cores, microblades and ivory
Remember that the idea that Clovis Culture technology came from Siberia is an idea that came before anthropologists did any relevant investigations in northern Canada, Alaska or Siberia. It was a theory that was born following investigations at Clovis, New Mexico in 1926 and the subsequent discovery of more “Clovis culture” artifacts throughout North America.
One common counter to this is that similar spear point making technology existed throughout Africa and the Middle East. But this is irrelevant to the fact that it did NOT exist in Siberia, nor are there anything like the Clovis points in Alaska or Canada where the ice corridor was.
In addition, Stanford showed in a 2012 presentation a broken Solutrean point found in Virginia – that was made out of French flint. Moreover, they also found similar points in the area made out of local materials. It’s possible that a post-Columbus Englishman who migrated to Virginia brought it over as a souvenir, broke it and then threw it away. But I don’t think so and I think it is a second smoking gun for Solutrean presence (the first being the genetic data).
Points found in Virginia. Point “a” is the one made from French flint, points “b” and “c” are made from local material in the same area.
- Mismatch of dates between Solutrean civilization and proposed Solutrean sites in North America
One counter to the Solutrean hypothesis is that some proposed Solutrean sites in North America date older than any Solutrean site in France and Spain.
This is a fair point, however one should not take the dates of the sites that are seen as too literal, as the coastline at the time was much further out than it is today:
Northeast US coastline during the last glacial maximum (LGM)
And so the sites we see today are far inland from where the coastal sites would have been. It’s also possible that the migration to North America occurred when it was colder, and the move inland by the Solutreans – both in North America and in Europe – occurred later.
- Solutreans didn’t have the ability to cross the atlantic
This argument is based on the idea that the Solutreans didn’t have boats that could navigate the Atlantic. Most locations that would have been on the coast during the Solutrean time period would be deep underwater today as a result of the melting glaciers.
The problem with this argument is that in Europe, the primary source of food for the Solutreans was in rivers and in the few sites that were coastal at the time but not underwater today, there are remains of fish bones and sea shells along with art depicting fishing.
In addition, in order to survive in ice age France and Spain you have to know how to waterproof leather, otherwise the snow will soak into the leather and cause frostbite. The Solutreans had to have known how to waterproof leather using animal fat in order to exist in that region at the time.
This is the same waterproofing technology the Inuits use to build boats that could navigate arctic waters prior to European contact.
Also this argument is not used against the idea that Melanesian people sailed across the Pacific (a much larger, if more hospitable, ocean) and settled in South America. There are no remains of lithic boats for them, and yet that is not treated as some disproof.
- Lack of Solutrean art in North America
This is a fair criticism. Again however, remember that the Solutrean coastal sites in North America would be long buried today. And the sites further inland, despite using Clovis / Solutrean technology, weren’t necessarily populated by Solutrean people. Some Solutrean art has been found in a cave in Florida, however, but in general yes there is a lack of Solutrean art.
But remember not all Solutreans produced cave art, and the people who crossed the Atlantic didn’t necessarily produce it.
- Haplogroups =/= Ancestry
Haplogroups are used to infer ancestry for the Asian portion of the migrants into the Americas, so the denial of haplogroup evidence for the Solutreans is blatantly hypocritical.
I think this line is just pedantry, more of a warning that “haplogroup is not NECESSARILY ancestry”, even though in this case, given the location of the haplogroups and their dates which correspond to the earliest Clovis sites, the haplogroups obviously do denote ancestry.
One common attack on the Solutrean theory is to bring up the book “White Apocalypse”. “White Apocalypse” is a stupid fiction book with false ideas about what the Solutreans were like.
It is used by opponents on the Solutrean theory to smear it as being “White Supremacist” and “racist”. Rationalwiki for example devotes a third of their page on the Solutrean theory to “White Apocalypse”, and doesn’t even mention the haplogroup evidence, evidence of east-west movement of clovis culture, or the lack of any Clovis precursors in Siberia.
Google autocomplete results for “Solutrean Hypothesis”
“Rationalwiki”‘s use of White Apocalypse to associate the Solutrean Hypothesis with “white supremacists”
Two more examples of extremely political opposition to the Solutrean theory come from The Daily Beast and Scienceblogs:
From The Daily Beast with the imperious title “Incontrovertible Evidence Proves the First Americans Came from Asia”:
“A troubling insinuation of the “Solutrean” theory is that Native Americans weren’t somehow able to invent the distinctive Clovis point on their own.”
– This from the same person who has no problem claiming that Europe passing Asia technologically around 1400 was entirely a product of Asian technology. Do we ever hear them saying that these theories are “troubling insinuations” that Europeans could not invent those things?
Also, the Solutreans were a real established population in Spain and France at the time, so putting Solutreans in deconstruct-quotes is blatantly dishonest.
Moreover, saying that one group got a technology from another group doesn’t mean they couldn’t invent it themselves. It just means that they didn’t.
In addition, the way arrowheads were made in Siberia at this time using sharpened ivory set into wood slats, was arguably more complex than the techniques used by the Solutreants / Clovis culture.
“The legal maneuvering and sequestering behind the discovery of Kennewick Man was a media-fest fed by the loony assertions of white supremacists that the Aryan race discovered America. The result was increasing polarization between the white, male litigants who wanted to run tests on the bones and the local Umatilla people who wanted him reburied.”
– Terms like “Aryan” and “white supremacist” are never used by Solutrean proponents, they are only used by opponents as a form of social shaming. One must deny any pre-columbian Europeans in North America, lest they be associated with “Aryanism” and “white supremacists”.
And bringing up the fact that the people who wanted to do research on the past were white males, so what? The white males want to do science, while the brown people want to bury science because their pagan / animist beliefs tell them to?
So what was the point of pointing out that the people who wanted to do science were white males? Are we to oppose them because they were, in fact, white males?
“One might think that the Out-of-Europe hypothesis was, at its worst, a harmless crackpot theory—that this very terrestrial-adapted culture of the Iberian Peninsula, with no evidence of maritime technology, overcame a frigid Atlantic ocean during a time span of 5,000 years by iceberg-hopping in skin boats in order to deliver the distinctive Clovis weapon system to the Southern United States. But this scholarly squabble quickly grew ugly with the discovery of Kennewick Man in 1996.”
– The author is either extremely ignorant of the Solutrean hypothesis, or knows that the Solutrean argument is that the coastal communities would all be underwater now – and he just doesn’t mention this to his readers.
He also doesn’t mention the fact that the Solutreans had the technological precursors to making the kinds of boats Eskimos had built to navigate similar waters.
Also, why is this not considered a racist insinuation that the Solutreans were incapable of doing what the Eskimos had done? To ask the question is to answer it – “racist” means to make Europeans, even these proto-European Solutreans, look better than other races.
“Well, the February article in Nature proves definitively that the Clovis child’s ancestry is Asian, not European. It’s solid science. The Solutrean fans are out of luck. This should be the biggest American archeological news in decades. That is, if archeology could let it stand without spinning the hard facts to fit an ambitious pre-conceived political agenda.”
– Bizarre. No mention of haplogroup X or R admixture in the northeastern United States anywhere in this article, but claims that a single boy’s skeleton disproves the Solutrean hypothesis, calling it “hard facts” and using terms like “It’s solid science”.
These are pushy, authority-pounding terms designed to jam-down the debate.
Here’s another bizarre article. It’s from Martin Rundkvist, who shockingly is a Swedish Archaeologist. The title is “Genetic Study Kills Off Solutrean Hypothesis”.
This “genetic study” consists of the DNA analysis of a single boy, the same one referenced in the Daily Beast article.
He then proclaims these four facts:
“1. The dates are wrong. 2. The size is wrong. 3. The knapping technique is wrong. 4. There’s no fluted base in the Solutrean material.”
Forget whether these are true or not. A Solutrean proponent would probably be able to take issue with these (forgive me for invoking magic science man) – the point still stands that, for all of the dissimilarities between Colvis and Solutrean technology, it is still FAR more similar than the tool-making techniques in Sibera are to the Solutrean techniques.
“From the north-west via Beringia, as the scholarly majority holds, or from the east via an ice-shelf, as a Solutrean minority holds.”
– The Solutrean proponents say that both happened, as opposed to just one. What a weird thing for this person – who is supposedly an Anthropologist and who chose to write about the Solutrean hypothesis – to say.
“But is is possible that the Clovis culture consisted of people with some other genetic make-up who died out because of a climate dip. To check this, we need genetic evidence from members of the Clovis culture, and this is sadly not a culture that practices much identifiable formal burial.”
– Nobody demanded this kind of genetic evidence for the Beringian or Pacific coastal theories, for them the presence of Siberian haplogroups in pre-Columbian Americans TODAY was seen, and rightly seen, as sufficient. This demand that Clovis-era skeletons themselves be found that possess Solutrean DNA is a completely fabricated requirement. It’s just a form of bar-raising.
He then uses an analysis of a single skeleton from Montana to claim:
“The diagram above shows this individual’s genetic affinities. The important dots to look for are the black and grey ones. They show that the part of the world where people are farthest genetically from the Clovis culture are southern Europe and the Near East. This happens to include the area of the Solutrean culture. Case closed.”
A bizarre leap from a single skeleton to the whole of Clovis culture, and then he says “case closed”. More jam-down language.
Moreover, the single skeleton he refers to came from Montana, which is far outside the area of the Solutrean R and X haplogroup regions.
Moreover, the Solutrean theory doesn’t claim that Siberians weren’t part of Clovis culture. It claims that the origin of the technology used is from the Solutreans and that this culture spread westward. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that it was being spread by the Solutreans themselves, though it probably was to some extent.
Am I just stupid? Am I missing something? Or am I so blinded by my politics that I just see what I want to see? Because these arguments against it seem so bad and so obviously political.
The genetic and artifactual evidence appear overwhelming, and the criticisms of the Solutrean Hypothesis either don’t address the main evidence for it, or do it in an extremely uncompelling way (hand-waving away artifactual evidence as “convergent invention”, ignoring the east-west movement of sites and saying the R and X haplogroups clustered in the Northeast could have gotten there from Asia).
And some people seem to also be finding it compelling:
“‘I drank the Solutrean Kool-Aid,’ said Steve Black, an archaeologist at Texas State University in San Marcos. ‘I had been very dubious. It’s something a lot of [archaeologists] have dismissed out of hand. But I came away from the book feeling like it’s an extremely credible idea that needs to be taken seriously.’”
I think the Solutrean hypothesis is basically true, and probably has more evidence for it than the Beringian land bridge theory had for it when it was first adopted. And that the resistance to it is due to professional entrenchment and its use by white identity people (slandered as “white supremacists”).