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Since beginning work on A Novel of America, my vision of the project has gone beyond the idea of simply writing a manuscript online. Words are the core, of course, but I believe web-based storytelling must employ all available facets: video, sound, images, interactive media.
Here are three excellent examples of “novel” innovations on the web:
The Kindle edition of my book, Brazil, has an Illustrated Guide linked to each chapter and to my travel journals that reflects the kind of cross-platform on which A Novel of America should evolve when time permits a return to the work. In the future, too, I will seek to make this a collaborative effort with other creative talents well-versed in the artistry of the web.
“Gone Fishing,” I'd like to say, limiting my posts for a fortnight, but in reality it's “Gone Plotting!”
Michener and I brainstormed core ideas for the South African book at his kitchen table in St. Michael's, Maryland. Our starting point involved i) Deciding which key events of South Africa's history we needed to cover ii) Drawing a historical time-line with rough trajectory for the 'movement' of the novel iii) Introducing the forbears of three fictional families – Van Doorns, Nxumalos, Saltwoods – and placing them and their descendants in the historical context, interweaving the imagined with the real.
These pages are from my original scribbling block with penciled notes made as Jim and I sat talking. The names, dates, lines, squiggles, scratches and scrawls were subsequently transferred to a second and tidier pencil draft, then a third "yellow page" draft, and a fourth revision of this. Each stage involved searching discussions on characters, actions and relevance to “the big picture.”
Easily twelve and closer to fifteen hours a day, sweeping back and forth across the centuries, chasing down ghosts of the past to bring back to life in the pages of the novel.
When the time came for Michener to write the first draft, some of my ideas would be scrapped but most found their way into The Covenant alongside Jim's own story-telling, as one might expect in any intimate collaboration between two writers.
Finally, there emerged as comprehensive an Outline as one needed to begin work. Many writers prefer to forge ahead without an outline, and for most this works well; with an epic spanning centuries and with a vast array of characters, a detailed plan is essential. This is not cast in stone but is constantly updated as the manuscript grows and the characters take their own twists and turns through the imagination.
My novel, Brazil, had a similar genesis, with a lengthy plotting session before I set out on my research trip and then returned to sit down and write the book. Like The Covenant, the broad strokes of the Brazil held true from first planning to the end.
A Walk in the Tranquil Woods of Plymouth with Mr. Longfellow, with Bluebirds and Robins singing in Hanging Gardens (Notes)
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of homespun
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her being!
There would be no quarter for cavalier Morton in the “city upon a hill,” with an elect community charged to be the “Modell of Christian Charity.” At the very court that gave Boston its name, Morton was hauled before Winthrop and his magistrates on charges of stealing a canoe from the Indians “and other misdemeanors.” His house at Merrymount was condemned to be burned, its owner deprived of his goods and shackled until he could be transported back to England.
Banished by a government “as good to live under as Turkie,” Morton sharpened his quill to prick the “sect of cruell Schismaticks.” A self-styled satirist with smarting fangs, Mine Host lampooned Great Joshua Temperwell (Winthrop), Captain Littleworth ( John Endicott,) Master Bubble (Unnamed minister to the heathen,) and his arch-enemy, Captain Shrimp (Miles Standish.)
Adams grudgingly conceded that “Morton's strange, incoherent, rambling book contains one of the best descriptions of Indian life, traits and habits, and of the trees, products and animal life of New England, which has come down to us.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne's story The Maypole of Merry Mount saw “jollity and doom contending for an empire” with the Puritans comparing the revelers to “those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.” Woe to the youth or maiden who did but dream of a dance! wrote Hawthorne. Dance, they might, around the whipping post -- the Puritan Maypole.
Three centuries of infamy followed Mine Host until historians like Samuel Eliot Morison began to steer a fairer course: “... a gay gentleman with an eye for trade, author of the most entertaining book on early Massachusetts...We are heavily in debt to Morton for the jolliest contemporary account of early New England. If he did not love our people, he at least loved our land.” (Builders of the Bay Colony, 1930)
Modern Morton scholar, Jack Dempsey, devoted ten years to the life of this Renaissance man : “Bring Morton and Canaan back for the new century, and few books will provide better 'whirlwinds' to clear many clouds away...and help to repair some of the foundational lies and willful ethnocentrisms long-presented as fact in the religious, historical, literary, 'entertainment,' and scientific demonizations of Native people, that worked, and often still work to continue colonialism.”
[Images: Governor Bartholomew Gosnold trades with the Powhatan engraving by Theodor de Bry, courtesy Discovering Jamestown; John Winthrop, courtesy American Antiquarian Society; Pilgrims Going to Church, courtesy Library of Congress, Rare Books Division: America Before Columbus, 1893; The Pequot War, courtesy Library of Congress.]
"The more I looked, the more I liked it. And when I had more seriously considered of the beauty of the place, with all her fair endowments, I did not think that in all the known world it could be paralleled -- In mine eyes, 'twas Nature's masterpiece.”
-- New Canaan, Thomas Morton, 1637
Had the Devil blighted New England's shores in June 1624, Satan would've been no less welcome to the Pilgrims of Plymouth than Thomas Morton, a lawyer, a poet, a sportsman and an adventurer. And in short order, a sharp thorn in the side of the saints and sore temptation to the strangers among them.
Thomas Morton was forty-eight when he came to America, leaving a family “snatching and snarling and brawling at every meal,” and escaping a rancorous quarrel with his eighteen-year-old stepson. He landed at Massachusetts Bay in the company of Captain Richard Wollaston, their plantation located in present-day Quincy and originally called “Mount Wollaston.”
When Wollaston and his second-in-command left for Virginia with thirty of forty indentured servants, esquire Morton stayed put with seven remaining “knights,” and an unknown number of traders, fishermen, sailors, trappers and “old planters.” The settlement received a new name, Mar-re-Mount, popularly known as Merrymount, for the revelries and free-spirited “misrule” of Mine Host, as Morton dubbed himself.
Merrymount engaged in “the old ways of doing business,” a direct cause of his clash with the Pilgrims and the Puritan advance guard at Salem. Morton's activities reflected decades of interaction between European fishing fleets and traders and Algonquin coastal tribes. Encounters sometimes brutal, as in 1614 when Thomas Hunt kidnapped twenty-seven Wampanoag for Malaga's slave market, Tisquantum among them.
Other meetings were mutually advantageous. English and French visitors bartered for beaver and other pelts; guns were the Indians' most prized trade items, with 'Kill-Devil” or rum not far behind.
By 1578, more than 200 English, French and Biscayan vessels made the Atlantic crossing annually. Ashore at seasonal camps, crews cohabited with the forest maidens, one of the “old ways” Morton embraced. In Puritan eyes, such unions were sinful and contrary to their errand in the wilderness. – Intermarriage would later be expressly forbidden; a settler could face three years' imprisonment for living with “pawns of Satan who might lure the pious from righteousness.”
Morton saw the Massachusetts Indians “more full of humanity than Christians. The more savages the better quarter, the more Christian, the worse quarter I had. These people lead the more happy and freer life, being void of care which torments the minds of many Christians.”
Merrymount supplied guns to Indian hunters; native women gathered sassafras and sarsaparilla for the traders. At one time, five ships lay in the bay off Squantum Head, coming to truck with Morton. Plymouth resented the competition as much as the morals of the “Lord of Misrule,” who was also damned for his Anglican beliefs.
On May Day, 1627, Mine Host and his knights celebrated with their Indian neighbors, the ancient revels around an eighty-foot Maypole garlanded with flowers and crowned with a pair of antler horns. Morton composed a drinking song for his guests:
“...Lasses in beaver coats, come away,
You'll be welcome to us night and day.
Then drink and be merry, merry, merry boys.
Let all you delight in Hymen's joys.”
[Images: 17th century matchlock musket and Wampum trade beads, courtesy South Coast Historical Associates; Thomas Morton's signature, from Thomas Morton of Merrymount by Jack Dempsey; Governor William Bradford, from The Romantic Story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, A.C. Addison, 1911; The Big Fish Eat the Small Ones, Peter Breughel the Elder, 1556, Wikipedia ]
Numbers Without People: A Brief Relation of the Population Counts in the Works of Bartolomė de las Casas and Captain John Smith (Notes)
“We found the houses taken down and the place very strongly enclosed with a high palisade of great trees, with curtains and flankers very fortlike, and one of the chief trees or posts at the right side of the entrance had the bark taken off, and five feet from the ground in fair capital letters was graven CROATAN, without any cross or sign of distress. We entered the palisade, where we found many bars of iron, two pigs of lead, four fowlers, iron sacker-shot and such like heavy things, thrown here and there, almost overgrown with grass and weeds.” -- John White, Second Voyage, 1590.
White's report was bolstered by two observations following the settlement of Jamestown. In 1608, Captain John Smith reported in A True Relation that an Indian informant... “What he knew of the dominions he spared not to acquaint me with, as of certain men cloathed at a place called Ocanahonan, cloathed like me.”
Four years later, William Strachey, secretary of the colony, gave credence to a rumor heard from an Indian named Machumps (described by Smith as “one of the two most exact villains in the country:”)
“At Peccarecamek and Ochanahonen, the people have howses built with stone walls, and one story above another, so taught them by those Englishe who escaped the slaughter at Roanoak...and where the people breed up tame turkeis about their houses, and take apes in the mountaines, and, at Ritanoe, the Weroance Eyanoco preserved seven of the English alive – fower men, two boyes and one young mayde (who escaped and fled up the river of Chanoke,) to beat his copper, of which he hath certain mines.”
Smith and Strachey averred that Chief Powhatan had been responsible for the slaughter of the main body of settlers, Smith saying that Powhatan told him as much during his capture. Had the English truly believed this report, it's unlikely that Powhatan would've escaped with his own life, given that on an earlier occasion the theft of a small silver cup was enough cause for burning a thief's village to the ground.
The belief in captive survivors persisted, the “young mayde” beating copper for her captors seen by some as the legendary “Virginia Dare.”
Eighteenth century historian John Lawson laid the foundation for a genetic trail with his note on a group of Hatteras Indians who “tell us that several of their Ancestors were white People, and could talk in a book as we do; the truth of which is confirmed by gray Eyes being found frequently amongst these Indians and no others.”
Another genetic pointer led inland to what is now Robeson County in North Carolina, where the Lumbee Indians claim descendancy from the Croatans and the English colony. – A DNA project is currently underway to investigate this blood line among descendants of these indigenous people.
2. Did the Roanoke Colony fall to the ships of the guarda costas operating out of St. Augustine, Florida? Over two decades preceding the Roanoke settlements, Spanish expeditions had wiped out French Huguenot bridgeheads in Florida and South Carolina:
At Fort Caroline on the St. John's River in 1564, 132 Frenchmen were hanged, their women and children spared; at Matanzas, another 350 “Protestants” were summarily executed.
As late as 1580, Spaniards were hunting down French interlopers around Port Royal, forty of these “corsairs” living with Indian tribes in the interior. Five years later, the first English contingent arrived at Roanoke. Like the French, Raleigh and his assistants had their eyes on a haven for operations against Spain's treasure galleons.
On June 6, 1586, Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine with a fleet of 23 large and 19 small ships and 2,000 men, who looted the town for seven days before torching it. Reoccupying St. Augustine in August and reinforced by soldiers from Havana, the Spaniards prepared an attack against Roanoke the following June unaware that Drake had taken the first group of colonists back to England.
A month after the abortive raid, the second Roanoke colony was established, only to be left to its own devices for three years during the sea war between England and Spain that climaxed with the Armada. No evidence has been found in Spain or Portugal that could confirm an attack against Roanoke – Colonial records of Portugal, then under the Spanish Crown, were destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 – Given the extermination of French interlopers and the destruction of St. Augustine by Drake, the idea that the Roanoke colony was targeted by Governor Guiterrez de Miranda of Florida is not far-fetched. Miranda had been alcalde of the town of Santa Elena and commander of Fort Marcos (Parris Island,) where the French had originally established Port Royal.
3. The fate of the first French colonists at Port Royal suggests another plausible scenario for the “lost colony.”
In 1562, mutiny and starvation drove the twenty-five men and boys at Port Royal to build a twenty-ton sloop in which they crossed the wintry Atlantic, a harrowing voyage in which they resorted to cannibalism to survive. They were picked up by an English ship in sight of the European coast.
The Roanoke settlers may have been driven by similar desperation to attempt a voyage back home only to be lost forever in the depths of the ocean.
John White never got another chance to return to America and died in Ireland three years after his 1590 voyage... “thus committing the relief of my discomfortable company the planters in Virginia, to the merciful help of the Almighty, whom I most humbly beseech to helpe and comfort them, according to his most holy will.” (Letter to Richard Hakluyt, 4 February, 1593)
“Ai, caramba! Meninos . . .meninos . . . meninos!” Tipoana complained. Boys! Just boys! No commanders-in-chief with gold crosses and silver spurs; no select pickings for Urubu, king of corpse robbers! He prowled down there all the same, rolling over small, mutilated bodies, poking into pockets, exclaiming hopefully when he came to an old man who had come to battle in a shabby frock coat. But the veteran’s pockets offered nothing of value to Tipoana.
“You’re wasting your time,” Henrique Inglez said. “The bones of Paraguay are picked clean!” He turned to Antônio: “What more does he want?”
They all had their share, Antônio knew. He himself owned a pouch of gold and silver coins.
Urubu came back along the trench. “Meninos!” he whined. “Not one peso among the lot of them!” There was a boy at his feet. Urubu bent down to pluck something from the corpse. Chuckling malevolently, he straightened up, holding the object in the light of his lantern.
Henrique’s long, narrow face contorted with rage, his buckteeth bared. “Savage!” he shouted at Tipoana. “Heartless savage! Dead, brave boys! They deserve respect!”
“Let it be, Tipoana,” Antônio Paciência said. “They fought and died like men, did they not?”
The object Tipoana dangled in the lantern light was a crudely fashioned false beard. Every boy in this trench had strapped one of these to his jaw hoping to make the macacos think he was a man.
To write what I knew about Acosta Ñu from field reports of the great war in Paraguay was one thing. I had to understand the reasons why. I had to see in my mind’s eye every clump of blood red macega grass where eighteen hundred children fell. To be “witness” I had to know passion.
"Those vast and unpeopled countries of America which are fruitful and fit for habitation, being devoid of all civil inhabitants, where there are only savage and brutish men which range up and down, little otherwise than the wild beasts of the same." -- William Bradford
The Black Legend,” as this anti-Spanish propaganda became known, gained fresh fervor in the early 1800s with the westward expansion of the United States, the possessions of Spain and Mexico seen as an impediment to a new nation's manifest destiny.
Historians like William H. Prescott were rare, his contemporaries fixing on Plymouth Rock for the founding myth. – Some gave a reluctant nod to the Jamestown settlement, a concession battered by prejudice against the South. – Most scholars dismissed the early Spanish settlements as of no value to the perceived heritage of America.
At St. Augustine in 1602, a royal investigator was sent from Havana to decide the future of La Florida. Eighteen veterans, some in the colony since its founding in 1565, took the stand and except for one old nay-sayer recommending abandonment, the rest were unanimous: “Stay!” they declared. Across the continent, too, New Mexico's founders were settled at San Gabriel and Santa Fe, as committed to America as those who came after them.
In his book, To the Inland Empire, Stewart Udall suggests that with the Hispanic segment of our population increasing each year, we should pluck our Spanish century from the wastebasket of history:
“It will make our national stage more spacious if we reached out and recognized these “other” Pilgrim Fathers. The story of the American frontier will have a different flavor if we add the dash and spice of Spain's sixteenth century. And our ethos will surely be magnified if we have the Mayflower folk move over and allow the authentic first families of our sixteenth century to share their symbolic front-pew at out national processionals.”
[Images: horse-drawn carros crossing a river, Camino Real online exhibit and sixteenth century iron breast plate, both courtesy Museum of New Mexico; St. Augustine, 1580, depiction by Noel Sickles (Courtesy of St. Augustine Foundation, Flagler College), see also St. Augustine, America's Ancient City]
* In February 1540, the conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado left Compostela five hundred miles northwest of Mexico City, going to seek the Seven golden cities of Cibola. "It was the most brilliant company ever assembled in the Indies to go in search of new lands," wrote Pedro de Castaneda in his record of the expedition that lasted two years and penetrated as far inland as the plains of modern Kansas.
... And I found such a quantity of cows in these, of the kind that I wrote Your Majesty about, which they have in this country, that it is impossible to number them, for while I was journeying through these plains, until I returned to where I first found them, there was not a day that I lost sight of them."
"It was possible that he (De Soto) could have laid the foundations of an empire that could compete today with New Spain and El Peru, because of the extent and fertility of the land and in its advantages for cultivation and cattle raising it is not inferior to any of the others. There may be gold and silver mines, and I do not doubt that they would have been found had they been sought for carefully...Meanwhile they could have enjoyed the other wealth that we have seen is there.
The Journey of Coronado by Pedro Castaneda
Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Report to the Viceroy from Cibola, August 1540
Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Report to the King from Tiguex, October 1541
[Images: Cabeza de Vaca mural, Ojinaga, Mexico; Coronado portrait, courtesy PBS, The West; Coronado entrada, Frederic Remington, Wikipedia commons; Hernando de Soto, courtesy Library of Congres; Cabeza de Vaca map, courtesy Texas Beyond History based on 2004 Alex Krieger chart; Coronado map, courtesy Perry-Castenada Library Map Collection ; De Soto map, Heironymous Rowe, Wikipedia, based on 1997 Charles Hudson map]
Five hundred years before the English landings at Jamestown and Plymouth, an ancient metropolis flourished on a flood plain of the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Missouri and the Illinois. Twenty thousand people dwelled in the city in 1150 A.D., more than the population of London a century later; another ten thousand lived in satellite farming settlements on the surrounding bottomland.
A royal mound dominated the landscape rising one hundred feet, a flat-topped pyramid on a tiered base greater in circumference than Khufu at Giza or the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico. The palace of the Falcon Priest-King, as I dub him, overlooked a forty-acre grand ceremonial plaza flanked by twenty or so smaller mounds and enclosed by a two-mile long log palisade buttressed with bastions at regular intervals.
Three plazas lay outside the royal enclosure with as many as eighty additional mounds of varying size sited across the six square mile extent of the metropolis and aligned with the Great Mound. A circular "Woodhenge" ringed with forty-eight towering posts served as observatory and "spirit trail," sacred portal to the hereafter.
We call the city "Cahokia," a name taken from a local tribe centuries later. The royal pyramid we know as Monks Mound from Trappist monks who did their meditations on these sacred grounds from 1809 to 1813. The fathers planted an orchard and garden on the summit of the great mound, where today’s visitor may catch a distant glimpse of the skyline of St. Louis, Missouri and the Gateway Arch, a geometric marvel not without symbolism, too, in the mythic realm of the Falcon Priest-King.
What’s remarkable is that except for archaeologists studying the Mississippian mound-builders, until recently few people had any idea of the extent of this lost world. Like most I had scant knowledge of the grassy platforms and knolls that once were temple, burial and effigy mounds scattered across the Midwest and South: sites that could hardly be compared with the stone monuments I’d seen across Mexico.
Known to Europeans since the time of Hernando De Soto, in the nineteenth century the mounds were declared to be the work of lost Israelites, Atlanteans, celestial visitors, any architects other than the "savages" whose descendants dwelled in those parts. Generations of East Coast schoolchildren took their cue from the tales of Pilgrim and Puritan building their own City on a Hill.
Today we are beginning to see Cahokia in a new light, the recovered quarter of the mounds now a World Heritage Site. In 2004, the Art Institute of Chicago organized the Hero, Hawk and Open Hand exhibition of American Indian Art from Cahokia, Etowah, Spiro and far beyond. [Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South ] The collection revealed work of stunning artistry flowing from a social and trade network that reached from Florida and the Gulf Coast to Lake Superior, from Yellowstone down to Caddo, Texas. This vibrant culture endured for four centuries from 900 A.D. to 1350 A.D. with the City by the Rivers at the center of its world.
A place where on a day in 1150, thousands crowd the grand plaza as the Falcon Priest-King emerges from a temple atop the Mound of the Sun, his robe a glistening garment of sheets of mica. As the sun reaches the zenith, the Falcon Priest-King begins to dance in celebration of the New Fire...
[Images: Cahokia 1150 A.D., courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, artist William R. Iseminger -- The website site has an award-winning flash movie depicting Cahokia's past; Monks Mound, Cahokia, Wikipedia; "Bird-man" (1200-1400) on a repoussé copper plate from the Etowah site, Georgia, courtesy of Texas Beyond History, University of Texas at Austin.]
As Science Correspondent of the Johannesburg Star, I had the good fortune to "meet" Mrs. Ples, one of the denizens of Southern Africa’s cradle of mankind.
The 2.5 million year old skull of Mrs. Ples, who belonged to the species Australopithecus Africanus, was found at Sterkfontein outside Pretoria in 1947. A discovery foreshadowing three decades of excavation at various sites in Africa until 1974, when "Lucy" emerged at Hadar, Ethiopia: Lucy was from Australopithecus afarensis, a related species living 3.9 million to2.9million years ago.
The bones of Mrs. Ples and Lucy and lesser primeval celebrities contributed immeasurably to a fundamental understanding of our origin and diversity. Work being enhanced today by molecular anthropologists’ unraveling of the human family’s DNA.A particular area of focus is the migration pattern out of Africa and peopling of other continents.
In North America, where the story begins late in the day, one of the rare finds is Kennewick Man, who breathed his last beside the Columbia River in Washington around 9,300 years ago.
Found in 1996, Kennewick Man became the subject of a court dispute pitting eight scientists against local tribal voices who argued that The Ancient One be re-interred without probing his origins. The views of the opposing sides are fully aired on the websites, Friends of the Past and The Ancient One, as well as in voluminous material furnished by federal agencies who to this day remain custodians of the bones.
Kennewick Man skull and face reconstruction by James C. Chatters
and Thomas McClelland. Dr. Chatters is the author of
Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans, his
firsthand account of the discovery and subsequent controversy.
After eight years of dragging the ancient warrior through the courts – a broken-off spear point was embedded in his right pelvis – the Native Americans withdrew from the case. It’s their intention to press for amendments to NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) that will make the locality of such a find and not proven ancestral affinity a key criteria. Were this to come about, it could effectively end scientific research into the origin of North Americans.
In 1974, Lucy’s guardians allowed her bones to travel from Ethiopia to Cleveland, where scientists studied the fossil for six years before safely returning the remains to Addis Ababa. In 2007, Lucy began a second journey on a six-year exhibition sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture.
Says Dr. Donald Johanson, the scientist who discovered Lucy: "Understanding who we are is not just a matter of idle curiosity. It is a matter of survival for our own species as well as for the millions of other species with whom we share Earth. For without clearer understanding of who we are, we fall far short of the kind of future we would want for ourselves and for our children."
In her homeland, Lucy is known as Dinknesh (meaning "Wonderful Thing" in Amharic). Today, she is on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. – The bones of Kennewick Man are preserved less than five miles away at the Burke Museum of Natural History. Unlike Lucy, the Ancient One is silent.
[Images: Finding Lucy, Lucy's Legacy (PBS excerpt), from Pacific Science Center; Kennewick Man, courtesy Dr. James C. Chatters and Thomas McClelland, see also Meet Kennewick Man by Jim Chatters, (Nova), Lucy's Skeleton, courtesy of Houston Museum of Natural Science]
Twenty thousand years ago, while pioneers of the ice frontier braved Beringia, a continent away Stone Age hunters with Clovis-like weapons preyed on herds of horses running free south of the European ice-shelf.
Known to us as Solutreans, from the paleolithic site of Solutré in south-west France, striking similarities between their artifacts and the bifacial, fluted and flaked points found in America led some anthropologists to propose a dramatic new scenario for the peopling of the eastern seaboard.
Between 20,000 to 17,000 years ago, Solutrean voyagers made the Atlantic passage bringing their flint-knapping techniques to these shores and contributing to the first American “melting pot” when their descendants mingled with the Asian-Siberian migrants.
Among eminent scientists supporting the Solutrean hypothesis: Dr. Dennis Stanford, chairman of the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute, and Professor Bruce Bradley, teaching at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom.
Their research was recently the subject of a BBC Horizon program, Stone Age Columbus (November 21, 2008.) Archaeologist Bradley worked with his French colleagues looking for the story the stones tell – flint flakes collected at sites where the spearheads were made reveal distinctive manufacturing process.
The Solutreans fashioned their points in ways unique to Clovis and more pointedly unlike workmanship by their Asian counterparts; no matching pre-Clovis artefacts have been found at Siberian and East Asian sites. – At Cactus Hill in Virginia, a 16,000 year old find has all the marks of a Solutrean flint-knapper’s work.
Stanford focused his attention on the seemingly impossible voyage of a Stone-Age Columbus: Answers came from the likeliest of all places and people, the Eskimos of Barrow, Alaska. As in ages past, the Eskimos still take to the sea in whaling boats crafted with sealskin and wood and bound with caribou sinews.
When Stanford showed an Indian woman a bone needle, she saw nothing extraordinary in the item, similar to needles her own grandmother used to sew caribou garments with waterproof seams. “This needle is 20,000 years old,” said Dr. Stanford, the relic from the Solutreans who would’ve used such needles to fashion clothing for their long voyage.
Unlike the Admiral of the Ocean Seas, the Solutrean navigators would’ve found their way across an Atlantic studded with bergs and ice packs, bivouacking on the frozen shelves when they were exhausted, living off the bounty of the waters that carried them to the New World.
The fluted sides and sharp serrated edges of the Clovis point gave hunters a lethal weapon that decimated herds of mammoth, giant armadillo and other megafauna.
For much of the 20th century, mainstream archaeologists held fast to a "Clovis First" theory: Big game hunters from Asia crossing the Bering land bridge, drifting down to the killing fields on the plains and in the arroyos, becoming the ancestors of the first tribes of America.
In the 1970s, one of the earliest challenges to the Clovis Firsters came from James Adovasio excavating below the 13,500-year level at Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania:
Adovasio’s meticulously detailed analysis dated occupation of the shelter to 16,000 years ago.
Initial scorn for the dissenters gave way to reluctant acceptance with the uncovering of no fewer than twenty-eight creditable pre-Clovis sites across North America, and in South America where Monte Verde in Chile was occupied between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago.
No finds were are dramatic than those at Topper in Allendale County, South Carolina. Archaeologist Al Goodyear and his team had already devoted fourteen years to probing an ancient chert quarry in the area, when flooding of the Savannah River forced them to the higher Topper ground in 1998.
[Images: Clovis Point, courtesy National Park Service; Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Mark McConaughy; Meadowcroft Excavation Site, courtesy Heinz History Center; Topper artifacts, courtesy Topper Site Virtual Museum]