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.