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How Linguists Are Pulling Apart the Bering Strait Theory

Alex Ewen
3/19/14

Over the past few weeks, new scientific discoveries have rekindled the debate over the Bering Strait Theory. Two of the discoveries were covered recently in Indian Country Today. The first “More Reasons to Doubt the Bering Strait Migration Theory,” dealt with the growing problem of “science by press release,” as scientific studies hype their conclusions to the point that they are misleading; and the second, “DNA Politics: Anzick Child Casts Doubt on Bering Strait Theory,” discussed how politics can influence science, and the negative effects these politically-based scientific results can have on Native peoples.

RELATED:  More Reasons to Doubt the Bering Strait Migration Theory

RELATED: DNA Politics: Anzick Child Casts Doubt on Bering Strait Theory

It is generally assumed that the Bering Strait Theory has almost universal acceptance from scientists. So, for example, the New York Times, in an article on March 12, “Pause Is Seen in a Continent’s Peopling” stated unequivocally that “The first migrations to North America occurred between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago,” with the new wrinkle that maybe on their way from Asia Indian ancestors laid over in the Bering Strait region (Beringia) for thousands of years before traveling on to the Americas.

Therefore it is usually presumed that the primary critics of the theory must be anti-science, like the “creationists” who argue against evolution, or New Age pseudo-scientific conspiracy theorists. Thus in 1995, when the late Sioux philosopher Vine Deloria Jr. published Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact and challenged the Bering Strait Theory, he was savagely attacked by many scientists who lumped him in with those fringe groups.

The vitriol that poured from some of the harshest critics, such as John Whittaker, a professor of anthropology at Grinnell College, who referred to Deloria's book as "a wretched piece of Native American creationist claptrap,” seemed excessive. The critics also demonstrated that they clearly did not comprehend Deloria’s argument. Red Earth, White Lies, embroidered by Deloria’s wry sense of humor and rambling musings, shows he was not anti-science, but rather anti-scientist. In particular, he was against those scientists who held narrow views of the world, who had no respect for other people’s traditions, who fostered a cult of superiority either for themselves or for their society, and who were afraid to search for the truth unless it already conformed with established opinion.

Deloria also argued that science, when studying people, was not neutral. In his view, some scientific theories harbored social and political agendas that were used to deprive Indians and other minorities of their rights. Many of the assumptions that underlay certain scientific principles were based on obsolete religious or social views, and he urged science to shed these dubious relics. The issue for Deloria was not science vs. religion (or tradition), it was good science vs. bad science, and in his view, the Bering Strait Theory was bad science.

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shadowdragon42's picture
shadowdragon42
Submitted by shadowdragon42 on
Evolutionist use the Bering Strait theory also. Just to prove the point of Native Americans and other non white races are inferior. We natives know where we came from.

Sandyeggogirl's picture
Sandyeggogirl
Submitted by Sandyeggogirl on
Umm... I am a Native American Studies major and have professors who are linguists and I can tell you that the information in this article isn't shared by the academic community. It would seem that confirmation bias might be a factor here?

natwu's picture
natwu
Submitted by natwu on
Great article. Very informative for a lot of people who aren't in the field of anthropology. I think several things need to be noted for non-scientists. One, pretty much all scientific disagreements are treated pretty much like internet flamewars. You have no idea how petty and spiteful people can be until you read what scientists have to say about competing theories. This goes for almost any scientific issue but it's especially hot in the field of anthropology. Take "out of Africa" or whether or not neanderthals and sapiens interbred. Lots of vitriol. Those who propose a theory have a lot invested in it and tend to treat it like dogma until absolutely proven otherwise. I am less worried about those who will defend the Bering Strait theory and the Clovis Barrier to the death than those who are trying to use findings like Kennewick Man to say that Indians weren't the first or to imply that Europeans sort of co-discovered the Americas. Second, while linguistic theory has a lot of good stuff to offer, it's very inexact. This is not to say that the linguists are wrong because I really don't doubt that they're right, but the fact is archaeologists haven't yet found anything that is 100% proof positive that the Clovis barrier has been broken. I don't mean that nothing has been found, but that we have the burden of proving to the doubters that they're wrong and as yet we can't. Third, thanks for calling Franz Boas one of the greatest American scientists. He was that, and a truly good man. One of the first to fight racism with science.

Amicalola's picture
Amicalola
Submitted by Amicalola on
The quality of the journalism at Indian Country Today is outstanding. I am impressed that your editors allow you to write articles that cover a subject in sufficient detail . . . and also the lack of journalistic drivel on ICT. Also, virtually all of the comments by readers show maturity and the respect for other opinions. Sorry . . . I have not criticisms. This article is especially well written and intelligent.

Cilia Abbi
Cilia Abbi
Submitted by Cilia Abbi on
quando si dicono verità, senza ipocrisia, si viene sempre aggrediti da personaggi, che non hanno alcuna convenienza che si sappia la verità, e come in tutto il mondo, le teorie false e ipocrite, sono sempre quelle che hanno più successo, ma come Galileo dichiarava della rotazione della Terra intorno al sole, e per tale teoria fu incarcerato, perchè non doveva permettersi di contraddire la chiesa, per questo bisogna sempre lottare ed esprimere le verità che si conoscono, a testa alta, ignorando gli arroganti, perché al mondo c'è chi vuole sapere altre verità, oltre alla cavolate che gli scienziati ci propinano ogni giorno, facendoci credere cose che non sono vere, ma io dico che ognuno di noi, se ascolta il suo cuore sa dove è la verità, io mi fermo sempre alle cose che hanno un senso logico e corrispondono alla mia anima, e sono certa che tante persone, sentono col cuore quando c'è il vero, per questo, non bisogna fermarsi di fronte agli arroganti, ma continuare a riempire di verità il mondo, perchè molte persone come me e voi, vogliono vivere di verità. Leo Amici diceva sempre, "la verità è Amore"," la logica non è logica se non corrisponde alla verità", io sono cresciuta nella grandezza,delle sue parole, delle sue VERE VERITA', e i Nativi Americani nella loro cultura, mi riportano sempre al suo insegnamento, alle sue verità, per questo dico non fermiamoci di fronte all'arroganza, ma continuiamo a dire la verità, senza timore di chi la verità non la vuole riconoscere

derrico's picture
derrico
Submitted by derrico on
Excellent article! Really useful material (citations, quotes, etc.) for understanding the big picture and debunking what Vine called "the BS Theory." Thanks for doing this work!

aliberaldoseofskepticism's picture
aliberaldoseofs...
Submitted by aliberaldoseofs... on
I would've avoided mentioning Deloria. Dude tried to attach the ndn 'brand' to Velikovsky's weird ideas about the history of Venus. (Do note that any force powerful enough to stop a planet's rotation would destroy it.)

Mike Klein
Mike Klein
Submitted by Mike Klein on
Interesting that Bering Strait theorists insist upon absolute proof to support the linguist theory. What absolute proof can the Bering Strait theorists have?

Su'ana Mompittseh
Su'ana Mompittseh
Submitted by Su'ana Mompittseh on
In the western scientific community, people's proclivity to hold on to what they think they know is predominant. Though the general public statement is that the scientific academic community is devoid of emotional, cultural, and political bias. One stance is that they have invested too long in what they now believe is fact, to reevaluate. But the Bering straight theory is not important enough to protect. Yet once you start pulling apart pieces of the western scientific worldview, you find you have been spending years cultivating a sense of the world which may not be true. That can scare people into defense mode. This can happen across the board, and people on all sides are not immune. Yes, confirmation bias. All I know is we do not know for sure. If the scientific community feels they do know, they are no longer scientists.

larrymoniz's picture
larrymoniz
Submitted by larrymoniz on
I know many Native American readers, indeed most Americans regardless of ethnicity, have come to believe the myth called the Beringia Land Bridge Theory. In doing some research for a different story I recently learned the truth and, like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Purloined Letter" it was hidden in plain site. It appears a fraud perpetrated in 1590 has come back to haunt Americans who've been led to believe in the fallacious Beringia Land Bridge Theory for so many decades. The Society for Pennsylvania Archeology annual meetings will be held starting in another week in Greensburg, Pa. I'll be presenting a paper there entitled "Chasing the Beringia Land Bridge Myth and Finding Solutrean Boats." While doing extensive research for a work on Northeastern Woodland Indians I read "Across Atlantic Ice" and was struck by Dr. Mike Collins' Forward. It triggered me to try to find evidence of my own as to answering the question: "Where are the boats." Professor Collins was referring to the boats needed to further verify the theory proposed in Across Atlantic Ice by two other top rated archeologists, one from Exeter College in England and one from the Smithsonian Museum. I'm a retired journalist and knew it could be a fruitless search or I might leave this mortal coil before any answer was found. I was NOT searching for the same type of scientific evidence, but rather tangible indicators. Essentially, were there indicators the boats ever existed? I found more, and faster, than I ever dreamed. I not only had evidence the boats existed, but indications that Americans were mislead by the Jesuits who claimed one of their South American Missionaries had advanced the Beringia Land Bridge Theory in a 1590 book, HUNDREDS OF YEARS BEFORE THE BERING STRAIT WAS EVEN EXPLORED. While I'm sure my evidence will be disputed by archeologists with a vested interest in preserving the Clovis First status quo, even to shuffling and revising their alleged migration dates and, the latest, a claim Siberians sat on the Land Bridge for 10,000 years waiting for a passage to open. How did they know a passage would develop? How did they survive without food and water, in the coldest location in the Northern Hemisphere? How did they avoid leaving any traces? As an award-winning investigative reporter I'm confident of my sources and can demonstrate striking similarities, supported by graphic evidence, that Solutreans fleeing the European Ice Age arrived by boat long before other emigres to North America. Was it the only migration? I doubt it. Evidence shows undisputable evidence of South America being inhabited before the discovery at Clovis, N.M. I suspect archeologists have failed to properly estimate when peoples from around the globe developed watercraft. How else could Australia have become populated some 45,000 years ago. Or Japan? Regardless of ethnicity or previous beliefs about humankind's earliest origins and/or whether it was on the back of the Great Turtle, we are all going to need to brush up on ancient heritages due to current and future discoveries.

larrymoniz's picture
larrymoniz
Submitted by larrymoniz on
I know many Native American readers, indeed most Americans regardless of ethnicity, have come to believe the myth called the Beringia Land Bridge Theory. In doing some research for a different story I recently learned the truth and, like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Purloined Letter" it was hidden in plain site. It appears a fraud perpetrated in 1590 has come back to haunt Americans who've been led to believe in the fallacious Beringia Land Bridge Theory for so many decades. The Society for Pennsylvania Archeology annual meetings will be held starting in another week in Greensburg, Pa. I'll be presenting a paper there entitled "Chasing the Beringia Land Bridge Myth and Finding Solutrean Boats." While doing extensive research for a work on Northeastern Woodland Indians I read "Across Atlantic Ice" and was struck by Dr. Mike Collins' Forward. It triggered me to try to find evidence of my own as to answering the question: "Where are the boats." Professor Collins was referring to the boats needed to further verify the theory proposed in Across Atlantic Ice by two other top rated archeologists, one from Exeter College in England and one from the Smithsonian Museum. I'm a retired journalist and knew it could be a fruitless search or I might leave this mortal coil before any answer was found. I was NOT searching for the same type of scientific evidence, but rather tangible indicators. Essentially, were there indicators the boats ever existed? I found more, and faster, than I ever dreamed. I not only had evidence the boats existed, but indications that Americans were mislead by the Jesuits who claimed one of their South American Missionaries had advanced the Beringia Land Bridge Theory in a 1590 book, HUNDREDS OF YEARS BEFORE THE BERING STRAIT WAS EVEN EXPLORED. While I'm sure my evidence will be disputed by archeologists with a vested interest in preserving the Clovis First status quo, even to shuffling and revising their alleged migration dates and, the latest, a claim Siberians sat on the Land Bridge for 10,000 years waiting for a passage to open. How did they know a passage would develop? How did they survive without food and water, in the coldest location in the Northern Hemisphere? How did they avoid leaving any traces? As an award-winning investigative reporter I'm confident of my sources and can demonstrate striking similarities, supported by graphic evidence, that Solutreans fleeing the European Ice Age arrived by boat long before other emigres to North America. Was it the only migration? I doubt it. Evidence shows undisputable evidence of South America being inhabited before the discovery at Clovis, N.M. I suspect archeologists have failed to properly estimate when peoples from around the globe developed watercraft. How else could Australia have become populated some 45,000 years ago. Or Japan? Regardless of ethnicity or previous beliefs about humankind's earliest origins and/or whether it was on the back of the Great Turtle, we are all going to need to brush up on ancient heritages due to current and future discoveries.

larrymoniz's picture
larrymoniz
Submitted by larrymoniz on
It appears a fraud perpetrated in 1590 has come back to haunt Americans who've been led to believe in the fallacious Beringia Land Bridge Theory for so many decades. The Society for Pennsylvania Archeology annual meetings will be held starting in another week in Greensburg, Pa. I'll be presenting a paper there entitled "Chasing the Beringia Land Bridge Myth and Finding Solutrean Boats." While doing extensive research for a work on Northeastern Woodland Indians I read Across Atlantic Ice and was struck by Dr. Mike Collins' Forward. It triggered me to try to find evidence of my own as to answering the question: "Where are the boats." Professor Collins was referring to the boats needed to further verify the theory proposed in Across Atlantic Ice by two other top rated archeologists, one from Exeter College in England and one from the Smithsonian Museum. I'm a retired journalist and knew it could be a fruitless search or I might leave this mortal coil before any answer was found. I was NOT searching for the same type of scientific evidence, but rather tangible indicators. Essentially, were there indicators the boats ever existed? I found more, and faster, than I ever dreamed. I not only had evidence the boats existed, but indications that Americans were mislead by the Jesuits who claimed one of their South American Missionaries had advanced the Beringia Land Bridge Theory in a 1590 book, hundreds of years before the Bering Strait was discovered. While I'm sure my evidence will be disputed by archeologists with a vested interest in preserving the Clovis First status quo, even to shuffling and revising their alleged migration dates and, the latest, a claim Siberians sat on the Land Bridge for 10,000 years waiting for a passage to open. How did they know a passage would develop? How did they survive without food and water, in the coldest location in the Northern Hemisphere? How did they avoid leaving any traces? As an award-winning investigative reporter I'm confident of my sources and can demonstrate striking similarities, supported by graphic evidence, that Solutreans fleeing the European Ice Age arrived by boat long before other emigres to North America.

larrymoniz's picture
larrymoniz
Submitted by larrymoniz on
My congratulations to Alex Ewen on a well researched and written article on the Beringia Land Bridge Myth and the various influences that impacted this land now called America. If he is an Indian Country Today staffer I can only urge the editors to retain him regardless of cost. As a professional writer I personally commend his skill, talent and writing passion. Rarely have I encountered so well written and impartial an article on the Solutrean versus Beringia Land Bridge "Theory." I found his "dogma" citation to be a tactful way to avoid the ire of the Jesuits who appear, to me at least, to have first propagated the misleading tale in a book by a Jesuit Missionary, Jose de Acosta who, after working with South American Indians for 15 years then wrote a definitive book that allegedly told of the Bering Strait. One serious inconsistency was that the straight wasn't discovered by Danish Explorer Bering until 138 years later!

sweetgrass777's picture
sweetgrass777
Submitted by sweetgrass777 on
@larrymoniz I can say this, Native American people are culturally and Genetically linked to people who lived in this part of the world. From Siberia to the tip of South America. It is obvious if you just have a look at the cultures, genetics and certain phenotypes though they may vary. We are not European, we did not come from Europe. European are not part of or culture or Origins. Before that All humans came from Africans period. Anyone who is in denial about it get over it.

Brent Nichol
Brent Nichol
Submitted by Brent Nichol on
well from the sounds of the article (which is true of human behavior) scientist with differing opinions tend to get nasty with eachother when really they should have an open mind as they are studying the world & universe around them but unlike Philosophers they can not have a debate with out feeling some sort of emotion toward the argument. Also here is a Question for people to think about Bering strait theory might not just be Creationism. since in evolution= mutation of the dna and is a slow crawl of progression what if our Ancestors (human ancestors) came from the same Group of apes in a forest/jungle in a particular spot on the map and as that group grew it had to separate in order for all to survive so some migrated this way while others the other way. the fact that people never see eachother as brothers and sisters because we all have the same mother Baffles me. we all come from Mother Earth But somehow we all argue and fight over weather this group or that group should OWN this part of a piece of land. the Land owns us not the other way around the sooner people get that through their thick skulls the better and more peaceful life will be. loved the article Mr. Ewen

Chris Hardaker
Chris Hardaker
Submitted by Chris Hardaker on
just discovered your articles. good stuff. was a student of Vine's in Tucson during the late 80s, and am an archaeologist. The thing Vine knew more than anybody was that archaeologists or their fellow anthropologists, like any social science Is Not A Science. These archaeologists, namely, the Clovis Mafia, were fighting for their dogma. Clovis First, and "they walked across." The vitriol arrived when anyone mentioned boats, not only during the Pleistocene, but until Columbus. It was manic. Those who promoted trans-oceanic contact before Columbus could be accused of racism. They would be castigated as grasping at straws to prove that Indians didn't have the smarts to invent civilizations from Mexico to SA on their own. To imply there was contact, among some parts of the mainstream, meant you were racist, According to those standards, Vine was 'racist'. One of the things he mentioned relative to your article, was that there was a story about the four founding tribes of the new world meeting (i think), near the Canadian border. and that the ones from the east had red hair, and turned out to be very disagreeable, and went back east. He told us this well before the Solutrean Connection was on the table. At any rate, good stuff. thx. http://www.earthmeasure.com/first-american.html
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