Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 6: DNA, Blood Types and Stereotypes

Alex Ewen
7/19/14

In Part 5 of our exclusive series we looked at how new discoveries of American Indian origins cast doubt on the Bering Strait Theory throughout most of the 20th century yet were either dismissed or ignored, all while the cracks grew deeper and deeper.

RELATED: Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 5: The Theory Comes Crashing Down

Archaeological discoveries in South America in the 1980s led to a revision in the timeline of the Bering Strait Theory, throwing the whole theory into doubt. But the dogmatic insistence on a single passageway in a certain time period was also being challenged on many other fronts.

It is generally presumed that the new science of genetics is providing support for the Bering Strait Theory, but that is not necessarily so. The idea that we are all related is a concept well known among American Indians and therefore the fact that new genetic studies are detailing these relationships among humans is not surprising. The question is not so much, “are there relationships?” but do these the new details actually shed light on the movements of populations in the past.

Adding to the confusion surrounding genetic studies is the newness of the science, which has caused genetics to be heavily influenced by the archaeologists, and thus already predisposed to the Bering Strait Theory.  More unfortunate has been the use by geneticists of the pseudo-scientific classifications of American Indians proposed by the linguist and Clovis First devotee, Joseph Greenberg, classifications that are now completely discredited, but still used in genetic studies. These problems and others have led to the regular publishing of highly contradictory reports, often in the same year. As University of Wyoming anthropologist Nicole M. Waguespack noted, “Genetic studies are currently plagued by equifinality, as it has become clear that multiple scenarios of initial colonization and later population movements can be devised to account for the modern frequencies of American haplotypes.”

The first simple tests for genetic inheritance involved blood groups, discovered by the Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner in 1901, who named the three then-known types as A, B, and O. In 1919, Ludwik and Hanka Hirschfeld, by sampling soldiers, found that different ethnicities and races had differing frequencies of having one blood type or another. In 1923, two immunologists from Cornell University, Olin Diebert and Arthur Coca, collected blood samples of American Indians, in part to determine  “the question of the relation of the American Indian race to the northeastern Asiatic races.” As Margot Lynn Iverson wrote in her book, Blood Types, after they compared their samples to those taken from Asian peoples,

Coca and Diebert anticipated finding similar blood group distributions in the Asian and Indian populations, which would further support the widely held theory that Native Americans had immigrated to the Americas from northeastern Asia. They were surprised to find that, to the contrary, the blood group distributions of the East Asian and American Indian sample groups were quite different.

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HontasF's picture
HontasF
Submitted by HontasF on
Now this is good science writing. You've followed the modern evidence to the supportable conclusion that Paleo indians did migrate to America at some point in the past possibly by way of Beringia BUT FAR EARLIER THAN 15,00 YEARS, and not exclusively that way. i.e. there is good evidence that the Americas were not hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world before the Norse sailors came (much less Columbus). A problem is for many in our community that's not enough. They want science to say that the evolved here separately from everyone else. Something for which their simply isn't any evidence. They want science to affirm their nations version of creationism. "White" science does not even affirm "White" Judeao-Christian creation stories. They also have a problem with the notion that we are all related as part of one big family tree (The Recent African Origin theory, Mitochondrial Even, and Y-chromosomal adam). Since I've seen you on FB you have seen the discussions.

Sis's picture
Sis
Submitted by Sis on
I did a history of words study and found that the indigenous of islands in the South Pacific used the word "milpu" for garden. In Guatemala, one word for "cornfield" is "milpa." I truly believe that people traveled from places other than the Bering Strait.

Micheal Claxton
Micheal Claxton
Submitted by Micheal Claxton on
Wait let me get this straight .. I can look at any globe and see that Siberia is not on the other side of the earth. Siberia is closer to Ikpek Lagoon is closer to "Asia" than it is to Anchorage Siberia and Central Asia are a part of North America. Are you telling me that all the Native people that share language, culture and have the same faces and traditions as Central Asians and Siberians and look like "Asians" from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego don't exist? There is something way to eurocentric about these efforts to separate the obvious. Asians look at Native Americans and see themselves. Take a Siberian and bring him here with his traditional dress and tepee and tell me we are not related? Siberian Yupik is spoken on both sides of the Bering Straight. Why would we let eurocentric thinking divide us from a region that is so close and should be closer. We were not conquered by Asians. Russia "sold" Alaska to the US, otherwise it would still be part of "Russia". There is no "Asian " blood group. Some one wants to make Natives into Caucasians and confound and confuse what is obvious. America and Central Asia / Siberia are the same land and the same peoples. We live is a sea of europeans that have a vested interest in watering down and subverting our global connections to Asia and the Pacific, so they can manufacture a narrative that they are us and they were first, it started with the Mormans. Columbus thought he was in Asia NOT Europe and that is because we fit the description of our brother peoples.There is no ( except incidental and due to conquest and interbreeding European connection). nice try but it won't fly.

Chester King
Chester King
Submitted by Chester King on
The Siberian Eskimos are an example of presence of Eskimos in North America and Siberia. The Siberian Eskimo are thought to have come from North America. The Indians of Southern California had fishhooks and boats before Polynesians reaches Hawaii or Easter Island. All modern people have very similar DNA and genetic evidence indicates most of the the ancestors of Europeans and Asians migrated out of Africa during the last 100,000 years or so. American Indians have DNA that is similar to Europeans and Asians. I believe the author indicates acceptance of these parameters. There is a great deal of variety between different cultures in the importance of origin stories. I suspect that different origins would probably still result in the development of similar societies. I like the conclusion that open discussion should be encouraged. Origin arguments were recently used to argue that the burial of a 9000 year old Indian was possibly closer related to Europeans than modern Indians. The argument was accepted in the courts who denied repatriation rights. The use of origins to question sovereignty should be fought against.

Brian Douglas Kass
Brian Douglas Kass
Submitted by Brian Douglas Kass on
I think the genetic evidence is easily among the best we have and the fact that it points to a separation of American Indians in the 50-60 KYA range is wholly unsurprising to me. This places the peopling of the Americas as roughly contemporaneous to the peopling of Australia. That being the case it should give science the impetus to look for a global event that drove those migrations. It would be very interesting to see if there were different genetic presences prior to the Colombian Apocalypse that might push the date back even further. Since primary sources give estimates of death rates from European disease between 70-95% it doesn't seem out of line to think that, as with the Bubonic Plagues in Europe, that genetics played a major role in survival. Some stuff to think about. Also this has been a magnificent series of articles.

Brian Douglas Kass
Brian Douglas Kass
Submitted by Brian Douglas Kass on
I think the genetic evidence is easily among the best we have and the fact that it points to a separation of American Indians in the 50-60 KYA range is wholly unsurprising to me. This places the peopling of the Americas as roughly contemporaneous to the peopling of Australia. That being the case it should give science the impetus to look for a global event that drove those migrations. It would be very interesting to see if there were different genetic presences prior to the Colombian Apocalypse that might push the date back even further. Since primary sources give estimates of death rates from European disease between 70-95% it doesn't seem out of line to think that, as with the Bubonic Plagues in Europe, that genetics played a major role in survival. Some stuff to think about. Also this has been a magnificent series of articles.

Kelly M
Kelly M
Submitted by Kelly M on
I have read through all 6 parts of this series. I find your perspective very interesting and I hope to be able to use this is classes I teach in the future. You have obviously done a lot of research for this and it shows. Unfortunately, you have missed some of the recent advancement (and some not so recent). I am an archaeologist (PhD) that is actively researching in this field and find that some of these misconceptions never seem to go away. I would enjoy talking to you further about this research and future pieces on this and similar topics. I would also like access to your references, I cannot (yet) locate Rebecca Cann's work that you refer to. A few things: 1) The glacial model where the entire western coastlines of North America was glaciated was found to be incorrect in the mid to late 1980s (Mann 1986, Mann and HAmilton 1995, Carrara et al. 2003 and 2007, Misarti et al 2012....) 2) the coastal migration theory usually assumes people followed the southern margin of Beringia. The environment would not be the large open oceanic type environmental with the sea ice that caused problems for more modern explorers (see Erlandson's Kelp highway hypothesis) 3) you start off by mentioning Standford's work - but then don't discuss the Solutrean hypothesis or the early lithics he has recently uncovered on the east coast... There was a great conference in Oct 2013 in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Paleoamerican Odyssey - the take away was that Clovis First is finally dead... but the publication and papers presented from the conference are examples of the progress that has been made in the field including lots of evidence to support a Beringian migration to the Americas (though not necessarily the only migration). I look forward to reading more of your work.
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