Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 2: Racism, Eugenics and When Natives Came to America
Paleoanthropology needed a leader, someone who could end the chaos and put it on the path to respectability. It found it in a most unlikely person, a Czech-born anthropologist by the name of Aleš Hrdlička. His impact on American paleoanthropology in the coming century would be difficult to overstate.
The Rise of an Orthodoxy
Although only 34 years old in 1903, Hrdlička was chosen to head the new physical anthropology department at the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History) in Washington D.C. Physical anthropology, the biological study of humans, was at that time largely concerned with “racial classification,” often through the study of human skulls, and Hrdlička was by then one of its leading experts. Over the previous four years, Hrdlička had toured the Americas examining people and collecting skulls for the American Museum of Natural History and his skills had brought him to the attention of the curator of anthropology at the National Museum, William Henry Holmes.
Holmes, one of the most prominent critics of the Calaveras skull, was a veteran in the war among paleoanthropologists and the leading debunker of ancient archaeological finds. In Hrdlička, Holmes found a person who was an even more strident advocate of the modernity of American Indians and an unswerving devotee of the Bering Strait Theory, believing that Indians had originated in Central Europe and then reached the Americas no earlier than 3,000 BC. As the anthropologist Adolph H. Schultz wrote in 1944 in his memorial to Hrdlička,
In regard to his own conclusions, Hrdlička seems to have been rarely plagued by doubts … Thus, once having become convinced that man’s arrival in America was of comparatively recent date, he steadfastly clung to and passionately fought for this conclusion to the end of his life, even in view of evidence demanding a reconsideration of the problem of the antiquity of man in the New World.
You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page