Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 2: Racism, Eugenics and When Natives Came to America

Alex Ewen

These views were by no means a consensus among scientists then. Even conservatives like Sir John William Dawson, who was among the first to challenge the Calaveras skull and who believed that American Indians were relatively recent migrants, also believed that they had migrated through multiple routes, from Asia, the North Atlantic, and the islands of Polynesia. A host of others, like Frederic Ward Putnam, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and considered the “father of American archaeology,” were firmly convinced that Indians were here in the Paleolithic, at least 10,000 years ago or more.

Hrdlička subscribed to the pseudo-scientific “eugenics” theories that were in vogue at the time. Eugenics, essentially scientific racism, was based on the work of Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who had proposed that the perceived superiority of the white race was due to a superior genetic makeup, a theory highly controversial even then. Hrdlička worked with and was influenced by America’s leading eugenicist, Charles B. Davenport, and he received funding to conduct research and launch his magazine, The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, from Madison Grant, author of one of the most infamous works of scientific racism, The Passing of the Great Race.

Hrdlička’s theory of the Bering Strait migration was identical to that of James Adair, who had proposed it more than a century before, except for the Lost Tribes part. They were both based not on scientific evidence, but on a presumption born in religion that then migrated to science–the antiquity and preeminence of Western culture over all others.

RELATED: Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 3: The Theory Becomes a Religious Crusade

RELATED: Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 4: The Indisputable Facts in the Artifacts

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

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


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HontasF's picture
Submitted by HontasF on
It is interesting but not surprising that "western" "scientist" of the past would use their religious view to inform their hypotheses. Back then anthropology was more like an art. DNA, upon which the modern bering strait theory is built does not lie about it's most controversial point among us. That is weather American Indians came from anyplace else, or have "always" been here...since the big bang or something.

Teikweidi's picture
Submitted by Teikweidi on
I want it to be so also, but until "evidence based" proof validates a date or timeframe for American Indian origins...I will refrain from criticism of any method that attempts to place our beginnings. Our other choice, is to develop capacity in our own people, educationally, to find the answers.