Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 5: The Theory Comes Crashing Down
A Polynesian Interlude
The use of boats had always been rejected by the Bering Strait advocates, because it opened up other possible routes of migration, such as Europe or Polynesia. Thus they had dismissed any contacts between Polynesians and American Indians (and many continue to dismiss evidence of prehistoric contacts), because it would undercut the contention that “primitive people” could not cross the oceans, and that walking across the Bering Strait was the only possible way that Paleoindians could have come to the Americas.
But the presumption that primitive people cannot sail the ocean is a belief born out of the social evolutionary theories of Herbert Spencer and Lewis Henry Morgan–that societies inexorably evolve to greater complexity and skill. Since the Europeans were unable to cross the oceans until the 16th-century, no one else should have been able to do so earlier.
Yet the evidence for pre-Columbian contact between Polynesians and American Indians has always been strong. Before the Bering Strait Theory assumed its dogmatic status, many scientists believed it and few rejected it out of hand. As early as 1837, scientists such as John Dunmore Lang, a prominent Presbyterian minister and Australian politician, proposed Polynesian voyages to America. In his book, Origins and Migrations of the Polynesian Nation, Lang dismissed the Asian-American connection, stating that “there is no evidence, and not the slightest probability, of any emigration having ever taken place from Asia to America by the Behring’s [sic] Straits.”
Ever since the first proposer of this particular route for the discovery and settlement of America announced his great idea to the world, the learned of all nations, including such names as Humboldt and Dr. Robertson, have caught and adopted that idea and followed in his wake–as blindly, indeed, and as unintelligently as a flock of sheep follows its leader.
Lang, who traveled throughout the Pacific and into the Americas, argued, in a large part through linguistic evidence, that the Polynesians originated in Malaysia and spread across the ocean in a pattern largely confirmed 150 years later by genetic evidence.
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