Bering Strait Theory, Pt. 5: The Theory Comes Crashing Down
As it is presently, even without being surrounded by the massive ice-sheets that would have reached out well into the open ocean back then, the seas around the Bering Strait are among the most treacherous on the planet. European explorers had, for 200 years after they had already circumnavigated the globe, attempted to reach the area without success, failing time and time again because their ships were not capable of even coming close to it, much less crossing it. Navigating those seas requires tremendous technological skill, every bit as daunting as crossing the open ocean.
One could argue, using the example of European or Polynesian voyages, that it would have been just as easy for Paleoindians to have crossed the Pacific or Atlantic, than to try to sail or paddle the seas around the Bering Strait. The presumption had been that Paleoindians walked across a land bridge into the Americas because they were incapable of doing anything else, but if Paleoindians did indeed use boats 15,000 years ago, then they could have come from anywhere.
Time Waits for No One
Now that it became evident that the land passageway to the Americas was effectively blocked, even during the Clovis period, the Bering Strait Theory should have died a natural death, but being a dogma and not a scientific theory, its advocates would simply not let go. After Aleš Hrdlička’s retirement in 1942 from the National Museum, a number of sites potentially older than Clovis had been excavated, but all had been vigorously challenged by a new generation of archaeologists, and all had been dismissed. The demand for “indisputable proof,” whatever that might entail, was simply too great an obstacle to overcome. But one man had figured out the game, and in doing so, brought down the Clovis First version of the Bering Strait Theory.
In 1976, Tom Dillehay, an American anthropologist who at that time was working at the Universidad Austral de Chile, began excavating an ancient site in southern Chile. Quickly recognizing the antiquity of this site, his excavation became arguably the most meticulous ever undertaken. It had to be, for when he first announced his findings in 1988, and claimed that the samples of wood from houses, charcoal from hearths, and other artifacts that he had excavated had been radiocarbon dated to be almost 15,000 years old, it sent a massive shock wave through the archaeological community. It meant that this site in South America was more than 1,000 years older than any accepted site in North America. Dillehay’s findings were immediately and bitterly attacked by the Clovis First advocates, but he had expected it, and the detail and quality of his work made his conclusions virtually irrefutable. Despite this, it took almost 10 years for the archaeological community to–extremely grudgingly–accept the Monte Verde site.
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