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