The Out of Africa theory is the dominant model of the geographic origin and early migration of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens)(a). It arose from discoveries in East Africa less than a century ago. Previously, a more popular idea prevailed which claimed that modern humans arose from different populations of earlier hominids in various regions of the world. This regional development still has some advocates(h)(c).
A 2007 report deviated somewhat from the OoA concept, suggested that the first Europeans had arrived from Asia, rather from directly from Africa!(f)
While details of the OoA theory are continually being modified in the light of new discoveries, genetic studies have only strengthened support for the theory. The most recent genetic studies suggest that “a vast inland oasis in present-day northern Botswana was once home to the founder population of all modern humans.” (b)
New studies suggest that the early development of homo sapiens may have been more complex than previously thought(e). Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London, is quoted by The Guardian as saying that “the immediate predecessors of modern humans probably arose in Africa about 500,000 years ago and evolved into separate populations”.
It is still uncertain whether humans left Africa in two or more waves and when did they do so. Stephen Oppenheimer, who has written extensively on the subject, maintains that a single group of migrants were involved, around 80,000 years ago. He offers several papers on the Bradshaw Foundation website(d).
In the September 2021 issue of Nature, evidence was presented that hominins had migrated out of Africa to what was a much greener Arabia, in a series of movements starting at approximately 400,000 years ago and later around 300,000, 200,000, 100,000 and 55,000 years ago, coinciding with successive periods of more benign climate on the peninsula(i).>Later in the year, another report endorsed the importance of Arabia, describing it as the “cornerstone in early human migrations out of Africa.” This was the conclusion arrived at following the largest-ever study of Arab genomes(j).<
As I see it, dating the spread of humans remains unclear to a layman such as myself. Of particular interest is determining more accurately when man first crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into America.
Not directly related to this subject but nevertheless interesting is a recent research report published in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology(g) (2021 DOI: 10.1558/jma.18784), which deals with Mediterranean migration trends over 8,000 years. It found that, within the region from about 7,500 BC to AD 500, migration rates ranged from about 6% to 9% of the population within the dataset. These rates seem to have decreased over time and “that despite evidence of cultural connections, there’s little evidence of massive migration across the region.”
Landbridges, in the distant past, are believed to have played a critical part in early human migration. Similarly, landbridges, both real and speculative are important components in many Atlantis theories. There is no doubt that the ending of the last Ice Age and the consequent rising sea levels led to the creation of islands where continuous land has previously existed. The separation of Ireland and Britain from each other and from mainland Europe is just one example, the latter leading to a number of writers identifying ‘Doggerland‘, which lay between Britain and Denmark as the home of Atlantis.
The two most discussed landbridges were at the Bering Strait, where it is thought that it provided the gateway for humans to enter the Americas from Asia and an Atlantic landbridge, >which was proposed as early as the 17th century<and later by John B. Newman in 1849 [488.8], who wrote that “in former times an island of enormous dimensions, named Atlantis, stretched from the north-western coast of Africa across the Atlantic ocean and that over this continental tract both man and beast migrated westward.“
The Atlantic landbridge idea became quite popular by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries and even as late as the 1970s when espoused by Rene Malaise(a), but is now completely abandoned. Although there was only one suggestion that the Bering Strait was in any way connected with Plato’s Atlantis, several commentators identified an Atlantic landbridge as the ideal location for Plato’s Atlantis, particularly as he placed it in the Atlantic Sea. However, this should not be confused with the Atlantic Ocean, a word that had an entirely different meaning for the Greeks.
The idea was initially put forward in order to explain the floral and faunal similarities shared by the Old World and the New World of the Americas. The hypothetical Atlantic landbridges>or a series of steppingstone islands.<also offered possible routes for the peopling of the Americas by Europeans and/or Africans. It was not long before the discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge(b) seemed to confirm this idea. Then it was suggested that Atlantis existed on this landbridge, which was destroyed by rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, leaving just the Azores, Madeira and a few other islands as remnants.
A number of landbridges have been proposed for the Mediterranean and linked to a variety of Atlantis theories, the most notable being proposed for the straits of Gibraltar, Sicily, Messina and>Bonafacio. Although it is evident that landbridges existed at most of these locations, to associate them with any particular Atlantis theory requires that the date of their existence is compatible with Plato’s narrative.<
(a) Atlantis, Vol.27, No.1, Jan-Feb 1974.
The Bering Strait between Asia and America has been a source of ongoing controversy regarding the peopling of America.
James Howell (1594-1666) relates how even in the 17th century the existence of the strait, then known as the Anian, was disputed, although at the same time there was also a theory that the nomadic Scythians had originally crossed over the Strait from America.
By the end of the 18th century the importance of the Strait had been recognised, when Paul Felix Cabrera wrote “That most troublesome of all the difficulties hitherto started by authors respecting the passage of animals to America, particularly of the ferocious kinds at enmity with man, even retaining in full force the plausible reasons so ingeniously urged, if not entirely removed, is nearly surmounted by the discovery and examination of Anian or Behring’s straits’ which are of no greater breadth than thirteen leagues from shore to shore, and where, by means of the ice, the two continents of Asia and America are connected; this would afford a practical route not only for animals but men, from whom it is possible to suppose that those who inhabit the most northerly countries from the straits as far as Hudson’s and Baffin’s Bays, and from the Frozen Sea to California, New Mexico, and Canada to the southward, are descended.” (s)
In certain circumstances, it is still possible to walk across the Bering Strait. “A 2.5-mile stretch divides Russia’s Big Diomede island from Alaska’s Little Diomede island. In the winter, the water separating the two islands freezes, allowing you to trek from one destination to the other.”(n) Wikipedia notes that “numerous successful crossings without the use of a boat have also been recorded since at least the early 20th century.” (o)
There is little doubt that at some point in prehistory a landbridge linked the two continents.
Although it is frequently claimed that the Hadji Ahmed Map of 1559 shows a landbridge between the two continents, it only appears to be so because of the way the map is drawn.
A recent paper(a) by Heather Pringle and Krista Langlois offers evidence that the link was more than just an isthmus, but was in fact a vast area of land, Beringia, the size of Australia and that it provided a crossing point, for humans and animals earlier and for longer than previously believed (See map above right).
After crossing the Strait there were two southward routes, one along the coast and the other via what is known as the Ice-Free Corridor Route which ran between two vast ice sheets, the Laurentide to the east and the Cordilleran to the west(c). According to a 2018 report(i), the coastal route which followed deglaciation “was physically and environmentally viable for early human migration to the Americas.” Another report in 2018 claims that the earliest settlers in America were island-hopping sea-farers from Asia(j)(k).
However, there is now compelling evidence that people reached South America before the existence of the northern ice-free corridor, suggesting the alternative coastal migration route, which, so far, has little evidence to support it. This recent report is the result of excavations at the Huaca Prieta ceremonial mound, 600 Km north of the Peruvian capital, Lima. Human activity there has now been dated to around 15,000 years ago(e). Further evidence has now emerged(p) that the peopling of America was not carried out by a single group, but by immigrants from different geographical areas.
Professor Jody Hey of Rutgers University published in 2011 the results of his North American DNA studies, which confirmed the arrival of the first migrants from Asia around 14,000 years ago in a group of not more than 70 people(r).
Pre-Columbian contact between Asia and Alaska was confirmed by a report(b) from Purdue University in September 2016. Artifacts were discovered in a house dated between 700 and 900 years old. The bronze items were identified as having been smelted in Asia, while a leather strap was radio carbon-dated to between 500 and 800 years old.
Another 2016 report(d) added genetic evidence for the Beringia migration route, when the remains of two infants, dated to around 10,000 years ago were discovered at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska.
>Further supportive evidence of the use of the Beringia landbridge was uncovered at Alaska’s Swan Point site where human occupation has been dated as far back as 14,000 years ago. “Another notable aspect of Swan Point is the role it has played in understanding the prehistoric migration of peoples into the Americas. A type of stone tool, the microblade, which was unearthed at the site, has been found to resemble those used by the Dyuktai people, who lived in Siberia around the same period. This shows that people crossed from Siberia to Alaska on the Beringia land bridge.”(t)<
The ‘received wisdom’ regarding the origins of the Clovis people was that they had crossed into the Americas from Asia via the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. This has been challenged in a book by two archaeologists, Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley, who claim “that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.” In 2014, Stephen Oppenheimer endorsed the work of Stanford and Bradley(h). Coincidentally, an article(m) in the August 2017 edition of Antiquity offers evidence that humans lived in Brazil more than 20,000 years ago, which is many millennia before the Clovis people arrived in North America.
A sceptical view of their work should also be read(f). Furthermore, in 2016 the Solutrean Hypothesis also appears to have been contradicted by recent genetic studies(g).
Late August 2019 saw the dating controversy surrounding the arrival of the First Americans re-ignited with a study that pushes the date back to over 16,000 years ago(l). This is based on archaeological discoveries at Cooper’s Ferry in Idaho. This earlier date suggests that the ice-free corridor would not have been available to these people, but are more likely to have used the coastal route from Asia via the Bering Strait. A secondary matter raised by these finds is that “Based on their analysis of the stone tools from Cooper’s Ferry, the researchers suggest that they are most similar to artifacts of the same general period found on the other side of the Pacific. Specifically, they appear to share many traits with tools produced on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido 13,000-16,000 years ago!”
The idea that the Clovis people were the first Americans is gradually losing support as the evidence found at Cooper’s Ferry and other sites indicate otherwise. A recent paper on the National Geographic website supports such a revised view(q).
The only direct connection of the Bering Strait with Atlantis has been suggested by Albert. M. Chelchelnitsky, who proposed that Atlantis had been situated in Alaska and placed the Pillars of Herakles in the Strait itself.
J. Fitzgerald Lee was the controversial author of The Great Migration, who proposed that the Israelite migration recorded in Exodus was not from Egypt to Palestine, but from Central America westward, via the frozen Bering Strait, through Asia and on to Europe and Egypt! He also speculated that Atlantis had existed in the Atlantic and that its submergence cut off Africa from Central and South America(a).
Heather Pringle “is a Canadian science writer who specializes in archaeology.” She has written many articles as well as a number of books and has her own website(a). Among her work is the prize-winning The Master Plan, in which she charts the work of the Nazi Ahnenerbe, founded by Himmler, “whose mission was to search for the lost civilization of an ancient master race.” Included in this fascinating book is an interesting account of the Hermann Wirth’s obsession with Atlantis in the North Atlantic as well as Edmund Kiss’ work at Tiwanaku in Bolivia.
*[A recent paper(b) by Pringle and Krista Langlois offers evidence that the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age was in fact a vast area of land the size of Australia and that it provided a crossing point, for humans and animals earlier and for longer than previously believed.
Pringle has also turned her attention to the Vikings in an interesting National Geographic article(c).]*
(c) National Geographic, March 2017 p.34]*
Albert M. Chechelnitsky (1935-2011) was a Russian astrophysicist who, in a short 2007 book entitled Challenge of Plato: Atlantida Incognita, put forward the daring idea that Atlantis had been situated in Alaska and the Pillars of Herakles in the Bering Strait.
It appears that his book was initially only available in an electronic format(a) however it now seems to be also available in hard copy(b), but I cannot locate a seller.
The Clovis People, named after the Clovis archaeological site in New Mexico were initially accepted as the earliest identifiable human population in the Americas. It was thought that they arrived on that continent around 9,000 BC. Now, however, at a site at Buttermilk Creek in Texas(a), archaeologists have found stone tools in thick sediments beneath what is accepted as typical Clovis material. It is believed that these artifacts may be as much as 15,500 years old, once again pushing back the date of the earliest Americans.
The Gault site, also in Texas, has produced tools and some human remains that have been dated to up to 16,700 years ago, which further argues against the Clovis People as the earliest Americans. This was reinforced by the discovery of a 22,000-year-old mastodon skull along with a flaked blade made of volcanic rock.(f)
October 2018 brought claims by researchers from the Texas A & M University that the oldest weapons ever found in North America had been discovered at another Texan location named the Debra L. Friedkin site(j). They have dated the artefacts as 15,500 years old.
The ‘received wisdom’ regarding the origins of the Clovis people was that they had crossed into the Americas from Asia via a landbridge that spanned the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. This has been challenged in a book by two archaeologists, Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley, who claim “that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.”
Stephen Oppenheimer as added his support to this idea of prehistoric transatlantic travel during the last Ice Age, using studies that identified the genetic haplogroup 2Xa among indigenous people in northeast America and western Europe. This was outlined in a recent CBC documentary Ice Bridge, featuring Stanford, Bradley and Oppenheimer. However, for balance, a critique of the show should also be read(i).
A further sceptical view of their work should also be considered(g). However, in 2016, the Solutrean Hypothesis appears to have been contradicted by genetic studies(h).
Until 1999, the existence of pre-Clovis populations was denied by mainstream archaeology(b). Today, there is almost universal acceptance of these very early settlers in both North and South America(c).
Heather Pringle has written a revelatory article about the Canadian archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars who has fought the establishment view since 1979 and only now has his claim of pre-Clovis hunters in North America 24,000 years ago been vindicated(e).
Nevertheless, Professors Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick co-authored a paper offering evidence(d) that the genetic data only supports migration from Siberia to America.
“A new (2022) analysis of archaeological sites in the Americas challenges relatively new theories that the earliest human inhabitants of North America arrived before the migration of people from Asia across the Bering Strait.
Conducted by University of Wyoming Professor Todd Surovell and colleagues from UW and five other institutions, the analysis suggests that misinterpretation of archaeological evidence at certain sites in North and South America might be responsible for theories that humans arrived long before 13,000-14,200 years ago.”(l)
It seems clear to me that the debates surrounding the earliest Americans have a long way to run yet. It did not take long before the presence of pre-Clovis humans was pushed back further to as early as 33,000 years ago. This is contained in a July 2020 report, based on evidence found at Chiquihuite Cave, a high-altitude rock shelter in central Mexico.(k)
See Also: Younger Dryas