Why you should care about Anzick…

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, or just genuinely disinterested in Paleoindian archaeology, you probably know that Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley have argued that people may have first entered North America via the North Atlantic.

Understandably, this is a controversial idea.

This week a couple of articles have come out that undermine the validity of the Solutrean Hypothesis.

I would like to first direct everyone to a back and forth between Lohse et al. and Eren et al. in the latest issue of Lithic Technology. Eren et al. call into question one of the cornerstones of the Solutrean Hypothesis, which is the purported similarity between North American Clovis and Western European Solutrean lithic technology. (You can download all three articles plus Julie Morrow’s review of Stanford and Bradley’s book here).

Adding fuel to the fire is an article in Nature on the DNA sequence from the Clovis-age child burial at the Anzick Site in Montana. You can also find summaries here and here. (Nick Herrmann also sent me a link to the press conference here).

To quote our illustrious Vice President Joe Biden…

…for two reasons.

First, they just dealt mortal blows to the Solutrean Hypothesis. It makes me wonder at what point do we consider an academic debate to be over? Am I jumping the gun here, or can we stop talking about European Paleoindians?

Second, this has HUGE ramifications for NAGPRA, because it connects the proverbial dots between Paleoindians and living Native American groups. Will it open the flood gates for more repatriation claims (particularly Kennewick Man)? Will it prompt interest in more DNA studies on human remains and modern populations in the Americas? I can see both scenarios happening.

Regardless of how you feel about the questions I’ve posed above, I think it’s clear that we should all be interested in a little boy who was buried in Montana at the end of the Ice Age.


18 comments on “Why you should care about Anzick…

  1. Alice Wright says:

    Excellent deployment of BFD sir.

  2. Derek says:

    The problem with the Solutrean hypothesis is that it’s not falsifiable. There’s always something still buried somewhere, or under water just off of the coast . . .

    I haven’t read the Lithic Technology article yet, but I imagine the response to the Nature article will say something to the effect of, “The technology could have quickly spread through existing populations already established in North America with roots in NE Asia”.

  3. David G. Anderson says:

    Shane’s analysis is spot on… and highlights why we should all indeed care about the Anzick burial and what it is telling us about how the Americas were colonized. I was asked to comment on the Nature article, and below are my thoughts, small portions of which were used in excellent stories by two very professional science reporters. As an aside, since I am not as quick thinking as some of my colleagues, I tend to write out my thoughts in advance when asked by reporters to comment on major (and potentially controversial) articles! Stories that have appeared about the Anzick-1 analysis that I know about, are at:



    Here’s what I put together for notes:

    Regarding the Anzick-1 analysis: First, it must be stated that I am an archaeologist who works primarily with the stone and other artifacts and features left by these early peoples, and not an expert in the analysis of aDNA (ancient DNA). Having said that, I find the science (the description of the analysis of aDNA in Anzick-1) in the paper to be excellent, with the conclusions drawn from it following logically. The author’s results and interpretations conform to and reinforce the emerging ‘standard model of American colonization’, that modern Native Americas are descended from populations coming from eastern Asia, probably no more than a few thousand years before Clovis, and are the direct descendants of these peoples. What is exciting about the results showing Anzick-1 is genetically more closely related to Central and South Americans than to other New World Native populations is that it shows early divergence (and apparent movement) of populations within the Americas. Indeed, the ‘more interesting questions’ Raff and Bolnick suggest we should move on to would be exploring population movements within the Americas (and not from outside the Americas, using genetic data.

    I do not believe, nor does the genetic evidence indicate, that Clovis populations are descended from peoples from western Europe. If any such people were present in the Americas during the last Ice Age, there is no evidence to date demonstrating that they contributed genetic material to extant or, as Anzick-1 demonstrates, earlier Native American peoples. As Rasmussen et al. note, as do Raff and Bolick, however, unraveling ‘the complex colonization history’ of the Americas will be facilitated by many more such aDNA analyses. The Anzick lithic assemblage associated with the burial is an exemplar of Clovis, and the genetic evidence demonstrates that person buried with those objects is an ancestor of modern Native Americans.

    This study helps document the later history of the source populations that colonized the Americas. If anything, it suggests if any ‘mixing’ of peoples whose descendants ultimately lived in western Europe and the Americas occurred, it took place a long time ago, probably well before the last glacial maximum. Ultimately, aDNA studies like those of the Mal’ta individual and Anzick-1 (and many other such studies currently and yet to be undertaken) will contribute to a better and better understanding of the radiation of anatomically modern humans across the world. And the patterns of movement, interaction, and settlement that these studies will reveal will be exciting and indeed profound, and help fill in the many major gaps that exist in our understanding of our species history.

    What this study also does is show the importance of using aDNA to examine human movements and associated cultural developments within the Americas, and that when archaeological and genetic evidence can be combined, the results are far richer than either can contribute individually.

  4. As Shane said, this situation has implications that far outweigh the Clovis debate regarding the construction of relationships between archaeologists and American Indians. An NPR story on this situation that will come out today notes the impressive use of compromise on both sides that led to the aDNA work. I hope this little snippet portrayed the relationship correctly, however, I feel like so much of it was from the European scientists purview that one cannot be sure. You can see it here: http://goo.gl/rHmYgT

    Because I have been a bad colleague and not kept up as much with this debate after the Stan/Brad book was released, I do wonder about the X2a mtDNA stuff reported here: http://goo.gl/s38LhS However, I am no geneticist in any regard and do not claim to know the depths of this argument. Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to sit back and see if this is truly the “final shovel of dirt” thrown on the Soul. Hypo.

    • Alice Wright says:

      Thanks for posting that NPR link Eddie! The collaborative aspect of the story is that one that has grabbed my interest the most. I hope it gets more coverage as things unfold.

  5. […] Shane brought up yesterday, the sequencing of the genome of a toddler who died 12,600 years ago in Montana is big news not […]

  6. nieves says:

    Move over Kennewick, we got baby Jesus. I just adore to think about the significance of a baby and his death back when life was so precious. No wonder the offerings they gave him to carry on.

  7. […] as a minority of researchers have argued. Check out the SEAC Underground blog for more on the archaeology and ethics of the Anzick […]

  8. dover1952 says:

    I knew about the Solutrean Hypothesis, but Paleo-Indian is not one of my special areas of interest. Therefore, I will admit my ignorance on the details of this subject. However, I do have one major concern after rereading Shane’s original post. Reading between the lines of his post, I detected a feeling that this subject has generated, for lack of a better word, some degree of professional “mayhem” in recent years.

    Is such mayhem really necessary, or do some archaeologists view archaeology as “bloodsport” in the same sense that politicians and media political pundits view politics and government? Hypotheses are not made to give one person an opportunity to convert another person’s face into bloody goo. Hypotheses are not made for bloodsport debating based solely on what we know (or think we know) now. HYPOTHESES ARE MADE FOR DISPASSIONATE TESTING. In a discipline like archaeology, this usually takes quite a bit of time and the use of that time to collect significantly more pertinent data than what we have now. Do we savage each other until enough data accumulates to effectively test a hypothesis? If so, why do we want to live our lives like that?

    Do we now beat people bloody for generating hypotheses that we do not like for one reason or another—and then go test them—or hope that we can refuse to test them by the weight of our pleadings? Do we say, “We do not need to test that because it is a bad hypothesis”? Is the Solutrean Hypothesis tantamount to saying that Clovis technology evolved from a Hershey chocolate bar, therefore, we can automatically dismiss it without testing it?

    I guess this is something that always bothered me about archaeology and was one of several reasons I got out of it back in 1982. It always appeared to me that archaeologists could find better things to do with their time than beat each other to a pulp simply because a colleague has an “idea” that rubs you the wrong way. Once again, it concerns me that archaeology has been and still is a field that operates without a conscience. Perhaps this is one reason Native Americans distrust archaeologists—because they sense this too. Thoughts/

  9. Circumpolar says:

    The problem is that most archaeologists/anthropologist simply don’t understand many of the premises of the arguments upon which Stanford and Bradley base much of their theories. I do, and the vast majority of those who so quickly want to sweep this theory under the rug, especially some of the authors who recently refuted the theory in the literature, have absolutely no understanding of these factors, including paleoecological factors associated with the lifeways of peri-glacial cultures.

  10. […] this is what Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley’s Solutrean Hypothesis seeks to answer with much heated debate). Suffice it to say, that rather than leaving First American Research, I am expanding my research […]

  11. Don says:

    Not truly a mortal blow to Stanford’s theory. Clovis artifacts start in the east coast and are pretty rare by the time you reach western Montana. So it is not certain that Ansick-1 is a true Clovis person versus an intermixing with Siberian people or just an example of people who adopted Clovis tool technology. Finding DNA from the heart of Clovis culture in the East would be much more definitive.

    The debate is sadly controversial in part because some people (both pro and anti Solutrean) are conflating ancient history with modern politics. Indeed, it is not even correct to call the Solutrean people “white men” as some have done. The Solutreans originated in North Africa and are not even related to modern Europeans, probably they even predate the Basque people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s