Genetic Study Kills Off Solutrean Hypothesis

I've blogged before about the woebegone Solutrean hypothesis, and I'm happy to say that it is now dead.

The oldest well-characterised archaeological culture in America is the Clovis culture. Its main diagnostic type is a large knapped stone spearhead with a fluted base. The Solutrean hypothesis starts from a comparison with spearheads from the Solutrean culture in south-west Europe, noting that certain Solutrean points have an outline that is similar to that of Clovis points. Is the Clovis point a typological descendant on the Solutrean point? No, say most Palaeolithic scholars, because never mind the outline shape:

1. The dates are wrong.
2. The size is wrong.
3. The knapping technique is wrong.
4. There's no fluted base in the Solutrean material.

This is at heart not a debate about lithic tech, but about from what direction the Americas were first settled. From the north-west via Beringia, as the scholarly majority holds, or from the east via an ice-shelf, as a Solutrean minority holds.

Genetics have long since shown that today's Native Americans descend from people in north-east Asia. But is is possible that the Clovis culture consisted of people with some other genetic make-up who died out because of a climate dip. To check this, we need genetic evidence from members of the Clovis culture, and this is sadly not a culture that practices much identifiable formal burial.

Now though, thanks to work by Morten Rasmussen and many co-authors published in Nature, we have the full genome of a Clovis person who lived c. 10,600 cal BC in Montana, the north-west US. The diagram above shows this individual's genetic affinities. The important dots to look for are the black and grey ones. They show that the part of the world where people are farthest genetically from the Clovis culture are southern Europe and the Near East. This happens to include the area of the Solutrean culture. Case closed.

Thanks to much-loved Aard regular John Massey for the tip-off.

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Actually I had one skilled lithicist and coworker (he was good enough to create Clovis points from scratch) who thought the resemblance in thinning by overshot flakes between Clovis and Solutrean bifaces was quite significant. I myself never thought much of the idea due to the discrepancy in dates and lack of any other indication of Europeans in ancient North America. One thing that really ticked me off was a special on a cable channel (can't remember which one) that had white people playing some of the Paleoindians.

The link above is to my review of that very cable TV special!

Leipzig University wants to close down its Institue of Classical Archaeology. They have students, the only explanation seems to be that they have to save money. There is a online petition for the institute's preservation (The English version of the text is below):…

Sorry for posting off-topic, it is just the topic many archaeologists/archaeology students- yes prehistoric archaeology students as well- are quite outraged at the moment.

Not so fast Martin R, the DNA results from one child 500 to 1,000 years after the beginning of the Clovis Era in no way invalidates the Solutrean hypothesis for the origin of Clovis Points. A small number of Solutreans could have made it here only to have their "patent" for flintknapping tech copied by already existing inhabitants living a very low profile for lithic tech lifestyle. And being a flintknapper myself, I can definitely attest to the extreme similarities of the basic knapping methods of Solutrean and Clovis knapping tech ...

By pestleman1951 (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

I would also strongly disagree on your 4 Reasons why Clovis knapping tech is not descended from Solutrean. Your #1, I'll grant you.. there's a few thousand years between them as far as we have proof now, but that could easily change. On your #2 point I strongly disagree, how could the size possible be "wrong" when Clovis points are known to exist from 1 1/4 inches all the way up to the Rutz Clovis just over 9 inches long. I most strongly disagree with your 3rd Reason regarding wrong knapping style and assert just the opposite... The knapping styles are virtually IDENTICAL ... Both made from bi-facial cores [almost unique to these two cultures]. Both employ "Outre pas" aka "overshot" flaking technique as a routine method of thinning pre-forms being worked down in the knapping process [this method is not known to have been used any where else except when it occurred as an error and usually causing the destruction of the piece being made ... Yes I'll give you #4 ... the fluting on the basal ends of Clovis points is an American invention, although not much of one ... just a big flake taken from the base.

By pestleman1951 (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

A small number of Solutreans could have made it here only to have their “patent” for flintknapping tech copied by already existing inhabitants living a very low profile for lithic tech lifestyle.

That sounds suspiciously like a non-falsifiable hypothesis.

In the words of Razib Khan: "On the order of ~15,000 years ago a small group of Siberians crossed over Berengia into the New World. Their descendants are the various indigenous populations of the Americas which span the expanse from the Canadian Arctic down to Patagonia." End of story. No Solutreans, no magic fairies, no space aliens.

Razib has been talking to Pontus Skoglund, one of the authors of the paper.

Dienekes Pontikos agrees.

They are too polite and careful to say it in so many words, so I will - the Solutrean Hypothesis is dead and buried. The proponents will flop around for a while with increasingly bizarre, distorted versions that they try to make fit the data, but it's a futile rear-guard action. Pontus Skoglund and his mates have skewered them good and proper.

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

John Massey said:

"They are too polite and careful to say it in so many words, so I will – the Solutrean Hypothesis is dead and buried. The proponents will flop around for a while with increasingly bizarre, distorted versions that they try to make fit the data, but it’s a futile rear-guard action. Pontus Skoglund and his mates have skewered them good and proper."

Where's the Like button?

Birger, make of this what you will. It's mostly too recent to interest me much, and there are some problems with it, like Sardinians and Japanese. Sardinians are the closest model we've got for Neolithic farmers, and Japanese are hybrid between Jomon and Yayoi, and it doesn't show that:

By John Massey (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

from the east via an ice-shelf, as a Solutrean minority holds

How is this supposed to work? There is no land bridge, or anything approximating one, in that direction. So either we imagine our putative Solutrean settlers of the Americas crossing thousands of kilometers of sea ice in winter, or some party in a boat got lost. The former scenario strikes me as utterly impossible. I suppose the second hasn't been ruled out, if you imagine our lost mariners reaching the Americas and dying out there, but I wouldn't bet on that option, either.

The route via Beringia is much more plausible. Our migrants may have been stuck in the Yukon/Tanana Valley for a while (that part of Alaska was not covered by glaciers), but once the glaciers melted they could proceed. Or they might have followed what was then the coast (and is now very much under water), making short hops by boat when needed.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

I prefer to think of myself as Norman with some inferior admixture derived from fraternising with the conquered natives, whoever they were.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Feb 2014 #permalink

Re the cultural shift vs. invasion argument, that's a silly semantic distinction. A sufficient number of "elite cultural emissaries", whether 5% or 20%, migrated to change the language of the common people and the very name of the land. That's a far bigger cultural change than the Normans left. Nobody argues whether 1066 was an invasion, yet the invaders represented less than 1% of the English population. The idea that post-Roman Britons (or whatever you want to call them) were seduced by a sexier Anglo-Saxon cultural package without some serious brute coercion is wishful and naive. At best the article shows it was your common, everyday invasion rather than a genocide, and we're supposed to be surprised.

Maybe the Angle-ish missionaries set up booths at the fair with side-by-side cultural demonstrations -- see how much more mellifluously our tongue tickles the ear than Latin, see how generous and charming our gods are compared to that nasty Jesus and Jupiter, and wouldn't you rather give up your drafty old villa for a nice sensible grubhut? Please.

Yeah, it's a bit of a no-brainer that it was less than genocide but more than just a cultural shift.

Greg Cochran 3 days ago: "The earliest inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who were quite different from Brits today, although they did make a genetic contribution. Next, probably farmers ultimately derived from the Middle East, although this is better worked out for the Continent. Next, Indo-European invaders: you can see the ancient Siberian component there.

Anglo-Saxons are more a reshuffling, not as different from the locals as these big earlier turnovers. They may account for 40% of English ancestry, which had to involve much stomping of Romano-Britons."

I think what he means by "not as different from" is that genetic distances in north-western Europe are really not that great, or by that time were not that great. People who send their spit samples to 23andMe in the hope of being told how Celtic they are, or whatever, sound a bit frustrated to be told they are 'undifferentiated northern European', but that's the genetic reality. And the reference populations are modern populations, obviously, although testing of ancient remains is elucidating things progressively.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

I'm sorry John I was referring to Birger's link which characterizes the Anglo-Saxon invasion as "cultural rather than bloody" and "a more peaceful process", i. e. than genocide. I've heard the same idea a couple of other places, usually from the same people who point out that Roman villas could have been built by native Britons aping the invading culture (ok that last was a Time Team episode). I get that it's trendy now to emphasize cultural dissemination rather than migration or invasion but I don't think that changes our understanding of history; conquest is an awfully effective method of spreading culture.

The obsession over which ancient people you might have genetic ties to seems a peculiarly British thing -- I don't know whether Swedes are having their cheeks swabbed to tell them whether they're Goths, Vandals or Sami. Identifying as Celt or Anglo-Saxon must have some unique meaning today in Britain that I don't understand. The whole thing smells of nineteenth-century romanticism. I'm sure the morris dancers are at the bottom of it.

1 Burial seems pretty thin evidence About an entire continents DNA, rather than proof simple cultural contact. If this is the Case you would think that there were intermediate lithic traditions that led to clovis.

By Michael Peterson (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

Kevin: Yes, I know. I'm pretty sure Birger posted that tongue in cheek.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

MP - The evidence is not just one burial. I'm not going to try to go through the logic, because it means having to cover at least 10 years or more worth of modern human genetics research, which has been exploding, and go over the archaeological evidence as well, which I am not equipped to do. You need to understand how genetically non-diverse modern pre-Columbian Americans were - the most genetically non-diverse people in the world due to their distance from Africa and small founding population. You need to understand how their ancestors got some European-like admixture from steppe mammoth hunters in Siberia like the Mal'ta boy before they left to cross Beringia, and that the boy in Montana also had this admixture. If you don't know all of the work associated with those findings, you need to read it all before positing theories based on imagined events rather than real evidence, and expecting a reasoned discussion.

By John Massey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

I don't think today's Brits are much concerned with their genetic heritage, it was worse back in the colonial era when racism was an integrated part of the ideology of empire.

Re. Anglo-saxons, I suspect invaders always take the best land for themselves, later the subjugated people may undergo a langue transfer but it takes many centuies. The teutonic knights invaded the territory eat of Elbe in the elevent or twelfth centuries but the Sorbs still keep their language.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 18 Feb 2014 #permalink

The typical modern Daily Mail-reading Briton doesn't need to be concerned with their genetic heritage because they're British (or more often, English) and that automatically means superior to the rest of the world. Racism has been replaced by jingoism, as witness the unhealthy relationship with the Union Jack and the Cross of St George.

Yes, and Brit football teams will always be the bestest ...even if they get their asses handed to them by the Brazilians. (reminds me of the book "The Football Tribe") Some degree of jingoism seems hardwired. Fortumately, Manchester U rarely takes defeated opponents as slaves.

(OT) Scientists pinpoint the exact source of many of the rocks used to build Stonehenge

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 18 Feb 2014 #permalink

But of course England is the best football team in the world. It's just that Lampard's goal was disallowed (we will ignore the other two German goals...), Ronaldinho never meant for his free kick to go in, and so on. Or maybe it's that the UK is diluting its own ability by having separate teams for each of the Home Nations? Personally, I can never relax until England are out of any given tournament, taking the dirge-like and repetitive singing of the National Anthem with them.

Compare the populations of England and Brazil. Many of the top flight players who play English Premier League are not English, so not eligible to play for England.

Frank Lampard is one of the best attacking mid-fielders in the world. Frank Lampard is one man.

By John Massey (not verified) on 19 Feb 2014 #permalink

One wonders if the similarity of shape is mostly due to the fact it's the same sort of artifact used for the same purpose. There's an optimal shape for spear points. Diferent cultures would approach the shaping problem from different perspectives I suspect depending greatly on their principal prey and hunting methods.

By donquijoterocket (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

I can hear the columnist now shouting "me too." Regarding the time and shopworn Bergingian Migration Theory. It takes little to refute his position. Any analysis of DNA and comparison to AmerIndians requires a far larger sampling than currently exists in laboratories anywhere. Native Americans have strongly resisted attempts to obtain their DNA, as is their right. Also, after researching and studying AmerIndian cultures, I believe they migrated to the Americas via various routes. The Beringia Land Bridge was, emphatically, NOT one of them. The dates don't coincide. There's NO proof a land bridge ever existed. Top U.S. experts have searched for decades and found no evidence of Beringian migration. The Last Glacial Maximum would have precluded any southward migration via a "clear corridor" through Canada. In fact, some experts say just the opposite happened that migration was NORTHWARD toward Alaska.

By Larry Moniz (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink


By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

@ John.

Population? Be reasonable. Compare the populations of Spain and England, then compare the records of their respective national teams.

Regardless of how many Lumpards there are in the England team, the tactics, the youth programme, the whole ethos... just aren't there.

@ Jane. OK. You're right. I concede. I had forgotten Spain, which was careless of me.

I'm not English, it's daughter's a Frank Lampard fan. It's not her fault, she's foreign. Foreign-ish.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

@John. Apology accepted. In return I will concede that Frank Lampard *looks* OK!

It is still worth buying the book on the Solutrean hypothesis if for no other reason than the stunning plates of projectile points.

By Bill Poser (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

@Jane: At the risk of prompting jokes from Martin, she likes the way he scores from distance.

@RelicMan: The ancestors of Clovis people were hybrids of Chinese-ish like people and European-ish ancient northern Siberian people (although the term European was meaningless in that time period) who migrated into the Americas from Beringia. I thought people had stopped using terms like 'Caucasoid' in the 19th Century. I guess not.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

So the Kalash would qualify - they are pale-skinned non-hispanics.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

Morten Rasmussen et al.: "Here we report the genome sequence of a male infant (Anzick-1) recovered from the Anzick burial site in western Montana. The human bones date to 10,705 ± 35 14C years BP (approximately 12,707–12,556 calendar years BP) and were directly associated with Clovis tools. We sequenced the genome to an average depth of 14.4× and show that the gene flow from the Siberian Upper Palaeolithic Mal’ta population5 into Native American ancestors is also shared by the Anzick-1 individual and thus happened before 12,600 years BP. We also show that the Anzick-1 individual is more closely related to all indigenous American populations than to any other group."

No, I am claiming that modern human genetic science has exploded in the last 20 years, and is revealing far greater complexity in modern human origins and migrations than was ever expected. You might want to catch up on the news about the origins of modern Europeans.

The word 'race' has utility in Biology, just as 'species' has, provided you understand clearly what it means. Most people do not. Because of this, I prefer to use a term like 'ancestral geographic population', which is less open to misunderstanding by people who retain the level of understanding of the 19th Century anthropologists. Even then, it needs to be used with care, because mixing of populations has been the rule, not the exception:…

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

How does Martin explain that for the last 100 years he and other archeologists have been touting the Beringia Land Bridge Theory. In doing some research, I discovered the whole theory is an apparent fraud. Therefore, these "archeologists" have forged ahead trying to justify all their work with a specious theory while wasting tens of millions of dollars and giving students questionable educations. My paper detailing my findings will be published in April.

By Larry Moniz (not verified) on 04 Mar 2014 #permalink

Sorry guys, I've been slow on the uptake here. I'm not going to have RelicMan spouting racist/religious crap on my blog, so I'm deleting his comments and the exchange it gave rise to.

Thanks, Martin.

(OT) If you like a *fun* take on old beliefs/mythology, have a look at the film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”
It is “examining the origins of Santa Claus and the whole naughty and nice issue in a whole new light” ,as in, the morality of old tales are not quite what modern people would approve of. Awakening an Old One is never a good idea.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 06 Mar 2014 #permalink

One big problem with your nail in the coffin theory.These artifacts were not found in situ and the dates of the Clovis artifacts are 500 yrs older than the human bones.This discrepancy is trying to be explained away (ie. ritual heirlooms). Archeological digs and artifacts with impeccable provenance have been debated and explained away by various means.Frankly I am surprised at the community claiming this as proof of the connection between this Childs DNA and Clovis not to mention the highly speculative story to go along with it.

I am told there are two articles on Beringia in the 28 Feb edition of Science. On questioning, my informant kindly provided the following: "Its hypothesized that between about 50,000 and 15,000 bp, Beringia, twice the size of Texas, was more fertile than bordering Siberia and Alaska. It supported woody plants and forbs, food for browsers, and had relatively abundant wildlife. People settled there, taking advantage of the game and wood for fuel, and did not significantly advance into Alaska until the end of the period. The population was relatively isolated from Asia and, although, they don’t say so, seems to have undergone one or more bottlenecks."

Someone with a subscription might want to check that out.

jay c: References?

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Mar 2014 #permalink

The pseudo-scientists have been busy, as usual, peddling their ideologically-driven junk.…

A good point is made in the comments (by a dentist!) that journalists are trained to report 'both sides of the story' - but what that results in, in this situation, is equal coverage given to a crackpot theory that has been thoroughly debunked by good science.

Don't worry about the blog title - Jennifer Raff is very much closer to the 'nice' end of the spectrum than the threatening end.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Mar 2014 #permalink

False balance is par for the course in science reporting. Journalists believe that conflict is newsworthy, not scientific consensus.

Couldn't those Solutreans, at least when they were exterminated by the Heinrich Event 1, be Siberians, while the other peoples from Europe migrate to South?

By Daniel Rocha (not verified) on 30 Mar 2014 #permalink

Not even the supporters of the Solutrean hypothesis have argued that people would have migrated overland from southern France across Siberia and Beringia, past the genetic ancestors of modern Native Americans and into N America.

>Not even the supporters of the Solutrean hypothesis have argued that people would have migrated overland from southern France across Siberia and Beringia, past the genetic ancestors of modern Native Americans and into N America.

Are you not familiar with the Kennewick Man and the linquistic similarities of the Ainu to the Basque people?

Don't be so dogmatic in your assertions. You seem to really want this hypothesis snuffed out, and that is not a scientific attitude.

Kennewick Man - consistent with early colonisers being a hybrid of ancient north eurasian and east asian.

the linquistic similarities of the Ainu to the Basque people - you cannot be serious. The origin of the Ainu has been resolved emphatically by modern genetics, as has the origin of the Basques - the early ancestors of the Ainu and the early ancestors of the Basques separated more than 45,000 years ago.

No one wants to snuff out valid scientific hypotheses, just fanciful made-up stuff and barking madness.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Apr 2014 #permalink

If you are interested in Basques, it is worth reading Jean Manco's book "Ancestral Journeys", if you have not done so. She goes into quite a bit of detail on the genes/ancestry of modern Basques and the Euskara language.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Apr 2014 #permalink