How did the Native Americans arrive
How and when did the first people come to America?
The idea of crossing the Atlantic has also established itself somewhat. Tell us about the Clovis culture and why their stone tools might suggest European ancestry.
That is why there has been a lot of debate for some time. About 13,500 years ago, people made distinctive tools that can be found across America called Clovis tips. It was a new kind of weapon: finely crafted, relatively flat spear seats that were no thicker than an envelope. This required unique skills and that is why they stand out among the archaeological evidence.
Something happened, a cultural change or an arrival. For a long time they were considered to be the first inhabitants [of America]. We now see this more as the mean arrival in the Ice Age. Where these weapons came from was also a very important question for archaeologists. Many have tried to trace it back to the Beringland Bridge, but there is simply not enough evidence to back it up. Others have tried to trace it back to an Atlantic arrival of Paleolithic Europeans some 20,000 years ago.
The weapons found on the east coast of the United States are in some ways identical to those found in Stone Age Spain and southern France during the Solutréen. So it seems that people crossed the Atlantic, hunted along the pack ice in fur boats - following the ice drift - and finally arrived in what is now Maryland and Virginia.
Many Native Americans reject the idea that their ancestors immigrated from anywhere else. Tell us about the Navajo stories of the first humans.
This is where the first people came out of the ground. These are stories about the origins of mankind and creation stories that exist all over America. The local tribes have very clear stories about how they got here, they came from caves or underground springs.
The thought that they are from elsewhere could jeopardize their perception that they have a primary right to land. But obviously they have it anyway, because these stories are significantly older than other comers. When I look at these stories about the arrival [in America] I think to myself, yes, they come up from the ground because their story goes so deep. It's not a scientific view of the world, but it does give us a glimpse into what it means to be in one place for so long.
Of course, the world looked very different 15,000 years ago. Create a picture for us from the mists of time and explain why the woolly mammoth was so important.
The landscape that people walked into looked much different. The animals were much bigger. There were mammoths, terrible wolves, and saber-toothed cats.
Everything was very big and very hairy and armored in places. There were armadillos weighing almost 150 pounds in Florida and Louisiana. So we're talking about a very different landscape and a different way of life. But there were also many places that looked the same. Other places, including most of Canada, were completely covered in ice.
There are a few places in Alaska, such as Swan Point, where you can see signs of mammoth hunting. But mammoths were probably not their main diet. The early humans ate salmon, seaweed, deer, and rabbits. Mammoth hunts probably had a cultural significance, similar to whale hunts in the north today. Several mammoths were shot at one time at Swan Point. You can imagine that it was a dramatic scene: lots of people and dogs gathering and then chasing after this animal, which is four meters high and extremely dangerous. Hunting whales in the north while sitting in fur boats is also a dangerous endeavor, and people have often died in the process. I can imagine the same thing happened with mammoth hunts. You would then have these stories of epic mammoth hunts, who lived and who died, and those stories would be over Millennia been handed down away.
They even recreated part of the journey across the land bridge on Alaska's Harding Icefield. Have you thrown yourself into fur clothes and carried a spear?
No, I made up my mind that if I had put on fur clothes and carried a spear I would probably have died. [Laughs] I brought modern equipment with me - sledges, skis and backpacks - and hiked about 1,200 meters uphill through fresh snow. I was trying to get out on the ice rink at just the right time of the year when winter was just ending. Once we were up there, we put our skis on, put our equipment on a sled and made our way across the ice.
I wanted to get a feel for what it feels like to travel to a barren ice landscape with a group. I wanted to climb the peaks looming over the ice field and get a feel for navigating this landscape that is a remnant of what it was in the Pleistocene. On the one hand, it showed me that this was the worst way [to get to America]. [Laughs] Crossing a huge ice field is an absurd idea. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. People have often done absurd things. When I was out there on the ice, I thought maybe this was where the crazy people got their way. Those who wanted to fall from the edge of the earth. But as we climbed the mountains sticking out of the ice, I also understood how to travel from peak to peak, all along the ice sheet, and then get to the rest of North America.
But that brought me to the theory of coastal migration, so I could say: “That does senseThere you would have moved through a water landscape of islands and coasts that was rich in seaweed and fish, instead of feeding on lichens and catching birds on a 3,200-kilometer journey across an ice sheet. [Laughs]
One of the experts you consulted has the wonderful nickname of Dr. Poop. Tell us about his work and "America's earliest identified human shit," as they call it.
These are the Paisley Caves in the desert in southern Oregon. There Dr. Dennis Jenkins, aka Dr. Poop, the oldest fossil excrement found by people who are, I believe, 14,300 years old. He explained to me that he also found droppings from American lions and other predators in the caves. My question to him was, "Then how do you know that these are human excrement and not humans that have been eaten by American lions and then pooped in the caves?" are. This is such a basic human body function: a person goes into a cave, does his business, and leaves it there. It's a story of people who came here and left their mark.
What do you think is the real History of the settlement of North America and what surprised you the most on your travels?
What I learned is that people from all over came. We imagine the arrival of the first humans as such that there was a group that made its way across the land bridge. In fact, there were multiple groups, many different languages and technologies, coming from different directions at different times. That makes sense because that's how we humans behave. There is not only a Group. It is a complex story of many people with many different stories.
For me it was an opportunity to explore landscapes that I would normally not end up in - for example an island off the coast of Siberia or across an ice field in Alaska. The most fascinating place I've been was a river deep in the woods south of Tallahassee, Florida. Evidence of a human presence was found there 14,500 years ago. Just being in a boat in this swamp, surrounded by alligators and poisonous snakes, gave me a feeling of entering a landscape I didn't know and encountering animals I wasn't familiar with. There have been many moments like this when I thought that is how it must feel to be the first [person] in any place. When you have to figure out which direction is which, which animals to avoid, which plants to eat or not to touch. For me it was a new beginning, a new opportunity to really get to know my own continent.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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