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The Solutrean-Clovis Connection

The North Atlantic Ice-Edge Corridor Hypothesis

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Margin of Melting Glacier, Greenland

Margin of Melting Glacier, Greenland

Basheer Tome

The Solutrean-Clovis connection (more formally known as the "North Atlantic Ice-Edge Corridor Hypothesis") is one theory of the peopling of the American continents that suggests that Upper Paleolithic Solutrean culture is ancestral to Clovis. This idea has its roots in the 19th century, when archaeologists such as CC Abbott postulated that the Americas had been colonized by Paleolithic Europeans. After the Radiocarbon Revolution, however, this idea fell into disuse, only to be revived in the late 1990s by archaeologists Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford.

Bradley and Stanford argue that at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, ca 25,000-15,000 radiocarbon years ago, the Iberian peninsula of Europe became a steppe-tundra, forcing Solutrean populations to the coasts. Maritime hunters then traveled northward along the ice margin up the European coast and around the North Atlantic Sea. They point out that the perennial Arctic ice at the time would have formed an ice bridge connecting Europe and North America. Ice margins have intense biological productivity, and would have provided a major food source.

Cultural Similarities

Bradley and Stanford further point out that there are similarities in the stone tools. Bifaces are systematically thinned with an overshot flaking method in both Solutrean and Clovis cultures. Solutrean leaf-shaped points are similar in outline and share some (but not all) Clovis construction techniques. Further, Clovis assemblages often include a cylindrical ivory shaft or point made from a mammoth tusk or the long bones of bison. Other bone tools were often included in both assemblages, such as needles and bone shaft straighteners.

However, Eren (2013) has commented that the similarities between "controlled overshot flaking" method for bifacial stone tool manufacture are accidental products created incidentally and inconsistently as a part of biface thinning. He argues that, based on his own experimental archaeology, overshot flaking in Clovis and Solutrean assemblages is the result of both sets of flint-knappers removing overshot flakes.

Problems with Solutrean/Clovis

The most prominent opponent of the Solutrean connection is Lawrence Guy Straus. Straus points out that the LGM forced people out of western Europe into southern France and the Iberian peninsula by about 25,000 radiocarbon years ago. There were no people at all living north of the Loire Valley of France during the Last Glacial Maximum, and no people in the southern part of England until after about 12,500 BP. The similarities between Clovis and Solutrean cultural assemblages are far outweighed by the differences. Clovis hunters were not users of marine resources, either fish or mammal; the Solutrean hunter-gatherers used land-based hunting supplemented by littoral and riverine but not oceanic resources.

Most essentially, the Solutreans of the Iberian peninsula lived 5,000 radiocarbon years earlier and 5,000 kilometers directly across the Atlantic from the Clovis hunter-gatherers.

PreClovis and Solutrean

Since the discovery of credible Preclovis sites, Bradley and Stanford now argue for a Solutrean origin of Preclovis culture. The diet of Preclovis is definitely more maritime-oriented, and the dates are closer in time to Solutrean. However, the stone technology is not the same as Clovis, and the discovery of an ivory rhinoceros horn tool at the Yana RHS site in Western Beringia has somewhat lessened the strength of the technology argument.

Sources

This glossary entry is part of the About.com Guide to the Population of America and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Bradley B, and Stanford D. 2004. The North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: a possible Palaeolithic route to the New World. World Archaeology 36(4):459-478.

Bradley B, and Stanford D. 2006. The Solutrean-Clovis connection: reply to Straus, Meltzer and Goebel. World Archaeology 38(4):704-714.

Buchanan B, and Collard M. 2007. Investigating the peopling of North America through cladistic analyses of Early Paleoindian projectile points. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26:366–393.

Cotter JL. 1981. The Upper Paleolithic. However It Got Here, It's Here: (Can the Middle Paleolithic Be far behind?). American Antiquity 46(4):926-928.

Eren MI, Patten RJ, O'Brien MJ, and Meltzer DJ. 2013. Refuting the technological cornerstone of the Ice-Age Atlantic crossing hypothesis. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(7):2934-2941.

Straus LG. 2000. Solutrean settlement of North America? A review of reality. American Antiquity 65(2):219-226.

Straus LG, Meltzer D, and Goebel T. 2005. Ice Age Atlantis? Exploring the Solutrean-Clovis ‘connection’. World Archaeology 37(4):507-532.
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