In most US history books, the first people in the Americas are said to have migrated to the Westerm Hemisphere by way of what was then the land bridge between what are now Siberia and Alaska. The Clovis theory became popular in the US in the 1930s, with the finding of the famous Clovis style fluted points in a site near Clovis, New Mexico. It was named the Clovis-first theory after similar distinctive points were found in the Ohio Valley and nearly every state east of the Mississippi, and no earlier group had been identified. Therefore, they thought, these were obviously the first people in the Americas. The dates for this Clovis migration have changed over time, being pushed back as need arose and better dating systems became available. Right now, the arrival date for the Clovis folks is officially somewhere between 12,000 and 13,500 years ago.
However, the Clovis-first theory is now widely challenged. Sites on the east coast of the US, including South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, seem to indicate that people were in the Americas before the arrival of the Clovis people. Reputable scientists, including Dr. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute, noted that if the Clovis people came across the land bridge from Siberia, there should be Clovis, or at least pre-Clovis-style, points in Siberia, but none have been found. Instead, scientists found evidence of a completely different technology there, wherein sharp bits of stone were hammered into bone projectiles.
Once the Clovis-first theory had been challenged, there were other obvious flaws that surfaced. The biggest one was the presence of sites in Chile and Brazil that predated Clovis by thousands of years. The Monte Verde site, in Chile, was the first to be recognized as more than 14,500 years old. Later, the Pedra Furado site’s human remains, in Brazil, were dated to between 32,000 and 48,000 years ago. The latest dates for the site have been pushed back to more than 55,000 years ago.
While the controversy still rages in the archaeological world, there is much more grudging agreement now that there were probably many paths that explorers took to the Americas, not just one. Unfortunately, that idea has not filtered down to the textbooks yet, but perhaps our grandchildren will have the chance to read a different story.
If you have a map available, take a look at it. Put yourself in the Ice Age, or the beginning of the end of the Ice Age. Now imagine that for some reason, you have to leave your home. Perhaps you’re an outlaw or a misfit. You can’t stay where you were, so you set off for someplace new, someplace where you’ll be free to start a new life. You head out to a new world, full of new possibilities. Sound familiar? It’s the legacy of the New World, and it began a long time ago. People from many places found their new world here.
These are the thoughts that led me to write the Misfits and Heroes novels. I believe that we have a rich and varied heritage that has never been celebrated.
The first novel of the series, Misfits and Heroes: West from Africa, traces the journey of a group of people from West Africa to what is now southern Mexico. Take another look at your map. Which way seems easier for you to get to Brazil – to start from Siberia and walk, during the Ice Age, to South America and then head east, or to start from West Africa, from where, even today, you could row to the coast of South America in forty days? ( A single rower, a young woman, made it in 44 days.)
See Carol Anita Ryan’s discussion of this point in her blog, at