First Native Americans # 4 – Coastal Theory – David Haysley

First Native American blog segments to date have dealt with the possible theories of  the Native American migration into North America.  Blogs 2 and 3 dealt with the Beringia Theory and the Solutrean Theory.  With this blog segment we discuss the third theory – the Coastal Theory – migration n into North America via the Pacific Coastline.

Coastal Theory

A significant Paleo-American migration theory involving a different route, and possibly a different source, for populating North America is referred to as the Pacific Coastal Model (PCM). PCM was first presented by Dr. Knut Fladmark Professor, Department of Archaeology Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in 1979. The theory he presented was predominately based on paleo-environmental and paleo-geographical data.

This paleo-geographical data included details showing that the Pacific Coastline today is not like it was 13,000 to 25,000 years ago at the tail end of the Pleistocene Epoch (Last Glacial Maximum – LGM). At the time of the LGM the Pacific Ocean had lower sea levels by as much as 400 to 500 feet as compared to modern times. Vast expanses of land, including the Bering Land Bridge, connected Siberia and Alaska and large tracts of continental shelf existed off the Pacific Coastline of North America that is now underwater.

Pacific Coastline - TodayPacific Coastline - LCM

  1. Comparison Of Pacific Coastline today vs. 20,000 years ago

It is theorized that the exposed land and continental shelf provided an ancient coastal migration path that was available (before the North American inland passages between the massive ice sheets) that early people could have traveled to North America.

The changes from the paleo-geographic pacific coastlines to modern times, due to sea level increases submerging vast expanses of the land and continental shelf, severely hamper any archaeology work for possible paleo-locations. This issue prevents more evidential findings to support the Coastal Theory.

The oldest set of human remains ever found in Alaska or Canada was found in the On Your Knees Cave, which is on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. The remains are of a male in his early twenties when he died.  This find has been dated to approximately 10,000 years ago. Further, anthropologists found that this individual lived on a diet primarily of marine foods.  This find, due to its dating and anthropological findings is of some evidential value for the PCM theory.

Prince of Whales Island - Map  On Your Knee Cave - Human Remains Artifacts

  1. Human Remains Found in On Your Knees Cave on Prince of Whales Island

Additionally several archaeological sites dating to the last phase of the Pleistocene Epoch were uncovered in 1959 on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands off the west coast of California. In recent years analysis of these findings have provided evidence of seafaring Paleo-Americans. In addition, and possibly more importantly, the findings at these sites included the “Arlington Springs Man/Woman” whose remains were dated to 13,000 years ago with analysis done in 1989.

Santa Rosa Island - Map    Arlington Man - Antifacts

  1. Map for Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands and “Arlington Spring Man / Woman”

His/her presence on an island, at such an early date, along with the other findings at these sites demonstrates that the Paleo-Americans had watercraft and could use the sea for migration. This lends credence as well to a “coastal migration” theory for the peopling of the Americas using the sea coast to travel from Beringia and/or Eastern Asian locations.

The changes from the paleo-geographic pacific coastlines to modern times, due to sea level increases submerging vast expanses of the continental shelf, severely hamper any archaeology work for possible paleo-locations. This issue strongly hinders finding more evidential sites to support the Coastal Theory.

For this novice, the Coastal Theory can really be viewed as two separate hypotheses:

  • Migration from Beringia into North American interior using the Pacific Coast line.

Coastal Theory from Beringia

  1. Migration from Beringia Using Pacific Coast Line
  • Paleo -American migration along Pacific Coastal lines using island chains from Eastern Asian sources to North America using the Pacific Coastlines.

Coastal Theory from Eastern Asia

  1. Migration Theory from Eastern Asia Sources to North America’s Pacific Coast Line

oastal Continuation to South America

  1. Probable Continued Migration Into Central and South America.

Pacific Coast Migration from Beringia

According to the Coastal Theory, around 16,000 years ago the coastlines of Alaska and British Columbia were ice free and had more land mass along the coastline. This would have provided an available and acceptable migration path which was essentially unobstructed.

Land Mass Available from Beringia

  1. Image of Land Mass Available for Migration from Beringia

 In addition, Giant Kelp Forests existed along the coast line at the end of the ice age.

Kelp is seaweed that grows in cool coastal waters where sunlight can go down to a rocky sea floor which suggest a requirement for a low sea level.

Kelp Forest

  1. Image of a Kelp Forest

These kelp forests nurtured marine life such as sea otters and other marine mammals, abalones, urchins, and other shellfish as well as numerous fish and seabirds. This food source would have been more than adequate for traveling immigrants.

Paleo-ecological findings in the Port Eliza caves on Vancouver Island of animal remains and fossils indicated that there were survivable conditions along this coastal region as far back as the 16,000 years ago point in time. This provides part of the evidence for the accessibility of the coastal route from Beringia that pre-dates the interior land route between ice sheets.

Port Eliza - Map  Port Eliza - Artifacts

  1. Port Eliza, Vancouver Island and Port Eliza Caves Archeological Site Findings

The optional interior land route between the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice Sheets experienced a thawing period around 20,000 years ago.   However, the Coastal Theory supporters believe that this route presented extensive obstacles at the 16,000 year ago point.

Land Routes to Interior

  1. land route between the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice Sheets

The early environment of these corridors would have been dominated by glacial outwashes, ice-dammed water-ways, and periodic flooding from melt water. These conditions would have restricted travel and biological productivity for providing food source for that travel. They suggest that, at this date, a coastal route into the North American Interior would have been more likely than the land route between the ice sheets.

As extended evidence of the coastal route pre-dating inland routes from Beringia are the findings at Monte Verde.  The Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile provides evidence of the earliest known human settlement in the Americas.  Archeological findings have been dated to 14,000 years ago. This predates the findings at Clovis NM and suggests that an earlier passage way into the interiors of both North America and South America could very well have been before the inland passage ways were used.  The PCM theory is strengthened by this evidence.

Monte Verde Map Monte Verde Archeological Site

  1. Coastal Route to Monte Verde & Archeological Site

A final part of the Coastal Theory’s migration from Beringia hypothesis is that after arrival on the pacific coast south of the ice sheets, passage inland was possible using rivers and waterways such as the Columbia River. For this part of the Coastal Theory, it is believed that these immigrants were from the same source and were the ancestors the Clovis culture Paleo Americans discussed in the Beringia theory.

Pacific Coast Migration from Eastern Asia

In 2007 Jon Erlandson, Director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon, presented an addition to Fladmark’s coastal migration theory.  He expanded the theory to show that the possible migration of the first Paleo-Americans could have been from East Asia locations to North America and not from Siberia.  He proposed that with a sufficient land mass, minimal sea bearing skills by the immigrants, and the kelp forests along the Pacific Rim there would have been a route that allowed migration from Indonesian locations to North America. 

Image of Migrating via Coastal Route

  1. Image of Paleo-Americans Coastal Migration

He suggests that the Paleo-Americans could have migrated from locations in Eastern Asia, such as Indonesia, using land masses such as Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula along with the Pacific coastal island chains such as the Ryukyu, Kurile, and Aleutian. (This is sometimes referred to as the “kelp hi-way”.)

Coastal Route from East Asia Challeges Beringia Theory

  1. Pacific Coast Model – “Kelp Hi-Way”

In 1999 it was hypothesized that sea travel was used extensive in areas around the eastern Asian coast as early as 13,000 years ago.  The issue was based on watercraft evidence from Japan and dietary evidence from ancient refuse heaps discovered in Indonesia. These findings, it is argued, indicate the existence and development of a sea-going culture that would have been able to migrate from this area to the North and South American coastlines. This hypothesis, along with climatic, ecological, and potential route data available for this 13,000 year ago period provided debatable evidence to support  the Coastal Theory.

In 1996 the skeletal remains of a prehistoric Paleo-American man was found on the banks of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington. The remains were given the name, Kennewick Man.  Radiocarbon tests indicated that the remains were around 9,000 years old and early studies suggested a phenotype similarity between these ancient skeletal remains to the coastal Asian population. This suggested a migration source for the North American paleo-immigrants to be in accordance with the Coastal Theory. However in June 2015 a study team announced they had concluded a DNA analysis which contradicted this source and, in fact provided more evidence that the source was Siberia, as suggested with the Beringia Theory. Debate still continues over this issue.

Kennewick Location Map  Kennewick Man

  1. Kennewick Man – Discovery Location & Cast of Discovered Skull / Phenotype Sculpture

These issues, along with supporting evidence discussed with the “Pacific Coast Migration from Beringia” concept, such as the findings at Monte Verde, indicate that the concept of a Pacific Coast Migration from Eastern Asia carries significant weight and presents a viable possibility.

Again, an issue with this concept is the lack archaeological evidence along the “kelp hi-way”. And again, Proponents of the theory have reasoned this is because the sea levels have risen over 150 ft since the ending of the last ice age and the coastal travel path for these early immigrants is not available for the needed archaeological research.

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