Did Europeans reach the Americas before Columbus' fabled voyage?
|The question of whether Europeans migrated to and inhabited the Americas prior to the modern discovery by Columbus has been of longstanding interest and controversy. In fact, for over 200 years scholars have asked whether late Pleistocene (18,000-13,000 years ago) or early to middle Holocene (12,000-5,000 years ago) Europeans possibly migrated to the Americas prior to Columbus’ colonial period discovery. For example, in 1891 a volume entitled “America Not Discovered by Columbus,” by Rasmus B. Anderson, contained a bibliography with some 350 sources on the topic. It listed claims of America’s discovery by Chinese, Arabs, Welsh, Venetians, Portuguese, and Poles. However, the majority of the references supported the notion of Vikings as the first Old World cultural group to reach the Americas.
This hypothesis was confirmed in 1960 when Norse ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland were found by Helge Ingstad. Evidence from L’Anse aux Meadows and a few other sites found on the north Atlantic coast indicates that Norse-related peoples settled a few outposts of a couple dozen individuals in North America around 1,000 years ago. These outposts did not, however, lead to a viable, unique population in the Americas. Instead, they most likely only lasted a season or two, based on radiocarbon dates obtained from the sites. Thus, if there was any contact with American Indians or First Nation peoples, it would have been scant and short-term.
More recently, several sites and lines of evidence have been cited as supporting an even earlier possible migration of Europeans into the Americas. Originally proposed by Frank Hibben in 1941, the Solutrean hypothesis is based on leaf-shaped bifaces and the remains of extinct fauna recovered in the deepest culture-bearing stratum of Sandia Cave, New Mexico. Hibben noted that the flaking technology of the Sandia artifacts more closely resembled the Solutrean technology of Paleolithic era France than Clovis era fluted points from North America. The Solutrean hypothesis, as a result of this cursory evidence, postulates that Upper Palaeolithic peoples from Europe utilizing Solutrean lithic technology migrated into the Americas during the late Pleistocene (18,000-13,000 years ago), most likely along the partially frozen North Atlantic. Evidence supporting such an argument, however, has remained elusive and highly controversial, primarily because the Solutrean ended in Europe at least 5,000 years before the first recognized lithic technology has been conclusively dated for the Americas.
Likewise, archaeological, craniomorphological, and genetic evidence argues against any pre-Columbus European settlements in the Americas that lasted for more than a few seasons. For example, the Cactus Hill site in Virginia presents evidence of a pre-Clovis occupation with lithic tool characteristics that some have attributed to be of Solutrean technology. However, because the Cactus Hill lithics are unique in time and place for the Americas, it is not scientifically possible to use them as evidence in support of the Solutrean hypothesis. Rather, the Cactus Hill site simply proves that the Clovis-first hypothesis of the peopling of the Americas is incorrect. So did Europeans discover the Americas before Columbus? The evidence says yes. Did they migrate to, or settle, the Americas prior to Columbus’ modern-day colonial discovery? The evidence says no. The only people who migrated to, and settled, the Americas before the modern European colonial period were the ancestors of today’s American Indian, Alaskan Native, and First Nation peoples.