Is there a Solutrean-Clovis Connection in the American Colonization?

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 suggest that the 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 American archaeologists Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford.

Bradley and Stanford argued 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 environment, 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. Bradley and Stanford pointed out that the perennial Arctic ice at the time could have formed an ice bridge connecting Europe and North America. Ice margins have intense biological productivity and would have provided a robust source of food and other resources.

Cultural Similarities

Bradley and Stanford further pointed 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, U.S. archaeologist Metin Eren (2013) has commented that the similarities between "controlled overshot flaking" method for bifacial stone tool manufacture are accidental. Based on his own experimental archaeology, overshot flaking is a natural product created incidentally and inconsistently as a part of biface thinning.

Evidence supporting the Solutrean theory of Clovis colonization includes two artifacts—a bi-pointed stone blade and mammoth bone—which are said to have been dredged from the eastern American continental shelf in 1970 by the scalloping boat Cin-Mar. These artifacts found their way into a museum, and the bone was subsequently dated to 22,760 RCYBP. However, according to research published by Eren and colleagues in 2015, the context for this important set of artifacts is completely missing: without a firm context, archaeological evidence is not credible. 


One piece of supporting evidence cited in Stanford and Bradley's 2012 book, 'Across Atlantic Ice," is the use of caching. A cache is defined as a tightly clustered deposit of artifacts that containing little or no manufacturing debris or residential debris, artifacts which appear to have been deliberately buried at the same time. For these ancient site types, caches are typically made up of stone or bone/ivory tools. 

Stanford and Bradley suggest that "only" Clovis (such as Anzick, Colorado and East Wenatchee, Washington) and Solutrean (Volgu, France) societies are known to have cached objects before 13,000 years ago. But there are pre-Clovis caches in Beringia (Old Crow Flats, Alaska, Ushki Lake, Siberia), and pre-Solutrean caches in Europe (Magdalenian Gönnersdorf and Andernach sites in Germany).

Problems with Solutrean/Clovis

The most prominent opponent of the Solutrean connection is American anthropologist 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 tellingly, 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 was definitely more maritime-oriented, and the dates are closer in time to Solutrean by a couple of thousand years—15,000 years ago instead of Clovis's 11,500, but still short of 22,000. Preclovis stone technology is not the same as Clovis or Solutrean technologies, and the discovery of ivory beveled foreshafts at the Yana RHS site in Western Beringia has further lessened the strength of the technology argument.

Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, there is a growing body of molecular evidence from modern and ancient indigenous American people indicating that the original population of the Americas have an Asian, and not a European, origin.