By Tamara Jager Stewart
| Cover Image: Stanford examines a bison bone found on the surface of Late Pleistocene-age peat deposits in southern Colorado in June, 2000. Credit: Pegi Jodry |
Since the renowned Paleo-Indian archaeologist Dennis Stanford passed away in 2019, his colleagues and friends have celebrated his remarkable career. But twenty years earlier, many of his colleagues weren’t speaking so kindly of him. In 1999 at the Paleoamerican Odyssey Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Stanford, then the curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, revealed the details of his and colleague Bruce Bradley’s Solutrean Solution to the peopling of the Americas.
The prevailing theory then was that the Clovis, who were thought to be the first people to arrive in the New World, came by way of an ice-free corridor connecting Siberia and Alaska around 13,000 years ago. Stanford and Bradley contended that the Clovis tradition first developed along the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and it may have had its roots in and around the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and Basque Country in northern Spain, the region from which people crossed the Atlantic by boat during the Last Glacial Maximum 18,000 to 22,000 years ago.
This idea was well received in much of Europe, where Bradley worked, but it faced intense opposition in North America. The Solutrean theory was criticized as unscientific, and some people thought it could ruin Stanford’s career. He was even accused of being a racist.
Andre Morala of the Musee Nationale Prehistoire in Les Eyzies, France, and Stanford examine Clovis stone, bone, and antler tools during a research trip to study Solutrean collections in March, 2001. | Credit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian
Stanford examines a bison bone found on the surface of Late Pleistocene-age peat deposits in southern Colorado in June, 2000. | Credit: Pegi Jodry
During his dissertation research in northern Alaska in 1968 – 69, Stanford participated in seal hunts with Inuit subsistence hunters to deepen his understanding of the archaeological remains of prehistoric seal hunting at the Walakpa site near Point Barrow.