Atlantic Theory: Overview

Instructor: Stacy Chambers
The Atlantic theory proposes that ancient humanity first came to the New World by sailing the Atlantic by boat from Europe. Learn the evidence put forth by the archaeologists who support this theory.

Coming to the New World

Several theories exist as to how humanity first made it into the New World. One, the Bering Land Bridge theory, hypothesizes that during the last Ice Age, sea levels lowered enough so that the land underneath the waterway between Siberia and Alaska (also known as the Bering Strait) was exposed, creating a bridge between the two lands and allowing people to cross.

Though the theory has never been proven (there's not yet enough evidence from the Stone Age to prove any theory), it's been around the longest and is generally accepted as the most logical explanation for how humans entered the new world. Still, it's controversial, and other theories have emerged as to how humans passed from the Old World to the New.

One competing theory is the Atlantic theory, though the archaeological evidence is - at least so far - sketchy. This idea theorizes that a group of people, the Solutreans, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Europe by watercraft long before the Bering Land Bridge came into existence.

The Solutrean People

Not much is known about the Solutreans. They lived on coastal Spain as well as in Portugal and France. No skeletons or boats of the Solutrean people have ever been found, though they did leave behind rock paintings. From these - one of which appears to be a halibut fish being speared - some archaeologists have concluded that the Solutreans were people who could fare the sea. (Halibut fish live deep in the sea.)


Also potentially supporting the Atlantic theory are Clovis heads. These spearheads were first found near Clovis, New Mexico and are far superior in technology than other tools found from the Stone Age. They also appear to be far older. Remember, the Bering Land Bridge theory hypothesizes that people crossed the bridge about 15,000 years ago. Most of the evidence surrounding the Clovis heads indicate that people were in the Americas much earlier, at least 22,000 years ago.

Clovis, New Mexico
Clovis New Mexico

The Clovis People

Archaeologists generally separate the types of people who lived in the Americas during the Stone Age by the types of tools they used. Clovis people were originally thought to descend from Siberia; Clovis heads presumably belonged to natives of Beringia, the area surrounding the Bering Land Bridge. But the tools between the Clovis and those of Siberians are very different. Instead, those who support the Atlantic theory hypothesize that the Clovis people are descendants of the Solutreans. Originally, there was a 5,000-year gap between the two cultures, but tools have been produced that might bridge that gap. Additionally, Clovis heads have also been found along the East coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region - on the opposite side of the country - as well as along coastal Europe, and they appear to be far older than those found near Beringia. This bolsters the Atlantic theory.

Clovis Head
Clovis Spear Head

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