NATIVE AMERICANS CALL FOR RETHINK OF BERING STRAIT THEORY.
It’s one of the most contentious debates in anthropology today: Where did America’s first peoples come from — and when? The general scientific consensus is that a single wave of people crossed a long-vanished land bridge from Siberia into Alaska around 13,000 years ago. But some Native Americans are irked by the theory, which they say is simplistic and culturally biased.
The first European explorers to reach the Americas looked to the Bible to explain the origins of the people they encountered and misnamed “Indians.” Biblical tradition holds that humans were created some 4,000 years ago and that all men descend from Adam — including indigenous peoples whom Europeans regarded as primitive.
“Dominant science believed in a concept of superiority,” said Alexander Ewen, a member of the Purepecha Nation and author of the “Encyclopedia of the American Indian in the Twentieth Century.”
“And that created an idea that either people were genetically inferior or that there were stages of civilization, and Indians were at a lower stage,” he said.
Since “primitives” weren’t sophisticated enough to have sailed the oceans, early scientists concluded Indians had reached North America by some unknown land route. They found their answer in the Bering Strait.
Ewen says that theory cemented into dogma and persists to this day, even in the face of new discoveries and technology that suggests Indians arrived much earlier and by different routes.
“In the first place, it’s simplistic,” said Ewen. “The people in this hemisphere were — and are — extremely diverse, more than any other place in the world.”
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