I was surprised to see this morning that CBC and The Nature of Things are back with new coverage of Ice Bridge, a documentary that deals with the Solutrean Hypothesis (SH). The SH proposes that the first people to enter the Americas came from Western Europe 20 000 years ago. To the best of our knowledge, however, the archaeologically well-documented human presence in the Americas dates back about 14 000 years and those people came from Northeastern Asia. Many indigenous peoples have their own stories that send it back much farther in time, but I don’t know of any one of those that claims a Western European origin.

I won’t rehash all the criticisms of the SH. I blogged about this when the original Nature of Things episode came out, twice, even. I am disheartened to be writing a third post on this. I will only say that while the Solutrean hypothesis is interesting, and while it isn’t impossible that we will one day find evidence to support it, there is currently no such evidence. None at all. Which, to belabour the point, doesn’t mean that I reject the hypothesis. It only means that I find no reason to support it at the moment.

I will focus here on the fact that CBC is publishing yet another article on Ice Bridge and the SH with absolutely no acknowledgement of 1) the excellent scholarship that has gone into evaluating it since it was proposed and, more importantly, 2) the damaging political uses to which it has been put, and the racist and white supremacist cultural undercurrents it nourishes.

The SH has been, and is being evaluated by the archaeological community

As I detail in my earlier posts, the SH is constantly being seriously evaluated, in good faith, by the archaeological community, and we have so far found that it is unsupported. It isn’t being ignored. It isn’t being suppressed. It’s proponents are not being persecuted. It is being critiqued, and that’s how science works.

Coming up with interesting, fun scenarios and hypotheses that fit a given set of evidence is the easy part of doing science. I have tons of them. Most of them I will never come close to testing, much less supporting adequately. I am not shy about sharing them, but I am not shy about making it clear that they are unsupported at this point. When I have something a bit more solid, I provide some evidence. I discuss my level of confidence in the hypothesis.

Unlike Ice Bridge, I also try to address the critiques and objections that have been, or could be formulated, to challenge the idea I am presenting. I test hypotheses. I try to prove myself wrong, which is why I’ve invested a career in the development of computer simulation tools and approaches to test archaeological hypotheses, my own and those of others. I welcome it when others do the same to my ideas. That’s also how science works.

Science doesn’t work by pointing at haphazardly selected evidence that is not inconsistent with a hypothesis, and ignoring the rest. Which is what Ice Bridge does. For a show with a public education mission and a platform like The Nature of Things, that’s a real shame.

The SH has political, cultural, and ethical applications that cannot be ignored

The SH is not in itself racist. It wasn’t proposed by racists. If evidence was found to support it, the evidence would not be racist. However, when presented like in Ice Bridge, uncritically, as if it was fact, it allows racists to claim that Indigenous North Americans don’t have a claim to land in North America. It allows them to say that indigenous ancestors were unable to create technology and had to steal it all from European ancestors. It allows them to claim, as some white supremacists have, that there was a genocide of Solutrean whites by invaders who became the ancestors of modern indigenous populations. It allows them to claim that counter-genocide is a reasonable response.

Even if the SH eventually turned out to be well supported by archaeological evidence, none of those things would be true, and we would still have to confront them. We would have to address them every time that we discuss the SH, because racists and white supremacists would try to make use of the SH to support their views.

Anyone who discusses the SH, who knows about its political and cultural applications, and doesn’t mention them and address them head on, is simply enabling the spread of racist ideologies. At this point, after the public reactions to the original showing of Ice Bridge, there is no reason to think that CBC and The Nature of Things are unaware of these applications. They simply must address them whenever they discuss the SH. Most of all, they shouldn’t discuss the SH uncritically.

Come to think of it, they shouldn’t discuss anything uncritically. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

2 thoughts on “Return of the Ice Bridge : CBC and The Nature of Things double down on the Solutrean Hypothesis

  1. Hi I am a non status native. Had my DNA checked a few years ago to prove to myself I was native. The results came back 100% but what was interesting was the closest ancestor was Iberian. I am from Nova Scotia and firmly believe East coast natives came from Iberia!


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