In writing my latest novel, The Point of the Spear, I clearly needed to bone up, so to speak, on my North American archaeology. I knew I wasn’t writing a scholarly paper, and didn’t need to be absolutely correct. But I did want to avoid gross, embarrassing mistakes.
The novel’s premise is that an excavating crew comes upon some buried human remains that turn out to predate, by a lot, the earliest previously known human presence in eastern North America. This discovery ignites a huge, and eventually violent, controversy.
How to make this plausible? Off to the library, and Chesapeake Prehistory: Old Traditions, New Directions, by Richard J. Dent, in which I found the comment that “the archaeological record is a contemporary phenomenon…our observations are contemporary observations.”
IOW, our study of the past is shaped by all of today’s assumptions, resentments, biases and anger. Not a bad start.
A little Internet digging led me to the Solutrean Hypothesis, the controversial notion that North America was originally settled by ocean-crossing migrants from northern Europe. And to Andy White of the University of South Carolina, who had this to say about the theory:
“Unfortunately, it has captured the imaginations of some ugly elements…serving as the basis for white supremacist and neo-Nazi fantasies about the importance of white people to North American prehistory.”
He also notes that the theory’s supporters “are going to have to find, excavate, and document a real site: Good artifacts in good contexts with good dates. Period.”
Now, I wondered, what if somebody did exactly that, and some of those “ugly elements” came forward to…well, to do what they do? Maybe we’ve got a story here…