In the late 1960s and early 1970s, we were hit full on by the storm of New Archeology, which promised a whole new way, a scientific way, of explaining what archeological remains could tell us about the evolution of human behavior. Now, some 40 or 50 years later, archeology is still basically the same as it was before New became old archeology. A generation or two of archeologists raised on Popper and Hempill have come and gone, and much of the philosophy of science understood by archeologists today is still based on the Popper and Hempill models of half a century ago.
Experimental archeology was a (small) part of the New Archeology. Primarily it involved faunal analysis, and the application of ethnographic and experimental data to explaining the nature of bone assemblages and the behavior which produced them. Binford and his students led the way in this endeavor, and I view their results as some of the best, and only, useful products of the New Archeology.
Experimental lithic technology studies were conducted, to be sure. But for the most part, these concentrated on "discovering" the methods used to manufacture lithic tools in a very mechanistic sort of way, or to discover possible uses to which the tools might have been put. As important as those studies were, they seldom really got to human behavior, and almost never to providing a useful way to trace the development and spread of either the technology, or, more importantly, the groups of people who were making their way in an evolving landscape using those tools.
Across Atlantic Ice is not one of those aforementioned studies. It is what those studies should have been. Written by Dennis Stanford, a long-term maverick archeologist who has been forcing us to look at the possibility of pre-Clovis occupation of the New World for many years, and by Bruce Bradley, without any doubt the most accomplished and widely experienced flint knapper alive today, the book suggests a new hypothesis to explain the origin, both technologically and geographically, of the Clovis culture. To give away the plot without further ado, Stanford and Bradley argue for an origin of Clovis (and pre-Clovis) technology with the Solutrean culture of France and Spain. They marshal a considerable corpus of data in support of this hypothesis from a wide variety of disciplines - paleontology, geology, geochronology and of course, archeology. They describe Clovis technology in great detail, pulling together the work of many researchers, as well as their own research. They carefully lay out what they see as the three potential candidates for the antecedents of Clovis technology, and describe each in detail. Their comparisons are detailed and extensive.
In identifying the complex biface thinning technology of southwestern Europe as the progenitor of Clovis, they also rely heavily on Bradley's analysis of the manufacturing process of both Solutrean lithics and Clovis lithics. Unlike the earlier, much more mechanistic investigations of lithic technology, Bradley seems to view the manufacture of a lithic tool as a series of problems which confront the knapper, and which must be addressed by conscious choices as to technique, raw material and tools used. Bradley conveys the nature of those choices as a human behavior amenable to analysis in a way other knappers have not.
One of the interesting points of their arguments involves the identification of specific, detailed similarities in the lithic complexes they analyze as more likely to carry information about the true relationships of those complexes, and hence the people responsible for them, than higher level, broader and more general resemblances, which they regard as more likely to be due to a sort of cultural convergence. This approach mirrors closely that of cladistic analysis in phylogenetic reconstruction. For example, they identify one very specific technique, overshot flaking, as so specialized, and so restricted in time and space (it is a significant component of only two complexes, Clovis and Solutrean) that it surely evidences a close relationship between the people responsible. In cladistic analysis, such traits are called "synapomorphies," that is, shared derived characters, which are the only similarities that can be used to infer phylogenetic relationships. I would offer here that some of the numerical, computerized methods used in discovering relationships between different taxa in a quantifiable and testable way, might be applied to analysis of lithic complexes. It would add a further level of sophistication to the "three taxa" analyses that Stanford and Bradley have worked out manually.
I will not belabor the rich fabric of evidence which the authors have woven for us readers. As the author of the book's Forward, Michael Collins notes, they've laid out the evidence. Much more needs to be done in order to test their hypothesis, and I am sure that this book will be responsible for encouraging much of that work to be done, particularly by those who will, and already have, vociferously opposed their ideas. My suspicion is that, unlike most crazy ideas, this one is an example of Shopenhauer's process. It is only a matter of time, I believe, until the present naysayers will be telling us that they knew it all along.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to knowing one of the authors (Bradley) as well as the author of the Forward (Collins). All that means is that I have some little exposure ( decades ago) to Bradley's consummate skill as a knapper, and to Collins' abilities as an archeologist and a scientist. Although they may not remember or realize it, both taught me important lessons in those long past days.
Richard S. White