Could ancient people from Asia have taken a sea route instead of a land route into the Americas? Is it possible that they could have built boats and actually sailed across the Pacific or along the ancient shoreline to reach the New World? Further, could ancient people such as the Solutreans (1) have done the same only in the ancient Atlantic? And, finally, could ancient Pacific Islanders have done something similar?
When we typically think of the expansion migrations of ancient human ancestors we tend to think of them in terms as ancient humans walking out of Africa, into Asia, Europe, Southeast Asia, and into the Americas but walking as a way of migrating was NOT the only means available to our “ancient ones.” Surely over the course of the 2 million years that Homo erectus (the Great Explorer & Migrator) (2) existed at least one individual sat along a shoreline and pondered the floating leaf perhaps bedecked with an insect floating down the waterway and considered himself/herself doing the same. And surely one of these individuals in those 2 million years at least attempted to make a boat of some sort and set sail across the waters! In fact, I find it HIGHLY LIKELY that this is what happened! But where is the evidence?
When you ask where the evidence for this is you might want to take into account that at the beginning of the end of the last Ice Age 21 kya ocean levels have risen by about 120 meters (394 feet) on average. What that means is that any evidence for prehistoric seafaring is most likely now underwater! I highly doubt we’d find it on dry land today due to these rising sea levels since the end of the last glaciation period.
When it comes to prehistoric rising sea levels there are a few things we need to keep in mind. For one, back in 2012 it was discovered that prehistoric rising sea levels have NOT been constant! Rather, it has been punctuated by rapid accelerations due to massive floods from the ice caps and in particular Antarctica. According to Paleoclimatologists (those who study ancient climates) the largest increase we currently know about is called the “Melt-Water Pulse 1A.” This event was one of the most significant during the last glaciation according to studies carried out by CEREGE Laboratory in conjunction with the universities of Tokyo and Oxford.
This research confirmed speculation of the existence of such a nonuniform rising event in sea levels which had been a matter of debate for a while. This research concluded that such an event began 14.6 kya coinciding with the start of the present warming period we are in today known as the Bolling Oscillation (3) which marked the final end of the last Ice Age and brought the present warming period (interglacial period). On average sea levels rose on average about 14 meters (46 feet) globally over a period of less than 350 years. This averages out to about 45 mm (0.15 feet) per year. Currently, sea levels are rising an average of about 3 mm (0.0098 feet) per year.
The research team analyzed core samples taken from a coral reef near the island of Tahiti in Polynesia. Corals, like ice cores, remember climate changes. Corals are excellent for determining sea level variations and give us an excellent picture of ancient climates. Reconstructing sea levels from fossilized corals and using geophysical simulations researchers were able to identify the source of the once mysterious accelerations in rising sea levels. They discovered that the Antarctic ice cap was responsible for up to 50% of such increases! Before this research we thought it was only melting ice from the Northern Hemisphere that contributed to the Melt-Water Pulse 1A namely the Laurentide Ice Cap that covered a large part of what is today North America.
You can go to the Science Daily link below to read more about this research but for our purposes here this study just adds more support for the notion that ancient sea levels were much lower than they are today and what that means is that IF ancient human ancestors (at least some of them) did cross the waters to get to the New World instead of walking then the evidence for such seafaring is now buried under at least 300 feet or more of ocean water! Add to that the sediments that have built up on the sea floor since those possible ancient voyages and our luck of finding evidence of prehistoric sea voyages is pretty much like finding a needle in a haystack!
No one can escape the fact that humans have always been fascinated with the seas! History gives us plenty of shining examples of this from the ancient Phoenicians to the Vikings to us today not to mention the seafaring abilities of the people of Polynesia et al. I think humans had this same “love” for the waters in prehistoric times as well. In terms of Homo erectus I do NOT think this species/breed of ancient human ancestors were idiots nor lazy! In fact, Homo erectus MUST have been fairly intelligent and industrious IF he came out of Africa and migrated across the planet! That is excluding the America’s but of course 🙂 I do not think a group of ancient H. erectus during their continental migrations came up to a large river such as the Volga and made the decision to walk around instead of floating across! Hell that walk around would have added miles and miles to their journey! This ancient human ancestor had a knack for exploring and adventure and no one can deny that fact. Why should this same knack and sense of adventure coupled with ingenuity not apply to crossing the waters?
Humans have always had some odd connection to the sea. Some ancient humans lived along ancient shorelines drawing their food and sustenance from the sea and some STILL do today. In my mind it is highly possible that ancient people coming from Asia or even from Europe built boats and sailed across the sea waters to lands hence unknown! And the evidence for those voyages is now under water and sediments along ancient shorelines that no longer exist. To summarily dismiss this notion is rather foolish in my opinion. We like to think of ourselves as the utmost achievement in human evolution but that may not be as true as we’d like to believe. Our ancient human ancestors could NOT have possibly been that ignorant or we wouldn’t be here today! The survival of the human species took courage, innovation, and a good dose of adventurism! They, like us, had to satisfy their curiosity and most times that meant coming up with something new, something different. A boat fits that scenario perfectly!
BTW I want to lastly mention that back in 2010 researchers found prehistoric hand axes of the Island of Crete that suggests seafaring existed at least in the Mediterranean MORE than 100 kya earlier than thought!!! And these hand axes may have belonged to Homo heidelbergensis!! (4) For more on this discovery see the National Geographic link below.
1) The Solutrean hypothesis holds that ancient peoples from southwestern France and Spain came to the Americas via boats following along the edges of broken sea ice that extended across the Atlantic from Europe to North America. These people were Cro-magnon (early archaic Homo sapiens) and made the cave art we see in SW France. We have not found such cave art in the Americas like that found in France, however, this theory argues that the Solutreans may have been a group of these people who for whatever reason didn’t create cave art. Although this theory is highly controversial it is possible. There are similarities found in the eastern US shores between Solutrean stone artifacts and Clovis artifacts.
2) The Out-of-Africa Theory holds that Homo erectus was the first ancient human ancestor to migrate out of Africa and into the Levant and from there into Eurasia, Asia (Peking Man), and Southeast Asia (Java Man). Quite a feat for a “primitive” species! Obviously, this speices had some measure of intelligence, sense of adventure, and knack for innovation and ingenuity! In other words, they weren’t as dumb as we might think!
3) The Bolling Oscillation was a warming period between the Oldest Dryas and Older Dryas stadials (cold period) at the end of the last glaciation. It’s used to describe a time period in relation to pollen zones in regions where the Older Dryas is undetected in the climatological record. It ranged between 14.6-14.1 kya. At this time it is believed ancient humans reentered the thawing forests of Europe to search of big game. These human cultures were the last of the Late Upper Paleolithic.
4) Homo heidelbergensis aka Heidelberg Man may have built and used rafts for fishing. If so then it is easy to extend that concept to conclude this ancient ancestor used his rafts for other purposes as well including exploration!