Washington State University, 19711


    The traditional concept of successive waves of migration for the peopling of the New World is characterized as unproved. Hunting societies do not have the capability to invade other societies' territory. A re-examination of all postulated major migrations of hunting peoples is called for.

Almost every reference to the original peopling of North America makes reference to "successive waves" of migration from Asia. After the first wave of migrant hunters and gatherers spread out and occupied America (whenever that may have happened), a subsequent wave repeated this process. Still others followed later. Distributions of language phyla are used to demonstrate the fate of modern survivals of these various waves of people. The exact number and timing of these various migrations is not at issue here, but rather whether such a phenomenon did occur or even could have occurred at all. I would rather think that a single wave of migration occurred, after which the land was effectively occupied and subsequent movements were minor, or occurred only under special circumstances to be discussed below.

The concept of successive waves of migration carries with it an implicit assumption: that hunting groups can expand and migrate at the expense of already established hunters. Also, that such expansions can and did continue for thousands of miles in a single direction with all previous inhabitants being exterminated or absorbed by the tens of thousands. I am here using the term "migrate" as a permanent movement from one region to another, and not in the sense of repetitive annual movements. Many massive migrations on the scale discussed here are historically or otherwise well documented. In each case the migrants had an agricultural or pastoral economic base. Those who lost their lands to such migrations were variously agricultural, pastoral, or hunters in different instances. What is essential in all such cases is the economic base of the expanding population.

Neolithic2 peoples and their descendants have three advantages which materially contribute to their ability to migrate at the expense of other, especially hunting, peoples. These advantages are:

    l. Larger population. From a given land area agricultural people can, in most instances, draw sustenance for a far greater population than can a hunting group on the same or similar,land. This provides, quite simply, greater numbers of militarily effective men in times of conflict. There are also greater numbers to draw upon to replace combat losses, even if they are disproportionate.

    2. Seasonal manpower. Given the irregular requirements of agricultural labor, during certain seasons of the year virtually all able-bodied men are available to engage in other-than-subsistence activities. They do not have to engage in almost daily food quests.

    3. Food storage. After harvest, all agriculturalists store their produce for gradual consumption until the next harvest. This stored food may also be transported to sustain armed men who may thus engage in protracted military campaigns.

These three items apply to all Neolithic peoples, and are not applicable to hunters, with few and minor exceptions3. In addition to the above, Neolithic peoples may also have superior weapons which cannot be duplicated by many potential adversaries. Neolithics in many cases also have means of transport for both men and supplies such as boats, wheeled vehicles, and both draft and riding animals. Also Neolithic people often have larger areas, under a single political control – thus adding to the advantage of more people per unit area. Many hunters, in fact, are unable to organize even the few dozen fighting men available when conflict does occur.

When neighboring peoples are in competition over each other's lands, and armed conflict periodically breaks out, the ultimate victor depends largely on the various resources enumerated above. Military strategy, a charismatic leader, or pure luck may determine the outcome of a particular conflict. But over centuries of competition and over great areas the balancing of the potential resources is the determinant of which way the "tide" will flow.

When two Neolithic societies are in conflict the result should ultimately depend on which has the greater resources. when a Neolithic society is in conflict with a hunting group, the result is inevitable. But when two hunting groups are in conflict, neither has the resources described here, and a long term victory of either would appear to be impossible except in minor local events.

In most cases, competing hunting societies have virtually no resources of the type required to conquer other people and to acquire territory. In fact, each hunting group that defends itself against encroachment has one outstanding advantage. They are familiar with their territory and its resources – which fact should give them the advantage over the attackers in almost all instances.

Still, we are asked to believe that an invading wave of migrants from Siberia was able to overcome local residents and exterminate and/or absorb them. And not just in one or a few instances of conflict, but over thousands of miles of distance and over tens of thousands of established inhabitants. This cannot be ascribed to outstanding leaders, strategy, or luck; as these are about equally distributed to all hunters.

After this second wave of "irresistable" invasion we are told that still another occurred, and perhaps others yet. How could this happen? Why did the established residents fail to hold their ground except for the few marginal populations that are commonly pointed out to prove that this occurred? If the second wave of migrants was so successful, how was the third wave so much more successful? And the fourth? In short, I have found no explanation offered for this problem.

I suspect that most, if not all, who propose these successive migrations have never even considered the matter of how it was accomplished.

Most anthropologists are well grounded in the history of movements of peoples. European history is so rife with migrations at various periods that any time a people is mentioned one automatically asks where they came from. What is commonly lost sight of is that all of these migrating peoples did in fact have the wherewithal to accomplish this. Without serious thought by anthropologists, the same capability is gratuitously conferred upon certain hunters as well. When linguistic distributions are examined and appear to be most easily explained by migrations the picture is complete.

Hunting peoples can and have freely expanded into uninhabited areas. The initial occupation of America was such a case. Hunters can also expand into areas which are incompletely utilized. The more recent spread of Eskimos over the Arctic coasts of North America is an outstanding example. But the spread of one hunting group at the direct expense of · another established group remains to be explained – if in fact it has ever happened on a large scale.

If one population of hunters is of a higher evolutionary grade than another the results of competition and conflict could well be one-sided. However, for about the last 40,000 years all of humanity (Homo sapiens) has had the same biological capacity for bearing culture. Explanations of migrations by appealing to differences in grade can thus apply only to events of about 40,000 years ago and more. I do not think anyone has proposed that Athapaskan Indians are any more sapient than Algonquians, and that these are more so than Penutian-speakers, and so on.

Technological differences have long existed among hunting groups. Such differences in equipment or technique may affect resource extraction and feed more people, or they may be of even more direct military use. The introduction of archery into North America would often give a significant advantage to a group which practiced it against their neighbors who did not. Through the use of the bow and arrow one group may well have prevailed over many of their neighbors. This technology would then be spread – by observation and imitation, by captured weapons, by learning from captured warriors, or by interchange of personnel in peaceful times. The spread of this innovation would quickly outstrip any population advance of the original archers. Once all parties have acquired the new device no group would any longer have any special offensive capability. Linguistic boundary adjustments of perhaps a hundred miles or so ought to be the limit that any technological innovation could cause.

Some "hunters" tap unusually abundant resources and thus support far greater populations than their neighbors. The Northwest Coast marine harvesters have had the military potential to overcome easily any of their neighbors. Such activities are of limited value, since the marine resource-base cannot be moved.

A summary of my contention at this point is that hunting peoples did not make significant migrations (or more correctly, expansions) except into unoccupied or underutilized territories. Minor migrations can and have occurred because of localized or temporary circumstances, but these probably have not exceeded about 100 miles distance. Anyone who postulates a greater movement of hunting peoples at the expense of other hunters ought at least to suggest some means by which this could have been accomplished.

By this time, all who are familiar with aboriginal language family distributions of North America will have thought of numerous examples which show my thesis to be incorrect. I shall next deal with the most often cited case, and let it serve as an example to help solve some other distributions. The Apache and Navajo of the American Southwest are Athapaskan-speakers whose closest linguistic relatives are over l000 miles away in northwest Canada. Linguistic and archaeological evidence clearly indicates that these people moved from Canada into the Southwest about 1000 years ago. While this is no "wave of immigration" it is nonetheless a major migration in its own right which seems to contradict the ideas I have set forth above.

To begin with, the Athapaskans do not represent a recent wave of immigration into North America overrunning and/or absorbing the Algonquians. Rather, they moved from Alaska into the uninhabited territory being vacated by the last major continental glaciation. At the same time Algonquian-speakers were moving northwest into the territory also being vacated by the other side of the same ice sheet. The Athapaskan-Algonquian language line is just about where one would expect the two groups to have met as the ice melting was completed. No migrations of one over the other need be involved.

To move a group of Athapaskans to the Southwest by my reasoning requires that they expanded only into and through unoccupied or underutilized regions. This is in fact a reasonable interpretation which occurred in two parts – the high plains and the Southwestern desert.

Prior to the advent of the horse-based Indians the high plains area, immediately east of the Rocky Mountains, provided a relatively inhospitable environment. It was utilized seasonally by adjacent peoples including the agriculturalists of the great river valleys. Regular habitation by bison hunters was probably not continuous. Given a series of good years in terms of rainfall and temperature, any adjacent hunting group could, and probably did, expand into this underoccupied strip of land. Given a series of bad years such immigrants would probably fail to continue, and at best be incorporated into adjacent populations.

The high plains reach to the Athapaskan region. Such Athapaskans are just as likely as any other group to move into this territory, and probably did on numerous occasions. Each such temporary occupation of the high plains would normally leave no linguistic remnant evidence since the intruders would be blocked from leaving the area by better established peoples on all sides. The only way Athapaskans, or any other group, could move into and through the high plains corridor and survive would have been if they found yet another underoccupied territory to expand into. There was one such area that was available for a limited time only.

The American Southwest was originally inhabited by desert hunters and gatherers. At such time the area was effectively occupied and thus closed to outside intrusions. With the spread of [settled] agricultural practices into the region, the inhabitants concentrated their population into the rather sparsely distributed places where farming was possible. Unlike with most "agricultural revolutions", this time the population was not greatly increased, but became more concentrated into a limited number of places. This concentration into population centers left the intervening spaces largely unoccupied and potentially available to invasion by hunters.

The stage was thus set for a hunting population to move first through the high plains corridor and then into the Southwest's intervening spaces. Athapaskans made just these moves. Just why it was not some other hunting group that made all or part of this move is not obvious. The opening was there, and for what might be classed as minor factors, it was the Apache that moved first, or at least most successfully. In any case, this reconstruction of past events shows how this apparent major migration was more likely a series of expansions into underoccupied territories. The southwest Athapaskans thus do not constitute an exception to my thesis – that hunters cannot overrun large tracts of occupied land.

By looking for similar factors various other real migrations of hunters might be explained. If such explanations are not forthcoming, the most obvious conclusion must be that the supposed migrations did not occur.

Archaeological evidence is often produced to support hypothesized migrations of hunters in the past. when particular artifacts and measurable skeletal traits of one time and place appear at a later time in another place, then migration is assumed to have occurred. I shall not here elaborate upon any one example, but merely describe an alternative principle.

The movement of artifacts in most instances can as well be accounted for by diffusion of these traits. Many anatomical traits can spread by the same means – by cultural diffusion. Artifact manufacture and use involve physical·activities on the part of the people concerned. While most variations in artifacts may require only minor variations in activity, some innovations involve great increases, decreases, or major qualitative changes in physical manipulations. The appearance of a new technological item in a hunting culture carries with it a new set of appropriate physical activities. To whatever degree these activities differ from those which preceded them, then natural selection will favor the anatomical adaptations best suited to the new activities. The acquisition of archery could favor more powerful arms, poisoned projectiles may favor smaller body size, building plank houses requires a fair amount of physical size and strength – as does simple horticulture, preparing hides with the teeth leads to stronger jaws, and so on.

Genetic traits found in one area may spread to adjacent areas without actual spread of genes. When the selective factor (cultural) is diffused, existing genetic variations in the recipient population can be selected to produce the corresponding trait. While all genetic traits do not spread in this fashion – gene flow is a real phenomenon – many may have moved by just this means. Thus "obvious" archaeological evidence of migrations of hunters might not be correct in every case.

The spread of Homo sapiens' facial anatomy is probably another example of this principle. Given the (cultural) invention and diffusion of phonemic language all [homo] erectus populations would have selected for the vocal apparatus that best utilized this new trait. Thus the "spread" of modern man was not a physical migration, nor even a genetic diffusion need have been involved.

Another notable example of migration-thinking is the often repeated observation that certain hunting peoples were "pushed" into their present unfavorable environments. The Kalahari Bushmen are probably the best example of this. It is stated that the Bushmen formerly inhabited more favorable regions which were taken by other populations who then forced the Bushmen into their present location.

If this had actually happened, then some other interesting assumptions have been made. The original Bushmen in the better (more moist) environment somehow knew there was a refuge area hundreds of miles away into which they could move. In actual fact, hunter's detailed knowledge of their own territory is matched only by their ignorance of other areas. These Bushmen also chose to move, it is assumed, rather than to oppose to the death these intruders – a curious behavior for hunting bands.

If the Bushmen moved into an unoccupied Kalahari desert,they would have faced no entrenched opposition. But we know from archaeological data that the Kalahari was already occupied by Bushmanoid peoples long before whites or blacks were in the region. Are we to assume that the resident desert Bushmen simply disappeared and left their land to the incoming peoples? Since the desert can support only a modest population, it is the least likely area to be able to accept significant immigration. I think it is more reasonable to assume that the Bushmen of most of their original area were locally exterminated, leaving the desert inhabitants who had been there for millenia.

The same kind of reconstruction may apply to the supposed migrations of paleolithic man in response to glacial climate changes. It is well known that people in Europe moved south as the Pleistocene glaciers grew and moved north as they shrank. I would rather think they mostly never moved at all. This may take some explanation.

In the normal course of a human lifetime local climate will have runs of good and bad years. Human experience and cultural tradition prepares people to suffer through a short series of bad years – whether too cold or too dry or whatever – knowing that better times can be expected to return. To panic and move any time two bad years occur together, even if there were somewhere possible to move, would mean frequent dislocations of major significance. In general, to "tighten the belt" is the most adaptive response.

On those rare occasions when climatic deterioration was a one-way, long-term phenomenon the normal response of "toughing it out" is eventually a failure. While waiting for better times to return the hunting band would suffer disastrous losses before it becomes obvious that they cannot survive. By this time the survivors could try to move in any of three basic directions. To move in the direction of the climatic deterioration would doom them to prompt extinction. To move laterally would place them in conflict with, and in the same circumstances, as other people facing the problem. To move toward the better climate would put them in competition with people in better circumstances. Such better-off people would probably accept no more than a few stragglers as their environment would probably also be beginning to suffer.

This, of course, presupposes that a disadvantaged group knows which direction to move in order to gain climatic relief. With the onset of the Mindel glaciation would the inhabitants of southwest France have known they should cross the Pyrenees Mountains? As a climate deteriorates the most common response of hunting populations would simply be to suffer until extermination. The retreating line of occupation then more likely represents disappearing than moving inhabitants4.

Conversely, as a climate zone advances into new territory a mass migration is not the expected result. The social groups on the frontier can expand their areas and divide into new groups. Those living behind the frontier can do nothing, as they do not have adjacent territory to move into, and may not be aware that such empty lands even exist.

Population expansions and contractions are mainly frontier phenomena. Those living behind the line, in either case, are both unaware of, and would anyway be unable to do anything about it. Human territoriality for both emotional and practical reasons would appear to make this frontier phenomenon inevitable. This is not to suggest that human hunters are rooted to their ground like trees, but rather that their mobility is largely restricted to group territories which are quite "rooted."

I think a re-examination of all postulated major migrations of hunting people is called for. If they can be accounted for by showing the movements were probably into uninhabited or underutilized territories, well and good. If not, the burden of proof lies on the postulator to explain how such migrations could have occurred.


1 From Northwest Anthropologlcal Research Notes Vol. 10 No. 2. Footnotes by Fendersen, who was acquainted with Dr. Kranz in the nineteen seventies.

2 "Neolithic" is an antiquated classificatory term meaning "New Stone (Age)" which has remained in the language through popular usage. When Grover used the term, he was usually refering to the emergence of agriculture-based protostates, although the case has often been made for any agriculturalists "militarily" displacing tribes of hunters following periods of crisis or catastrophe. Even this would be a rare case in the anthropological record. More often cooperative relations were set up, for example the "invading" Sioux & Cheyene leaving behind a life of farming due to the onslaught of smallpox engaged with the (horseless) Shoshonie & Payute already inhabiting the Plains, although in a capicity quite different from that allowed by the horse. The horsemen did not arrive as "conquerors".

3 One needs to distinguish between two kinds of conflict often overlooked. These are "Raids" and "War". The former is rarely a matter of conquest and in fact, may be a permanent condition in relations between groups. War, on the other hand, always has conquest in mind, is invariably more lethal, and, until modern times, is seldom intended to be prolonged. Until war becomes an industrial institution in itself, it can only occur between the more and the less powerful. Few wars have been initiated without a tactical advantage already in place. While courageous bullies may come in handy in a raid, wars of conquest are waged by cowards.

4 The exception, of course, would be big game hunters who followed the movements of the animals, but still, there is adequate fossil evidence that many mammoth and bison did not make it ahead of the advancing glaciers as well!.