Sunday, September 19, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Peopling the Americas

As anybody who got here from my Pleistocene Expansion page knows, I have an attachment to the theory that the Americas were first populated by Asian boat people more than 13,000 years ago. Maybe a few thousand years more.

The way I figure it, they may or may not have descendants living today, but they did not look particularly like modern American Indians, being only a few generations removed from a population split that happened in southeast Asia in which some people went south toward Indonesia and Australia and some went north toward, ultimately, Beringia and the Western Hemisphere. They developed a maritime culture in Beringia, to exploit the teeming resources of the Arctic waters, and ranged far and wide, with Japan at the far end of their cultural area on the west and Canada at the far end in the east. They did not cross on purpose in one big trek, but at some point toward the end of the Ice Age, as Beringia shrank into the system of islands and peninsulas we know today, the western and eastern population extremes began exploiting Japan and Canada more and more. The western people became what we today call the Jomona culture and the eastern people explored the coasts of the Americas all the way around before expanding into the interior, where someone invented the Clovis point - possibly influenced, or after mixing populations with, a much smaller maritime people whose ancestors exploited the ice sheet from southwestern Europe to New England in the same way the Asian Boat People exploited Beringia.

You see my problem here. This story isn't a novel; it's a sprawling epic history whose documents, if they survive at all, lie under the Bering Strait and North Pacific Ocean, on the Continental Shelves and crumbling coasts of western America. Little of the archeology of this saga will be done in my lifetime. In order to make a saleable book, I'd have to invent and extrapolate even more wildly than I did in 11,000 Years Lost, and either telescope events or make a lifelong commitment to a family saga.

Given how obsessive I am about settings, in order to be satisfied with my own work, I'd also have to live in Alaska and travel to Siberia (which has been a byword of inaccessibility for most of my life) and along the coast of Canada and the lower 48 regularly, including extended camping/kayak trips. Because of the way I work, I wouldn't have any idea who the characters were or what the plot was until I'd done at least one such research trip, talked to four or five archeologists, and probably participated in at least one dig. Digs in this part of the world make Gault's floodplain and cyclonic weather look paradisial, and in the timeline where I live, I can barely make it to Gault three times a year due to other commitments and the perennial Health Crap. I would kind of like to be the kind of person who went on Arctic digs and kayaked around Canada; but I'm not, and if I ever even had a shot at being that person, I missed it.

Maybe this is what I would have written instead of 11,000 Years Lost if Dad had evaded his tour in 'Nam by not re-enlisting and we'd stayed in Alaska; but if he hadn't re-upped we wouldn't have stayed in Alaska. I'd be an Iowan today and proud of it. 11,000 Years Lost would be set in the Mississippi Valley and Esther (who wouldn't have been Hispanic or named Esther) would have gotten to see giant beavers.

So not only do I not know how the Peopling the Americas fiction should play out; I can't even imagine a realistic scenario in which I could be the person who wrote it.

But somebody should, don't you think?


  1. I can see why you do this Peni! Thanks for letting me "glom" on to you yesterday.

  2. All glomming was mutual! Feel free to post any ideas you want to get rid of, either in the comments or in a guest post, or to borrow the concept if you'd rather do it on your own blog. (That goes for everybody.) Nobody will be more surprised than me if anybody ever takes a garage sale idea and runs with it; but if it does nothing else it gets the idea out of the head where it won't distract me anymore.