Re: The Anthroplogy of th

Scott C DeLancey (
23 Dec 1994 11:51:15 -0800

In article <3da2vi$>, whittet <> wrote:

[deleting previous discussion of whether the original settlement of the
New World might have been by boat rather than on foot across a Bering
land bridge, my objection that except for the Northwest Coast, no
Native Americans, most particularly those along the West Coast of North
America, seem to have the kind of maritime culture and technology that
we might expect if they had already, 12,000, 25,000, or whatever years
ago, had the means to circumnavigate the Pacific Rim, and the counter-
argument that this is plenty of time to have developed new adaptations
to new environments and lost old ones]

>I also think that 25,000 some odd years is plenty of time for the
>kind of adaptations you describe to have ranged rather far from
>the original conditions. Not necessarily, if there was a good niche
>and a maritime tradition worked fine, but perhaps in other places,
>other models evolved according to what people ran into. In desert
>terrain perhaps boat building is hampered by a lack of trees, or if
>the coast has large waves and lacks harbors, people might change to
>a diet of oysters and urchins with some seals and otters for good measure.

Your last point here is well worth considering. As far as the first
point goes, I don't think it is at all likely (I'd be very interested
if anyone has apparent counterexamples) that a culture would abandon
a technology & lifeway that was adaptive in their environment. So
my argument is, if the original migrants had maritime skills and
technology, it's because that was adaptive in their original coastal
environment in NE Asia. The first migrants then would have ended
up on the West Coast of N. America, with the rest of the continent
populated from there. So this model implies a continuous period of
settlement of the W. Coast from the time of the original migration.
Assuming that, if maritime culture was adaptive on one shore of the
Pacific, it would have been adaptive on the other, there's no explanation
for why the inhabitants of the Oregon/California coast would have
abandoned it. Then the fact that these people didn't have a maritime
culture argues against this hypothesis--unless there's a good story
to tell about why maritime culture was less adaptive in Oregon than
in Kamchatka or whatever.
But there might be one. From south of Puget Sound, the coast
is pretty unprotected, not many islands--put a boat out in Oregon
and you're in the open ocean right away. Farther north it's different;
the B.C. coast is all islands and fjords, much easier territory for
small boats. I don't know what the NE Asian coast is like, or what
might be likely setting-off points, but if it's more like the Inland
Passage of BC/Alaska than like the naked coast of Oregon & California,
then we might have a story--the maritime adaptations that got people
over in the first place weren't that useful under the different
conditions found farther south, and so were lost.
Two questions that bear on this, neither of which I know the
answer to: 1) what are coastal conditions like in Kamchatka &
Manchuria? 2) what kind of maritime technology do coastal NE Asian
cultures like the Chukchee and Nivkh have?

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA