Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jon Turk and the Jomon road

I am reading the book written by Jon turk titled 'In the Wake of the Jomon' in which he recounts his expedition in one man vessels from Japan up through the Kurils and along Kamchatka and onto Alaska. Two boat types were used, at first with Windriders to Kamchatka, and finally with sea kayaks.

This was a practical effort to evaluate the possibilities and the limitations faced by these stone age seafarers. He is successful in doing just that.

Two principal routes have been espoused for the peopling of he Americas. The earliest been the ice age sea route that allowed mariners to travel the Pacific Coast from Asia down through to the tip of South America starting around 20,000 years ago when making the sprint across the top of the Alaskan gulf was possible. They relied on sea food for sustenance including seals and walruses.

The second route was the late opening of the passage between the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and The Laurentide Ice sheet after the Pleistocene Nonconformity, allowing big game dependent hunters to break into North America from the Bering North Slope. These are the folks who perhaps created and used the Folsom point to take down the large game around them.

I was an early fan of the sea route and of course welcome the steady addition of evidentuary support. So perhaps I am a little biased. The point that I make in my book Paradigms Shift is very simple and is based on anthropological reports of hunter gatherers living in a productive ecosystem. It is that a successful group that is able to occupy a hunting ground like a fishing village will have an increase in population over the carrying capacity of the range. This will lead to a calving off of a subset of sufficient young people who will then march over to the next empty hunting range or in the case of the coast, the next available safe landing and build a new settlement. This has been going on forever.

Jon Turk imagines intrepid voyagers who imagined a new world a thousand mile away. I imagine brave young men who scouted out a suitable location forty miles away and then dragged their wifes there while promising to visit home often. Generation after generation others followed these stepping stones and helped create stepping stones themselves, until they faced long barriers of ice that made return unlikely. Eventually a few would make the sprint, or conditions ameliorated enough to make it easier. In any event, in a thousand years or so, their descendants were moving south along the coast into constantly improving conditions.

What Jon shows us is that it was all very possible and actually inevitable using the skin boats of the time and place. The folk most likely were living throughout the Siberian coast merely including Northern Japan. In fact we have every reason to suspect that these mariners were also the same stock as the Polynesians and other early stock that made up the populations of 20,000 years ago. Remember that the onset of agriculture selected through population growth several small tribal groups who then became large enough to largely impose their genetic characteristics onto the remaining populations. The Han Chinese is perhaps the best example but is hardly unique.

Our scholars of the past have been so bound up in attempting to classify peoples as to their characteristics, that they have often been blinded to the obvious. What woke me up was a photo of a crowd of people in the Tibetan mountains. Their features could have been dropped in among the Haida and no one would have noticed. In fact the northern global root stock is discernible as such and it differentiated across Asia Europe and the Americas during the past 20,000 years. Were differentiation was minimized was in those areas where agriculture was a latecomer or never arrived and the tribal ethos was sustained. This describes the Haida and the Tibetans and other constrained northern populations.

Jon shows us both that the the challenges were daunting in the extreme but yes they could be mastered. And yes, men would die. His own trip rolled the dice several times and it is a surety that ten such trips would kill someone sooner or later. Jon of course, made no serious effort to live off the sea on this trip. It would be neat to retrace part of the route with an Australian bushman aboard just to gain his insight of even for him is a hostile foreign environment. His instincts may inform us.


Unknown said...

Jon Turk here, with a few comments on Arclein's excellent and fascinating synopsis of my book and my adventures.

I love the suggestion at the end that I retrace the route with an Australian bushman aboard, but am a little intimidated by the statement that I believe is correct, that if ten people tried the passage, at least one person would die. Rolling the dice is fun, but it's also fun to leave the table while you're ahead.

I would like to comment on the speed of travel. Arclein suggests that the migration from central Asia to North America was done incrementally, 40 or so miles a generation. I proposed that the migration was quicker than that. How quick? I suggested "a few generations to a century or two. I base my suggestion on numerous bits of evidence. Primary among them is the greenland Ice Core data that shows that global and Northern Hemisphere temperature fluctuated frequently and dramaticaly during this time period. I surmise (but it is still just a guess) that the migration was completed during the relatively short (a few hundred years) warm spells and before the extreme cold of the Ice Age cold snaps would have made migration and survival much more difficult.
Jon Turk

Unknown said...

I agree with Jon's comments that the travel time was slow, perhaps only 40 miles per generation. This also means we need to push back the date of first entry some time... for example, new evidence in Texas concerning the Peopling of the Americas suggests that we should follow the genetic evidence and assume first entry occurred sometime around 20-30,000 years ago. The hardest part is that all of the sites these first people most likely used via the coast are now underwater... so it is very hard to establish a solid timeline.