My guest this week is Kathleen Flanagan Rollins. Kathleen is a retired English professor turned novelist, fascinated by all things ancient but especially the earliest explorers who discovered, quite literally, brand new worlds. She is an active member of the Goodreads group Prehistoric Fiction Writers and Readers Campfire, and also on Facebook. Her website is www.misfitsandheroes.com.
Welcome Kathleen. What are your books about?
The Misfits and Heroes novels are adventure stories with elements of spirit magic. They deal with several groups of explorers finding their way to the New World about 14,000 years ago. In the first book, Misfits and Heroes: West from Africa, a group from West Africa crosses the Atlantic Ocean and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. In the second, Past the Last Island, people from the South Pacific Islands set out to find whatever lies beyond the edge of the world. In the third, A Meeting of Clans, members of the two groups make contact.
What inspired you to write about these ancient explorers?
Lots of little incidents. Here’s one. In an attempt to build some interest in my fledging Latin American literature class, I brought some pictures of Olmec art into one of my composition classes. The giant heads, I explained, were carved from basalt boulders weighing between 6 and 40 tons each, then transported over 90 miles from their source. In addition, I showed photos of smaller carved stone masks. I thought the mystery of the Olmec might pique their interest in Latin American culture.
The students’ responses proved far more direct than I expected.
“That one’s Asian.”
They’d uncovered one of the most controversial arguments in the history of the Americas: where the early explorers came from.
“What do you think?” one student asked.
“I think there were many routes to the Americas,” I admitted. “Some people may have come across the Land Bridge from Asia, as you’ve been taught, but others may have come across the sea – from Africa, Asia, and Europe – lots of places.”
In 1908, George McJunkin, a cowboy and former slave, found the remains of an extinct bison after a flash flood in New
Mexico exposed the bones. This led to the discovery of an obviously human-made point with bones of another extinct bison. In 1929, 19-year-old Ridgely Whiteman discovered the first recognized Clovis Man Site: Blackwater Draw, near Clovis, New Mexico.What came to be called Clovis points were easy to identify: beautifully worked on both sides (bi-facial) with neat rows of worked stone across the entire surface of the stone (photos).
Based on the finds made in the 1930s, archaeologists developed the theory that, since no other evidence of early man in the Americas had been discovered, Clovis people were the first to inhabit the New World. To fill in the blanks, they surmised that these people came across the Land Bridge from Russia to Alaska, following big game like the bison. From there, the people headed across and down North America, Central America, and South America.It was an appealing theory to a country increasingly mired in the Great Depression. Since the 1930s, it’s been repeated endlessly in textbooks.
New research is challenging the theory. The earliest Clovis points – and the greatest concentration – in North America are on the east coast of North America. Dr. Dennis Stanford, head of the Archaeology Division, National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, a long-time Clovis advocate, now claims that the Clovis people came not from Asia but from Northern Spain. He suggests the points were probably trade goods that originated on the east coast of the US and found their way westward, which would explain the concentration thinning east to west across the country.
He admits there was never any evidence that the Clovis people came from Asia. In fact, though he searched for years, he was unable to find any predecessors of the famous Clovis points anywhere in Asia.
What should have been one answer to the question became the only answer.
In fact, the earliest settlements in the Americas that are known so far are much earlier. These discoveries suggest many different routes to the New World. That idea became the core of the Misfits and Heroes stories.
Pedra Furada, northeast Brazil (at least 55,000 years ago)
Topper Hill, South Carolina (between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago),
Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pennsylvania (about 16,000 years ago)
Buttermilk Creek Complex, Texas (about 15,000 years ago)
Monte Verde, Chile, (14,800 years ago)
Saltville, Virginia, (14,500 years ago)
Taima-Taima, Venezuela (14,000 years ago)
The oldest known sites in the American northwest are Paisley Caves in Oregon (14,000 years ago) and Tanana Valley, Alaska (13,000 – 14,000 years ago).
How did you research these adventures?
Travel to many ancient sites in southern Mexico and Guatemala helped, but most of the details of flora and fauna, geography, ocean currents, stick charts, star positions, folklore, etc. came from the library, the bookstore, and endless Google and YouTube searches.
What do you want people today to know about these ancient peoples?
They were not stupid. They had to learn fast and cooperate; otherwise they’d perish. Some traveled great distances. With no political boundaries to stop them, they were free to spread out at will.
Very small populations drove a completely different cultural dynamic from the one we’re used to, where competition for scarce resources results in constant warfare and entrenched tribalism. Newcomers back then brought new blood, new skills, new hope. A starving stranger who knocked at your door might well be the one who fed your family the following season.
What are you working on next?
The fourth book in the series will introduce a small group from northern Spain as well as follow the progress of the other groups.
Thanks for being with us, Kathleen. Thank you, Mary Black, for the opportunity to talk about the Misfits and Heroes series!