Documentaries: History and Theories

Documentaries:History and TheoriesI have a very curious mind, and I love to watch documentaries.  I also love to read, and have spent most of my adult life only reading non-fiction. However, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be and expert, mostly because my interests are a little erratic.  That being said, I’ve noticed a trend in Documentaries of presenting information as “Absolute Fact” rather than just “Theory”.

This really hit me when we were watching a Nova special on PBS.  “The First Face of America” is a documentary about the bones of a teenage girl that were found deep underwater in a cave in Mexico.  Her bones dated to over 13,000 years ago. She was found with many other skeletal remains of other ice age animals. These animals included several species of elephants, bear, giant sloth and a saber tooth cat.

The show was presented in a dramatic story telling fashion, with a great deal of rhetoric towards the theory that she was an early settler from the migration across the Bering Land Bridge.  They claim to know this through testing the DNA in her teeth.  Also, they claim that she must be “new to the area” because her teeth show signs of seasonal malnutrition.  Which apparently only happens when you are unfamiliar with the area you are living in.

Documentaries and the Bering Land Bridge

First, lets talk about the Bering Land Bridge theory, itself.  The theory states that a land mass, named Beringia, which is now completely under water, linked Siberia to Alaska in the North Pacific.  Proponents of this theory, believe that early migrants used this open land to migrate across from Asia into North America, and through an opening in the glaciers that covered what is now Canada and into the Northern US.

In the Nova documentary, they gave this means of entry into North America as “The” way it happened.  There are also several holes in the Beringia theory.  One main issue with Beringia, is that there are human remains that are several thousand years older that the passage.  Other issues include the fact that the passage was not “biologically viable“.  Meaning that there wasn’t enough food to sustain travelers at the time they would have been traveling.

DNA Testing: What Gets Left Out of the Documentaries

To support the Beringia theory, scientists have used DNA testing to show that fossilized human bones have several markers in common. The fossilized human bones tested include:

  • the 13,000-year-old remains of the girl from the Nova documentary
  • the 10,000-year-old remains of the young boy found in Montana
  • the 11,500 year old remains of two infants found in Alaska
  • as well as others

The scientists claim that the DNA testing shows (or proves) that early migrants used the Beringia route.  They came to this conclusion based on the fact they they all share DNA markers unique to Native Americans. However, they leave out some other very important information.  Namely, that Native Americans also have about 1/3 of their DNA from Europeans.

Additionally, we have to consider the Clovis Points.  In archaeological sites all over the US, they find Clovis style spear and arrow heads…referred to as Clovis Points.  In the Alaskan archaeological site where they found the two infants, they also found a great many spear and arrowhead points.  None of them, or any others that they have found in that part North America or Siberia, are similar to the Clovis Points.  As a matter of fact, you have to go across the Atlantic Ocean, back to Europe to find similar points.

Documentaries & Theories

Now, before I get too far off track, the point I was trying to make is that Documentaries do not show us the interesting discoveries in terms of “Theory”.  Instead, they are out to “prove” their way of thinking. In this case, that the Bering Land Bridge is how the America’s were originally populated, is the absolute truth.

A Theory, by definition is “an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events.”  A theory is not the truth.  It is merely an idea of what the truth could be.

Much like the news, Documentaries are usually presented to show one version of the story.  We are presented with a very small amount of information, and “proof”.  Then, the story gets told so many times, that is becomes the accepted truth.  As a consequence, we stop asking questions.  We turn a blind eye to all of the other information and discoveries that do not fit into the picture they have painted.

We forget that what we don’t know, far outweighs what we do know.  There are still so many discoveries to be made, so many questions to answer.  Stay curious!

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