THE GREAT JOURNEY: The Peopling of Ancient America <i> by Brian Fagan (Thames & Hudson: $10.95, illustrated) </i>
The origin of the autochthonous peoples of the Americas has been the subject of widespread debate since Western Europeans learned of their existence in 1492.
Fagan summarizes the current theories and discusses anatomical, linguistic, archeological and geographic evidence used to support them. Although he weighs pros and cons carefully, Fagan does not suffer foolish ideas gladly. He points out the total lack of fossil evidence supporting Louis Leakey’s belief that the Americas were inhabited by hominids 400,000 years ago and dismisses claims about the Phoenicians and Atlantis as “lunatic ravings.”
The best evidence suggests that early man crossed from northern Asia to Alaska over a vanished land bridge in a series of invasions 15,000-20,000 years ago. But, as Fagan notes, this chronology is by no means universally accepted, and the debate continues, five centuries after the arrival of Columbus.