Alice Kehoe and early trans-Pacific Migrations

Anyone interested in early sea-voyaging, especially across the Pacific, needs to consult the distinguished anthropologist/historian Alice Beck Kehoe (professor emerita at Marquette University and adjunct prof at Wisconsin-Milwaukee). She has written widely about the history of American archaeology and worked widely with Native American communities. In this post I will first give some details about her, before we look at her findings in a later post.

Despite her formidable scholarship, she met with sustained opposition, even ridicule, from mainstream academe, when posing ideas about early oceanic voyaging. Why? (1) she was a woman in what was then (1960s and 70s) a largely male domain, and (2) her views on trans-Pacific migrations were outside the ruling paradigm. She writes: “Experiencing unjust bias firsthand heightened my thinking critically about the status quo, whether about the people acclaimed as leaders (like the professor who would not accept women) or about core ideas”.  When in the American Museum of Natural History she observed her mentor and fine scholar Gordon Ekholm “rebuffed when he put forward evidence for pre-Columbian trans-Pacific voyages”. His colleagues and students also suffered in terms of promotion and recognition. Those familiar with Kuhnian paradigm theory will know that defenders of a ruling paradigm in science (also the social sciences and history) tend fiercely to  defend it when it is first under attack. Eventually it is displaced by another paradigm, and the cycle continues!

I recommend her readable little book Controversies in Archaeology (2008) for an eye-opening account of her experiences (and also for her controversial theories, backed up by evidence).

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