My thoughts on History Channel’s “Journey to 10,000 BC”

Last night I caught some of the new History Channel show, “Journey to 10,000 BC.” I really didn’t know about in advance to tell y’all. Had I known before hand I woulda surely made an announcement. But no worries, if there’s anything I know about channels like Discovery and History, is that they replay these sorts of episodes so much. Actually, if you’re interested in catching it, it will show again on Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m.

Anyways about the show, I’m thinking History Channel put this out to coincide with the movie 10,000 B.C., which not surprisingly isn’t that accurate of a movie. Not like I expected it to be remotely realistic, but still I kinda hoped that it would be somewhat informative because it is about as much education most people will get about prehistory in their entire life. Anyways, “Journey to 10,000 BC” wasn’t much better. It had horrible cut scenes and exclusively focused on life in North America about 13,000 years ago. A lot of other very important things were happening elsewhere, such as the emergence of Neolithic revolution, i.e. the Natufian culture that shoulda been also included.

Even though I subscribe to the Siberian origin of native Americans, I did appreciate how Dennis Stanford made a cameo and explained his hypothesis that the Clovis archaeology could have originated from sea-faring Soluteran people from Europe. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, some of the first archaeological evidence in the Americas are associated with a type of stone tools found in Clovis, New Mexico. The Clovis typology is significantly different from Siberian archaeology, see Siberian tools around that time were largely modified ivory points with a blade inset. Clovis tools were much different. Clovis tools are highly refined thin, fluted projectile points created using bifacial percussion flaking.

Dennis Stanford publicized his hypothesis in 2004, along with colleague Bruce Bradely, in this paper, “The North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: a possible Palaeolithic route to the New World.” Like I indicated earlier, Stanford suggests that 13,000 years ago or so Europeans made boats and crossed the Atlantic to the Americas. With lower sea levels then, this was more feasible than nowadays… and by then people were crossing large bodies of water all over the world, i.e. Polynesia and the Pacific. The problem with Stanford’s hypothesis is that there’s no evidence of boats in the America’s from that time period, nor is there a genetic European signature in Native American populations. Stanford says that the reason why boats haven’t been found is that sea levels have risen since then and obliterated any trace of boats… convenient. Anyways, his idea is a bit out there, and not substantiated much. It is really possible that the reason why Clovis typology is unique is that arose in the Americas independently.

I also appreciated the discussion the show gave to climate change and glaciation events in North America. This sorta information isn’t readily inserted into shows like these, and help viewers visualize large scale environmental changes. But, I really couldn’t get over the cheesy cut scenes where a prehistoric woman with remarkable Vogue-like complexion was taken down by a smilodon, and early people crossing massive waves in unconvincing boats canoes. So it is totally up to you to watch, I neither recommend it nor thoroughly think it is a waste of time. If you don’t know much about the peopling of the Americas, this show maybe a great introduction to some lines of evidence.

    Bradley, B., Stanford, D. (2004). The North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: a possible Palaeolithic route to the New World. World Archaeology, 36(4), 459-478. DOI: 10.1080/0043824042000303656

39 thoughts on “My thoughts on History Channel’s “Journey to 10,000 BC”

  1. Armchair history type here. So if my questions and/or assumptions seem uneducated, that’s because they are!

    I can see humans following prey across the ice sheets to N. America. I can also see small boats making the “shore line” trip, if the Atlantic Conveyer is down.

    The part of the show I saw as not thought out very well, was after the mammoth kill; the large predators coming to feast and us poor humans being in the way. Where are the dogs? If this was 13,000 BC, dogs had been tamed/domesticated for 1,000 years already. I’d imagine a few good dogs would be worth as much as fire, for survival.

    1. I can tell you that people in 10,000/13,000 BC were comparatively smarter than the producers and researchers of this show. At least they should do more study on group hunting techniques of ancient people around the world. Since I am from Indian Sub-continent I know about ancient “Kheda” technique of hunting elephants. This involves chasing with loud noise (may include dogs) a group of few elephants to a certain man made or natural (with modification) surrounded place from where they are unable to go out (for example climbing up a slope is difficult for heavy animals), also a muddy place is ideal because their feet are stuck and mobility is reduced. Then the elephants were attacked to be killed/captured. I am sure the mammoths were hunted with similar techniques but not they way the show described that.

      1. Thank you for that, I’ve read about that before but I’d forgotten it when I saw the show. Something did seem amiss about the way the people on the show described it… throwing sticks and running away while the mammoth runs around and thrashes about before dying (can’t forget head-squashing too).

  2. Interesting one Kambiz. However I’ll take slight issue with your comment, “by then people were crossing large bodies of water all over the world, i.e. Polynesia and the Pacific”. The long distance voyages in that region didn’t happen until much more recently. That long ago people had merely reached the Northern Solomon Islands, just relatively short island hopping. The Austronesian-speaking people were the first to move into the Southern Solomons and beyond, and that was a mere 5000 to 7000 years ago. From your post regarding Palau (and that is really fascinating) it may have been during this expansion that people first reached there.

    I have a great deal of difficulty accepting humans were able to move along the edge of ice sheets anywhere near as long ago as 15,000 years. They would have needed really insulated clothing and very good boats. They could not have done it during summer.

  3. Terry, first and foremost welcome back. It has been quiet here without your comments! To clarify, I was paraphrasing Stanford’s statement that we see large ocean-centric migrations around 13,000 years ago.

    But, people were making large treks around the south Pacific much earlier than 13,000 years ago. During the late Pleistocene, Australia was peopled. The best publication that covers this research is O’Connell et al.’s “Dating the colonization of Sahul (Pleistocene Australia–New Guinea): a review of recent research.”

    In that paper, O’Connell provides a really informative map on the exposed land levels around 40,000 years ago and possible areas where people had to resort to boating to make the cross.


  4. Steve,

    You’re right, the earliest dog domestication happened around 14,000 years ago. Or at least that’s what the archaeological evidence at Bonn-Oberkassel, a site in Germany where join human and dog burials are observed. But that’s the Old World.

    According to the archaeological record, dog domestication in the New World, occurred around 11,000 years ago. A site in Utah, called Danger Cave is where I’m getting this from. But the DNA evidence says it happened right at around 13,000 years ago…

    In, “Ancient DNA Evidence for Old World Origin of New World Dogs,” the authors write how they,

    “analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from ancient aboriginal North and South American dog remains and argue for an single Asian origin for dogs. Dogs migrated to the Americas with their human companions via the Bering Strait about 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.”

    So yeah there’s a bit of inconsistency about when dog domestication happened in the New World. We can safely assume dogs were domesticated in the Old World and came along with migrants as the Americas were peopled.

    I don’t know why the History Channel producers of “Journey to 10,000 BC” left out this aspect. I wish I knew. They left out a lot of other aspects on the peopling of the Americas, such as the thorough genetic evidence which pinpoints a Siberian origin of native Americans.

    Anyways, thanks for the comment. It is a very astute observation that you caught. Dog domestication is a very critical aspect of human evolution and really helped us get to where we are now.


  5. Hey Charles, thanks for sharing your links. There’s no shame to plugging yourself, especially because the paleoecological makeup of 10,000 B.C. is relevant to this conversation. I read you Live Science breakdown and am curious to know if you’ve seen 10,000 B.C.?


  6. Oh no, I have to admit that I’m going to stay far away from this movie. Knowing that most of the animals they show couldn’t be in the story or were otherwise not depicted accurately is a real turnoff for me in this instance. But it was absolutely fascinating finding out about that Egyptian wall painting that might display a woolly mammoth! (Nature 369: 364, June 2, 1994.)

  7. Ahh, I would like to see it just cause I think the mammoth hunt looked fascinating. I wasn’t ever expecting any realistic depiction of prehistoric life, just mindless entertainment that sorta matches my academic interests.

    I haven’t found much time to go watch it though, nor do I really wanna throw down some hard earned cash now that some of the reviews are saying the storyline is horrible!

    Anyways, thanks again for the comments. I am sure readers will find your review of the origins and reality of some of the prehistoric animals in the movie useful in weeding out the Hollywood from the science.


    P.S. That Nature paper looks awesome, I never knew about this wall painting!

  8. You mentioned the appearance of Dennis Stanford on the History Channel program. Perhaps you noticed that he is identified as being with the “Smithsonian Institute [sic]” in both the narration and on-screen supers. For the un-hip, it’s the Smithsonian INSTITUTION.

    By the way, I saw an advance screening of the feature film “10,000 B.C.” in Hollywood last week. Now I know how Bob Marley and the Wailers freed the slaves, and brought free agency to the NBA….

  9. Haha, Carlos, I actually did not catch that. That’s a pretty big thing the producers of Journey to 10,000 BC overlooked. Shows how much attention to detail they’ve put into producing the show.

    And about 10,000 B.C., the movie, I’m getting the impression from many that its just a dredlock’d version of Independence Day, sans intergalactic aliens.


  10. Trying to tie Europeans to the first migrants of the Americas and Clovis points is far-fetched and borders on ignorance. All that was mentioned by Dennis Stanford was pure unsubstantiated theories, clouded by his own desire to associate his ancestors with the first Americans. Also, his ideas that because Clovis points resemble a few Solutrian points mandates that the makers originate in Europe (southern France), is nothing but a sorry attempt to back his theory. Also, there were many waves of human migration throughout time. However, DNA evidence has already proven that the people in the Americas at the earliest times were much unlike many of the peoples in far east Asia, such as the Ainu or Polynesians (not Europeans). Furthermore, crossing equatorial warm waters from close neighboring Indonesia (during lowering fluctuations in sea level) to Australia was quite plausible compared to crossing a large expanse of a colder than current Atlantic ocean from Southern France to the Americas.
    I am not a professor, and I do not have the credentials of working at the Smithsonian, however, I can make associations that make more sense and deem more logical than that which Dennis Stanford has concluded. Journey to 10,000 B.C. was shown on the History Channel, where viewers watch thinking what is shown to them is fact. There should have been clear indications in the show stating that this is only a theory; also, that others should have had the opportunity to refute their ideas. This show was a large disappointment and a giant step backward in science.

  11. Kambiz. I agree that, “During the late Pleistocene, Australia was peopled”. However the distances required for that are far less than those required to move beyond the Northern Solomons. As A. Douglass said, “crossing equatorial warm waters from close neighboring Indonesia (during lowering fluctuations in sea level) to Australia was quite plausible compared to crossing a large expanse of a colder than current Atlantic ocean from Southern France to the Americas”. Or even large open expanses in the tropics. Even Palau was settled relatively recently compared to Australia, New Guinea and Northern Solomons. By the way, thanks for your welcome back. I actually regularly read your posts but often don’t feel qualified to comment.

  12. Ahh I’m sorry, Terry. I left out a pretty important detail on Stanford’s cross Atlantic migration. He suggests, that sea levels were so low that Europeans 13,000 or so years ago were able to skip-hop-jump over exposed islands and landmasses through a northerly passage (i.e. bits of land spotted in between the water barriers from France to England to Iceland to Greenland were like pit stops) just like people moved about to people Australia.

    Anyways, I do appreciate your comments. Can’t force you to comment if you don’t feel qualified, but I do think you’ve often stimulated some really awesome discussion and have motivated me to do some literature reviews too!


  13. Thanks Kambiz, and thanks for expanding on your original post. The idea might be beginning to make sense.

  14. WHY WERE THE MAMMOTHS HAIRLESS??? That pissed me off so much! I almost didn’t wanna watch. Were they too cheap to add hair? The animation was no better either. They looked and acted like run down robots of modern day elephants.

  15. I think they mentioned that the Columbian mammoths may not have been hairy like the Wooly Mammoths, who lived in colder climate where the winters lasted two thirds of the year.

    What annoyed me no end was the totally false statement that the Columbian was the biggest land animal that walked the earth since the dinosaurs !! Not only was its local cousin, the Imperial Mammoth, larger than it, but the Songhua River Mammoth (Sungari) of Asia was by far the largest mammoth. Then there was the Indricotherium (Beluchitherium) which may have been the largest mammal ever, perhaps larger even than Sungari.

    After hearing that I decided it is probably not worth watching, and I wonder what else on the show was hogwash.

  16. You might want to do a little more homework. They have DNA evidence that matches Asia and Europe in Native Americans that live in the northeast proving that Native Americans came from Europe also, it just was not mentioned on this show.

  17. I’ll second Kambiz’s request. I have not heard of any DNA studies linking Native Americans to Europe (outside of some assimilation). Certainly, any such study would have been instant news.

  18. These bits of information should clear up why the show turned out so undesirable…

    The producers waited until the last minute to start production. The project was started approximately 4 weeks before the show aired.

    The scenes with the actors were shot in roughly 3-4 days. The script was obviously ill written.

    The shots did not reach the post-production house until 3 weeks before the show was due to air.

    The budget was ridiculously frugal. There were no woolly mammoth or dog models to animate. The woolly mammoth is actually an elephant with a different texture applied to the model. They were cheap and refused to pay for more accurate models for the animators. Also, there were no story boards provided to them to follow for direction.

    The budget and time restraint made it impossible for the animators to create accurate information. Animating and compositing is very time consuming, and certainly takes longer than a few weeks. Not to mention the animators themselves are not historians!

    The producer and director should have been in the studio giving them direction and accurate information and yet were mysteriously MIA during post-production.

    In short this show was really thrown together. Detail was severely lacking. It’s sad to say that their focus through this project was to meet a deadline, not to be accurate.

  19. A note of correction, the film said the Colombian Mammoth was the largest animal in North America since the dinosaurs, not the entire world.

    This film did not have a “Hollywood” budget to work with.

    Come visit the Wenas (near Yakima, Washington) site this summer to see history face to face. The filming there took place last July.

  20. I’m right in the middle of watching the History Channel piece, and I was irritated how the “paleo-Indians” had distinctly “non-Indian” beards and non-Siberian features. I was correct in surmising this was a “lead-in” to the “Solutrean Hypothesis,” which is the darling of Dennis Stanford and a few others, but has scant chance of finding acceptance and consensus among mainstream science.

    I tend to overreact on this stuff, but then I live in Utah where selling non-Siberian origins of Native Americans is a religion, a business, and the focus of a large university that routinely disseminates religious apologetics as part of its curriculum.

    They routinely adopt the insulting tactics of Lawrence Brown above, who erroneously projects a gap in his own knowledge onto others; in point of fact, the only DNA evidence that suggested possible European presence in the New World was the presence of “Haplogroup X” in mitochondrial DNA found in Native Americans.

    As my friend, Simon Southerton (author of “Losing a Lost Tribe”) points out, however, a much more closely related X-lineage was found among the Altai in Southern Siberia, and this evidence is powerful enough to constitute proof of Native American’s Asian origins, particularly when combined with the archeological record.

  21. How can I contact the Dr. Allen West for comments on the theories presented on the show 10000 BC. I have some ideas that may help.

  22. I’ve always had this same theory about the Europeans coming to the Eastern US. Many of the words in the Iroquoian languages are pronounced the same and have the same meaning as Gaelic Celt words. The facial structures of the eastern indians are no where remotely close to the western and southwestern natives. Take the Cherokee for instance. When first encountered, they were thought to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. It’s not a far stretch like A. Douglas thinks it is. What about the stacked obsidian points found along the eastern shores? Anyone who knows anything about spear points knows that obsidian makes for a very poor point as it is too brittle. It will shatter upon impact with a bone and therefore has minimal penetrating ability. These points were stacked and buried as an offering to the Earth after a successful hunt, just like in paleolithic Europe. I don’t see where this is such a controversial subject. I guess scientists are like cops, once they get a suspect behind bars they are very reluctant to let them go, even when proven wrong.

    1. Charlie, You hit the cave woman on the head! I myself just being a moderately trained ameture archeologist that worked on the dig site at Cactus Hill, Virginia. I was there when we found those tools below the clovis layer that Stanford associates with the solutrians. Through my experience with the scientific community its all about reputation and funding, not expanding our knowlege. For all the blinders on clovis first and bearing theory folks, its no use in debating with them. If you were to find a frozen early man and thaw him out and he said that he originated from Brooklyn, they would still say he is lying and he is from asia and he walked across the bearing bridge. Closed minds cant open doors. Peace.


  23. I Just saw “Journey to 10,000 B.C.”this week, and noticed you guys are skeptical about the European Origin Theory.
    The North Atlantic sea level was said to be so low that England was attached to France, and other land masses were exposed. Also the sedimentary record showed a large gap where the earliest settlers were wiped out or didn’t leave any traces. Also, why would there be only one “Original People” from one direction, and only one arrival? I’ve seen previous theories for people in far southern South America pre-dating Central American human presence. Does anyone know of a map of the exposed land during any of th Ice Ages>

    1. Take any current chart of the seas and look at the depths, deduct 400 feet from the current depths and that will give you an approximate sea level for that time period. It is easy to see that they (Paleo ?) could a still cross easier from Asia than from Europe either by boat or by walking.

      1. I’m not sure “easier” is relevent here. Easiest course of action would be to have stayed put in Asia or Europe — they didn’t take that option. IMHO at that point the “easier” argument breaks down.

  24. Chuck said on March 21, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    “A note of correction, the film said the Colombian Mammoth was the largest animal in North America since the dinosaurs, not the entire world.”

    Sorry, you are wrong. I recorded the show and watched it carefully twice. It definitely says “largest animal on land” and nothing about North America.

    As others have pointed out, even if they meant North America (which they clearly did NOT say), they were wrong, because Mammuthus imperator was the largest mammoth in North America, not the Columbian Mammoth.

  25. Way back in May Stuart asked, “Does anyone know of a map of the exposed land during any of th Ice Ages?” Sorry to take so long to reply but any map that shows ocean depth will give you a good idea. Although some parts of the earth have sunk somewhat and others risen you can take as a rough guide the 100-200 metres below present sea lavel as being approximately the boundary of land during the ice ages over the last few tens of thousands of years.

  26. I just watched the show and I’m just a normal viewer. Just a fan of history and I was really dissapointed because a lot of things seemed so fishy…
    I just read all of your comments and it was really helpul with a lot of links that made me understand more.
    I just hate when History doesn’t do well their job, like when I saw the one from the exodus and they tried so hard to fit events with their theories. (if I remember correctly it was the one produced by James Cameron)
    (sorry if I didn’t make sense, english is not my first language)

  27. I got halfway through the repetitive 2-hour show and realized that it was pseudoscience.

    Thanks for the comments.

  28. I was watching a Tivo rebroacast and enjoyed it until the ignorant and/or stupid incompetents who foisted this 2008 piece of crap on us informed us that fullerenes were named after Bucky Fuller who discovered them.

    Really great work by a dead man. He died a decade before they were reported in nature.

    No wonder the US is third rate and falling in the sciences!

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