Native American Ice Age Migration: Bearing Sea Crossings

Figure 1.--This 1903 portrait identifies the teenager here only as an Eskimo. One might think that the modern residents of Alaska are the descendents of the earliest Siberians whocrossed the Bearing Sea. More likely they are the descendents of the latest of many waves of small nomadic groups. We do not know who the photographer was.

The Siberians who migrated to North America were nomadic hunter-gatherers who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. This is one of the few events that archeologists agree about. During the Ice Age sea levels were lower, much lower. So much water was tied up in the Northern Hemisphere ice cap, that sea levels may have been an incredible 100-150 meters lower than today. This created a land bridge over what is now the shallow but forbidding Bearing Straits. Prescisely when this crossing took place, however, is a matter of considerable controversy. For years Archeologists based on the Clovis First theory dated the crossing at about 13,500 years ago. This was the time when the glacial ice of the Ice Age was believed to have receeded and a ice free-corridor appeared south from Alaska into the Noth American heartland. There is now, however, considerble disagreement among Native American specialists as to just when these crossings began. how they were made, and how long they continued. Some scientists now believe that Ice Age people arrived in North America over the Bering Sea land bridge much earlier, perhaps 20,000-30,000 years ago or even earlier. Archeologists for the most part clung to Clovis First. Other specialists, however, raised some chincks in the Clovis First orthodoxy. Preliminary DNA studies suggest that these migrations took place in multiple, perhaps three waves. These estimates are based on recent DNA studies assessing when Asians and Native Americans diverged genetically. Not all researchers working with DNA agree as to the dates involved. Some also suggest that it was about 15,000 years ago. One study suggest that the first crossing was made by extrenmely small groups, perhaps only 10-20 people. Then the linguists chimed in to the debate. They noted an incredible linguistic diversity, far greater than the Old World. This suggested a much earlier initial crossing than estimated by the Clovis First theorists. These new contributors to the subject were not invested in Clovis First like the archeological community.


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Created: 3:31 AM 6/5/2010
Last updated: 3:31 AM 6/5/2010