Once Humans Crossed the Bering Land Bridge to America, Where Did They Go?

By Eliza Strickland | January 9, 2009 10:46 am

Bering land bridgeWhen the first bands of early humans made their intrepid journey into the Americas, they found plenty of room to spread out, according to a new study. Researchers who conducted a genetic analysis of Native Americans say that they can trace their ancestry back to two groups of migrants who arrived in America around the same time, between 15,000 and 17,000 years ago, but took distinctly different routes. The researchers argue that one group moved down the Pacific coastline all the way to the tip of South America, and the other group crossed into North America through an open land corridor between ice sheets and settled near the Great Lakes.

Along the Pacific coastal route, travelers in skin boats are presumed to have hunted marine mammals and found shelter in shoreline refuges beyond the reach of the retreating glaciers…. Movements along the inland route – where big-game hunters originally from Siberia are believed to have migrated through a gap in the glaciers in present-day Northwest Territories and Alberta – led to the earliest mid-continental settlements in the New World, scientists believe [Canwest News Service].

Paleoanthropologists generally accept that the original colonizers of North and South America came from eastern Asia and migrated to the Americas after spending some time–perhaps several thousand years–in a region called Beringia, which included parts of Siberia and Alaska and the land bridge that once connected them [ScienceNOW Daily News]. But the question of where they went next has been a subject of considerable controversy, with some researchers arguing that harsh climate conditions didn’t allow humans to settle in North America until long after the crossing of the land bridge. While the new study isn’t likely to settle the argument, it supports the theory that humans quickly spread out over both continents.

In the study, published in Current Biology [subscription required], a team led by geneticist Antonio Torroni analyzed entire genomic sequences of mitochondrial DNA, the genetic material in cells’ energy-generating units that gets passed from mothers to children…. The researchers focused on the disparate geographic distributions of two rare mitochondrial DNA haplogroups — which are characterized by a distinctive DNA sequence derived from a common maternal ancestor — that still appear in Native Americans [Science News]. Both haplogroups appear to have arisen about 16,000 years ago.

The researchers found that all the people with the D4h3 haplogroup presently live in South America, while those with the X2a haplogroup live in Canada and the United States, which suggests that the two genetically distinct bands of early humans struck off in different directions around 16,000 years ago. Archaeologist Michael Waters comments that the genetic study is “very stimulating” and consistent with the “solid archaeological evidence” of human occupation on the Chilean coast and in Wisconsin by about 15,000 years ago [ScienceNOW Daily News].

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DISCOVER: Did Humans Colonize the World by Boat?

Image: Bureau of Land Management

  • rick doninger

    Levallois cores, points, exhausted levallois core tools, burins, blades, scrapers, and yes hand axes all of the mousterian acheulean style found in the midwest U.S. Who made them I wonder? Bone tools, red ochre, and venus type figurines also found. Might these be the tools of the american neanderthal? Neanderthal tools are rarely mistaken for other lithic industries due to their unique characteristics. The assemblage found in Indiana begs for closer scrutiny as no other paleo indian culture such as Clovis or later even resembles the artifacts being found but laid side beside with mousterian tools found abroad one cannot tell the difference other than the material that was used. The finder is confident that analysis will eventually prove him right. The tools are in pristine condition and appear to be a very coherent set of artifacts pointing to the possibility of a lower to middle paleolithic presence in the states. More info on this can be found by writing doninger@sbcglobal.net

  • http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/ thingsbreak

    The paper itself is accessible without subscription for the time being:


  • http://twitter.com/Aerocles David

    There was a national geographic special discussing an alternative: that the first humans in north america came via western europe by island hopping

  • Quietman

    Actually there is a lot of data that points to MUCH earlier occupation regardless of the route travelled. Dr. Goodyear (South Carolina) has dug up evidence in SC similar to that found by Dr. Louis Leakey in CA indicating an occupation at least 40k years and possibly 52k years (before Europe). Logically, since we know that the NA/Asia crossing has been made many times since the Mesozoic by many species of animals including dinosaurs, I think we need to stop insisting on looking at hominids as late comers to the Americas.

  • Quietman

    This would also explain why the DNA evidence does not fit the current consensus theory as well.

  • Justin

    Wowie zowie. that there is some wild and wolly wackness.

  • http://crowlspace.com/ Adam

    Would be nice if the putative earlier dating finds could be properly excavated in situ, rather than described and displayed out of context. Might make a more convincing case then.

  • TheRewdDewd

    Oh, come on peoples! NA was colonized some 12,800 yrs ago by the Ancient Sea Kings, who were looking for survivors after the last Earth Crustal Displacement. And thousands of years from now different versions of us will be wondering WTF colonized NA again. Yep, you guessed it. Planet X is coming and when it is done having its way with the Celestial Balance in our solar System, Earth’s crust will have slid on its core, changing the geographic position of all the continents on the globe. Unfortunately for most of us, the planet will not be habitable for some time afterwards(oceans running out over their containers and washing over the continents many times, etc) and history will have been erased. When will this occur next? 2012. Yeah, it creeped me out too!

    “Learn to swim, learn to swim, learn to swim….” – Aenima, Tool.

  • mark corbitt

    if you want tosee levallois points and point cores from the deep south u.s.a. go to Artifactsguide.com, go to the learning center and look under the heading “for charles ray and other paleo fanatics-edgefield”.

  • mattb

    bah… all real evidence points to a cross on the land bridge BUT we don’t know which way across maybe native americans crossed the land bridge to asia not the other way around. besides there a several encounters on the high seas recorded by those dudes that made the seashell dye with dudes in HOLLOWED OUT LOGS which native americans were KNOWN for using and other evidence proves that the mayan log boats did go into sea water and had several routes to go on for fishing,exploration,and otherwise making it entirely possible the mayans did get inspiration from the phoenicians as they were once under egyptian control.

  • CR

    So because there is credible evidence of visitation to North America by people 15K-17K that means that all bets are off and now we are to believe that Neandertals were also swinging a club here, too? That’s like like saying that because a loaf of bread is on sale for .99 cents a loaf at Krogers, filet mignon must also be on sale for $1.49 a lb. So why stop with claiming a middle palaeolithic age for your rocks RD? Why not go for broke and claim that the birthplace of homo sapiens is right here in America and that there were proto-hominids here as well? Australopithicus Americanus, indeed. LMAO

  • kirk hepburn

    i don’t believe in the land bridge migration theory. it makes no sense to me to conclude that prehistoric man traversed over time into harsher northern climates from the more temperate regions. the difficulty of adapting to intense cold, it seems to me, would have been a natural deterrent to this intrepid journey. certainly prehistoric man was not in need of more space. and even if this were true, given the relative sizes of the respective continents, the move from Asia to N.America does not add up, the way i see it. additionally, from what we think we know of the development of navigation we can presume that prehistoric man had no way of knowing whether the land toward which he was supposedly migrating was any more suitable than the one he presently inhabited. what possible motivation would suggest the impetus for such a move?


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