Bering Strait

Ever wonder how humans first arrived in North America? The most common theory is that they arrived via the Bering Strait, a land bridge that originally linked Siberia and Alaska. For 14,000 years, ancient people allegedly took advantage of this natural highway and spread throughout North and South America. Find out more about how the early settlers reportedly crossed the Bering Strait land bridge.

Bridge to better days

It is commonly believed that humans that were alive during the stone-age used the Bering Strait to migrate to the Americas. Apparently, when the ocean water receded, it revealed a land bridge that connected two continents – Asia and North America. After crossing the Bering Strait, newcomers were hit by a giant sheet of ice. This icy barrier blocked early people from accessing Alaska and Canada. The endless sheets of ice took approximately 13,000 years to defrost. This thawing process revealed a 900-mile-long strip of land that was free from ice. Supposedly, this is how the Native American Clovis culture developed throughout the Americas.

Yet, this immigration story has been distorted by recent evidence. According to researchers, migrants had occupied the land south of the sheets of ice long before the ancient corridor had developed. For example, there’s a very old settlement in Chile that proved that humans had already traveled to South America 15,000 years ago. In addition, there’s physical evidence that people had been hunting mammoth in the Florida area 14,500 years ago.

New evidence

Modern scientists have adopted a new theory to explain how settlers landed in North America. They utilized sediment cores and DNA analysis to rebuild the ice-free corridors’ landscape. Their findings proved that the corridor simply didn’t have enough natural resources to allow ancient people to safely make the crossing. According to evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev, “the bottom line is that even though the physical corridor was open by 13,000 years ago, it was several hundred years before it was possible to use it.” Willerslev continued, “that means that the first people entering what is now the US, Central and South America must have taken a different route. Whether you believe these people were Clovis, or someone else, they simply could not have come through the corridor, as long claimed.”

Researchers have discovered that the Bering Strait corridor used to be part of Glacial Lake Peace, which potentially blocked the path of early migrants. They couldn’t have waded through its depths, so they would’ve had to wait until the lake’s water receded. Scientists paid a visit to Glacial Lake Peace to analyze its sediment for clues of flora and fauna. They conducted “shotgun sequencing” tests to find out the age of animals and plants that had lived in the lakebed. Willerslev shared that, “Instead of looking for specific pieces of DNA from individual species, we basically sequenced everything in there, from bacteria to animals. It’s amazing what you can get out of this. We found evidence of fish, eagles, mammals, and plants.”

The coastal theory

Using this evidence, researchers were able to discredit their lake theory. Although they found evidence of life within the Glacial Lake Peace, plants and animals had only begun to flourish in that area 12,500 years ago. Therefore, it did not have enough food to sustain the humans who migrated to America 15,000 years ago.

Instead, researchers developed a new concept – the coastal theory. Apparently, the first humans traveled along the Pacific coast to set foot in the Americas, effectively avoiding the giant sheets of ice that dominated the land. Despite the effects of climate change, researchers are still rewriting the history of ancient migration through a coastal lense.