The First Americans

Over thousands of years, people spread out from Africa into Europe and Asia. Long before the invention of farming, the wheel or writing, the first hunters reached Beringia. Beringia is a modern name for a strip of land that once connected Asia to Alaska in North America.

The current evidence suggests the first humans crossed this “land bridge" at least 40,000 years ago and perhaps even earlier.




Asia and America have been separated by the Bering Strait for about 15,000 years. The continents are now more than fifty miles apart, but at one time they were connected by a passage more than 1000 miles wide.

Beringia existed during the Ice Ages, periods when the climate of the earth was colder. During an Ice Age, precipitation that fell on land would harden into large masses of ice called glaciers. The forming of glaciers caused sea levels to fall about three hundred feet.

Scientists fear modern industry has made the earth warmer, causing ice at the Polar Regions to melt. These melting ice caps could cause the oceans to rise and coastal lands to be submerged.




Although the climate of Beringia was very cold, it appears to have been warmer than nearby land is today. Beringia was not covered with ice because there was very little snowfall in the region. Instead, Beringia was covered with grass and small trees that fed large mammals such as bears, bison and the now extinct wooly mammoths and mastodons. These animals attracted human hunters to the region. The hunters who crossed Beringia into America came in small groups beginning about 40,000 years ago.

The Inuit—traditionally known by outsiders as Eskimos—also reached America from Asia, but long after the land bridge had closed. The Inuit crossed the frigid waters of the Bering Strait in boats between 6000 and 2000BCE. Their DNA indicates that the Inuit are genetically unrelated to the other indigenous people of America.


Archaeologists are also intrigued with ancient skeletal remains found primarily in South America that do not fit the profile of the people who passed through Beringia. DNA evidence suggests that there may have been some migration to America from the Polynesian Islands of the Pacific, possibly by sailors who were blown off course.


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As the earth grew warmer, the glaciers melted and the land bridge slowly closed about 15,000 years ago—this was at least 9000 years before civilizations developed in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. Today more than 50 miles of ocean separates Asia from North America.

In 1947, adventurer Thor Heyerdahl constructed a raft using ancient technology. Heyerdahl and a crew of six sailed 3770 miles on the Kon-Tiki, named for an Inca god. Their 97-day journey took them from Peru to the island of Puka Puka. Heyerdahl’s voyage proved that it was possible for ancient sailors to travel the Pacific Ocean, but not that it actually occurred.

Resources

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Listen as Mr. Dowling reads this lesson.

Lexile Measure 1170L Mean Sentence Length 18.12
Mean Log Word Frequency 3.38 Word Count 453

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes
a section on Native Americans.



America Before Columbus - The coastline of Beringia

The approximate coastlines of Beringia during the Ice Age.












America Before Columbus - Hubbard Glacier
The Hubbard Glacier is in eastern Alaska and part of Yukon, Canada.












America Before Columbus - wolly mammoth
The wooly mammoth went extinct about 11,500 years ago, but these and other large mammals attracted hunters to the land bridge that led to North America. 













America Before Columbus - Kon-Tiki Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands.












Thor Heyerdahl Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (1914 – 2002) sailed 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in the Kon-Tiki. Heyerdahl’s expedition demonstrated that long sea voyages were possible in ancient times.




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To cite this page (MLA):

Dowling, Mike. "The First Americans," www.mrdowling.com. Updated July 21, 2016 . Web. Date of Access. <http://www.mrdowling.com/711firstamericans.html>

Copyright © 2016 by Mike Dowling. All rights reserved.
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