A closer look at the first settlers in the Americas

by Shirley Williams
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

The Americas are regarded as relatively new in terms of the history of mankind. While humanity is believed to have begun in Africa and migrated to other countries throughout Asia and Europe there is some debate as to how life reached the Americas. There was a time when no humans were there so they must have arrived there from some other place at some other time. When did life reach the Americas and how? A new study is putting the starting pieces of the answer together.

The key to understanding life in the Americas relies on understanding the last Ice Age. You must first understand that the world looked entirely different between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago. The world was covered in much more ice than it is today. For example, North America was covered in a layer of permafrost. Sea levels were therefore much lower as much of the oceans were frozen as well. In fact, it was possible to walk from the edge of what is now Russia right across to modern-day Alaska. This is because there was a frozen land bridge in place. 

- Advertisement -

The land bridge was roughly the size of Texas so it was not so much a bridge as it was a giant mass of land. It was called Beringia. It is believed that people moved from Siberia, over Beringia, and into the Americas in search of food. These were likely the first people to set foot inside the Americas. The indigenous Native Americans and Inuits of the North are the most closely related to these people. This has bothered scientists for a long time as based on genetic studies there is a clear difference between the people of Eastern Asia and the Native American people.

However, new information now suggests that there were large ice sheets in place at the edge of Beringia that stopped people from migrating to North America straight away. It is believed that settlers may have stopped there for 10,000 years allowing them to form their own genetic composition and forming the indigenous American people we are familiar with today. 

There is some debate as to whether there was one large migration to America or many smaller migrations. The leading science suggests that there were actually many migrations to Beringia throughout the 10,000 years that have created some genetic complexity of the people who migrated from there but that there was one large migration to the Americas from there, creating somewhat of a similarity. In fact, 80% of Native Americans descend from the Clovis people, the main group of people that came from Beringia.

These Clovis people are believed to have migrated all the way down to South America too and many indigenous people are linked back to that migration. However, that does not tell the full story. There are some records of people in South America that date back to a similar time when the ice sheets were only starting to melt and historians believe that it would not have been possible to migrate that far south in those conditions. This leads them to believe that there were other migrations by boat taking place at a similar time although there is no proof of this. The genetic makeup of some tribes does indicate that they may have links to the people of Australia, Papa New Guinea, and the Andaman Islands. 

It is amazing to think about these lines of migration and how they led to the populations of the indigenous people around the world today. This is all without thinking of the later migrations of European settlers who tried to colonize these worlds. The first people who arrived in the Americas likely didn’t realize what a vast and impressive set of continents they were embarking upon.

More history for you