Native Americans traveling by boat

By Land or Sea? The Heated Debate on the Peopling of the Americas Continues…


Researchers should always be ready for the next big discovery, they never know where it may come from. Having an open mind and questioning peculiar finds is what sets things in motion. Take for example the increasingly common perspective that the first people in the Americas came by boat. For one researcher, it all started with a bathroom break and an unlikely discovery on Cedros Island in Mexico.

According to the magazine Science, Matthew Des Lauriers was a graduate student at the University of California in 2004 when he came across some stone tools and shells that didn’t fit in with the other artifacts scattered about the landscape of the mountainous island believed to have been inhabited for the past 1500 years. Scooping up some shells and charcoal, he sent a sample of the out of place items for radiocarbon dating – and it came back with an unexpected date - from 11,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Matthew Des Lauriers turns a beach cobble into a stone tool like one used by people who lived on Cedros Island nearly 13,000 years ago

Matthew Des Lauriers turns a beach cobble into a stone tool like one used by people who lived on Cedros Island nearly 13,000 years ago. (Lizzie Wade)

While it used to be common thought that the first travelers into the Americas crossed over the Bering Strait on foot, more and more studies are questioning that idea. The emerging view now suggests that ancient maritime travelers set out from Beringia about 16,000 years ago, and within just 1500 years their followers had ended up all the way down the Pacific coast to modern day Chile.

Although the discoveries Des Lauriers and others have made in the recent past show that people were already settled along the coast soon after the (mostly) agreed upon date for the first peopling of the Americas, they are not believed to have provided enough proof for the trip beginning by boat –critics, such as David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University, say it simply suggests boats were used after crossing the land bridge.

The Beringia Land Bridge. Did the earliest people entering the Americas trek this or pass by it in their boats?

The Beringia Land Bridge. Did the earliest people entering the Americas trek this or pass by it in their boats? (CC BY SA 3.0)

Where could that cold, hard proof (possibly) be found? Along the Alaskan and Canadian coast. As David Meltzer has said, "All eyes are on the coast." So now researchers are searching for evidence along, and under, the waters at ‘the gateway to the Americas.’

The belief in big game hunters and Clovis-first that were so prominent are now falling by the wayside as recent discoveries and improved dating techniques show time and again that the old picture doesn’t quite fit with the new information.

For example, a recent analysis of human skulls provides evidence that the Americas were not just populated by one wave of migration – in fact, researchers have said that it took several migrations of ancient Asians and possibly Australian or Polynesian people to populate the Americas thousands of years ago.

Even more surprising, research presented in April 2017 about an Ice Age site in San Diego, California proposes people were already in the Americas 130,000 years ago. The evidence for that extreme date comes from a trove of ancient bones that were apparently modified by early humans.

If that’s not enough, other researchers are continually pressing that the whole Bering Strait, people spreading down from North America belief is just not right. They sometimes present evidence in the form of unconventional dates for sites and artifacts or surprising inscriptions to support the belief that it may not have started up north.

Others say that the mainstream theory of how the Americas were populated is downright biologically unviable.

Rock paintings at Pedra Furada, Brazil.

Rock paintings at Pedra Furada, Brazil. (CC BY SA 4.0) Many alternative researchers have looked to South America for the peopling of the Americas. Could it be true?

There are obviously still many missing pieces to this puzzle. The story of the first people in the Americas is always transforming and little by little we seem to be getting closer to the real story. While some ideas are certainly more controversial than others, that doesn’t mean researchers should take the easy route…our prehistoric ancestors almost certainly did not.

Top image: Native Americans traveling by boat (public domain)

By Alicia McDermott

Comments

My compliments on a very well done article. It is possible that many of the”first people” in North America did indeed arrive by boat from Beringia, following the edge of the ice sheet which existed at that time. Groups of paleo-indians who were not only adjusted to, but thrived in the bone chilling  temperatures of the Northern Latitudes would have no problem moving Southward with the North Pacific Current aiding them in their travels.

But, to believe that humans, a race that advances through it’s innate curiosity and sense of adventure, came only by means of boats, would be a gross oversimplification. With a land bridge available at the time, it seems very likely that many other groups, such as hunters, would have chosen a method more familiar to them...walking.

We may never know many of the details of North Americas first people, but so long as we approach the subject with open minds, and without pre-concieved notions, we are bound to discover things which will shed new light on who we are and where we came from.

R. Lee Bowers

Charles Bowles, this article discusses the means of migration and transportation of the Asian/Beringian migration wave to the Americas. That's quite independent of skin color or ethnicity. It's topic is not if or when black people came to the Americas. So I'll get a little off topic too, since I do not like sloppy arguments and research.
I agree, that 'First Americans' is a misleading name for paleo indian people. I agree, that there is some evidence that there were earlier migration waves to America. The one that is assumed to have taken place at about 35000-45000 years BCA would have consisted of black people. There, happy now?
But ... there are even clues that Homo erectus/Neanderthals/a.s.o. were there before the earliest Homo sapiens. I wouldn't be surprised if Homo habilis once settled in America. They got to Flores and there are some locations in the Americas where very old pebble tools were found. The evidence for pre-sapiens migrations to America is scarce and it is not solid enough for an accepted hypothesis. That may change over the times - or not.
Luzia is one of the oldest American skeletons. It should be mentioned, that anthropologists described her as resembling Indigenous Australians, Melanesians, Negroids, or Negritos. Please, don't just pick the possibility you like and drop all others.
While Luzia might be an argument for an African contribution in the settlement of the Americas, Naia with her mutation, that was only typical for the Asian inhabitants of Beringia isn't.
Oh, there is a hypothesis, that Luzia's people migrated by boat via the Kurile Islands.
You can't use the Olmec stone heads while discussing ice age migrations. While it is true that an Egyptian/Nubian influence is possible or even likely and the culture was the first Mesoamerican urban civilization, it is a bronze age culture not older than 1600–1500 BCE - much too young to serve in an argument of 'who was first'.
Personally, I don't think that kind of argument has any merit. While of some scientific interest, it does not matter in the long run. It is much more important which peoples had the most cultural and genetic impact.

Let's get on topic again: Transport during ice age migration to America. The repetition of an off topic or faulty argument does not strengthen it. You deny the possibility of seafaring in arctic waters under primitive conditions when the cultures and livelihood of at least two arctic peoples surviving from the ice age revolved around it? Do you ignore the existence of Unangan and Inuit? Please be serious.
By the way, where did you get the impression, that the Pacific was clogged with ice during the last glacial maximum? It wasn't. Due to the Beringia Land bridge the cold arctic Oyashio Current was shut down and the North Pacific Ocean was much warmer than the Atlantic Ocean. There was probably not even seasonal shelf ice. The water temperatures at the Beringia and Alaska Coast during the last glacial maximum were between 0 and -2°C. Much too warm for saltwater to freeze. Yes, 'fossil' water temperature can be detected from the oxygen isotope ratio cycles of fossil organisms with calcite shells. There are some old maps that show shelf ice in the North Pacific, but they are outdated. The Atlantic Ocean on the other hand was clogged with ice. The Gulf Stream was severely weakened and much slower at that time. It had not the impact it has now. Therefore there was extensive shelf ice that made it possible to walk from Doggerland to Greenland and North America over the shelf ice - or paddle along the rim.

BRIDGET,  I STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH YOUR ATTEMPT TO DEFINE THE RACE OF BLACK PEOPLE.    IN ONE OF YOUR COMMENTS YOU DEMONSTRATED TO ME THAT YOU BELIEVE THAT INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS (BLACK ABORIGINES), MELANESIAN’S (PAPUA NEW GUINEANS), NEGROIDS AND NEGRITOS ARE NOT ALL BLACK PEOPLE.   IT SEEM TO ME THAT YOU BELIEVE THAT BECAUSE BLACK “JARAWA”WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF THE INDIAN NICOBAR/ANDAMAN ISLANDS, AS WELL AS THE PHILIPPINE ATE’S (NEGRITO), AUSSIE BLACK ABORIGINE, PAPUA NEW GUINEA (PNG), THAILAND BLACK “MANI”, MALAYSIA BLACK ORANG ASLI DON’T SHARE THE SAME DNA AS THEIR BLACK AFRICAN BROTHERS/SISTERS, THAT THEY ARE NOT OF THE BLACK RACE he he he.   HELL, ALL BLACK AFRICANS DON’T EVEN HAVE THE SAME DNA WHICH IS WHY NIGERIANS, MALIANS, SENEGALESE, TOGOLESE WHO ALL LIVE IN CLOSE VICINITY CAN BE DIFFERENTIATED AMONG THEMSELVES.     SO THEREFORE, WOULDN’T IT MAKE LOGICAL SENSE THAT BLACK ASIATICS AND OCEANICS WOULD HAVE AN EVEN WIDER DNA DIFFERENCE THAN BLACK AFRICANS, ESPECIALLY SINCE IT IS ASSUMED THAT MANY OF THE OUT OF AFRICA BLACKS LEFT THERE MORE THAN 60,000 YEARS AGO he he he.   ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD BELIEVE THAT BLACK, 100% NEGROID, WOOLLY HAIRED PEOPLE WITH DISTINCT NEGROID PHENOTYPE ARE NOT BLACK, JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE RESIDED THOUSANDS OF  MILES APART FOR APPROXIMATELY SIX (6) MILLENNIUMS (60,000 YEARS)   DON’T YOU KNOW THAT DNA DOES NOT DEFINE RACES OF PEOPLE, AND THAT DNA MUTATES ITSELF IN DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS WHICH PRODUCES “MORPHOLOGICAL PHENOTYPE’S”, AND THAT IS WHAT DEFINES RACES OF PEOPLE, AND NOT NO DAMN “DNA” ALONE.   IT IS MY BELIEF THAT THE PALEO/AMERICANS WERE INDEED BLACK WHICH YOU SORT OF AGREE, WHICH I AM VERY SURPRISED.  BUT YOU DID NOT SURPRISE ME WHEN YOU TRIED TO SEPARATE BLACK PEOPLE INTO ABORIGINE, MELANESIA,  NEGROID, AND NEGRITO CATEGORIES AS BEING DIFFERENT.    BY THE WAY, YES THEY ARE DIFFERENT BY THE FACT THAT THERE ARE DIFFERENCES IN ALL RACES OF PEOPLE.   PEOPLE IN THAILAND, CAMBODIA, LAOS, VIETNAM DON’T LOOK THE SAME AS JAPANESE, KOREANS, AND NORDIC WHITES DON’T LOOK THE SAME AS SOUTHERN EUROPEANS, AND THOSE LITTLE SMALL NATIVES OF HONDURAS WHO WEAR THE LITTLE SMALL DERBY’S, WEARS A POUCH OVER THE TOP OF THEIR BODIES AND SMOKES A PIPE, DON’T LOOK LIKE THE THE AMERICAN SO-CALL NATIVE RED MAN.   BUT FOR SOME RACIST REASON, IT APPEARS THAT BLACK PEOPLE HAVE TO ALL LOOK ALIKE IN ORDER TO BE CALLED BLACK BY RACIST PEOPLE WHO TRY TO COME ACROSS AS BEING FAIR MINDED AND EDUCATED, WHEN THEY POST SOME OF THE MOST DUMBEST  REMARKS, AND THINK THAT INTELLIGENT PEOPLE ARE TO JUST SIT AROUND AND APPROVE OF THEIR STUPIDITY.     AGAIN, I KNOW THAT BLACK OLMEC’S WERE NOT THE FIRST PEOPLE TO ARRIVE IN THE AMERICAS, BUT ALL SCIENTISTS AGREE THAT THEY WERE THE FIRST PEOPLE TO BUILD CIVILIZATIONS IN MESOAMERICA.    ALSO, I DO KNOW THAT BEYOND ANY DOUBT IN MY MIND AND OTHERS, THAT A BLACK OLMEC CARVED WITH AN WOOLLY AFRO WHICH IS ON DISPLAY IN THE NATIONAL MUSEUM IN TUXTECA, MEXICO IS A BLACK OLMEC MAN, AND THAT THERE ARE NO PSEUDO INTELLECTUAL “NONWHITE” PERSON CAN CONVINCE ME OF THEIR LIES AND DECEIT ABOUT WHAT IS BLACK AND THAT WHICH IS SOMETHING ELSE.     REMEMBER, THIS FACT, WHICH IS (1) DNA DOES NOT DEFINE  RACE (2) NEGROID, NEGRITO, MELANESIAN (PNG), AUSSIE INDIGENOUS BLACK PEOPLE ARE SIMPLY ALL “NEGROID PEOPLE” WHO DON’T LOOK EXACTLY ALIKE, SAME AS SWEDES DON’T LOOK LIKE ANCIENT GREEKS, TURKS, UBEKISTANI’S, IRANIANS, IRAQI’S, YET THEY ARE ALL CONSIDERED CAUCASOID’S.    ALSO DARK SOUTHEAST ASIANS AND LIGHTER SKIN NORTH ASIANS ARE ALL CLASSIFIED AS "MONGOLOIDS” NO MATTER THE DIFFERENCES.    SOME OF YOU PEOPLE ARE BECOMING SO RACIST AND IGNORANT WHEN IT COMES TO DISCUSSING BLACK CIVILIZATIONS, AND ALWAYS ATTEMPTING TO LIE ABOUT BLACK WORLD CONTRIBUTIONS, UNTIL IT IS MEANINGLESS TO KEEP RESPONDING TO THIS IGNORANCE...LATER

Charles Bowles

ALL EVIDENCE SHOWS BEYOND ANY DOUBT THAT THE FIRST AMERICANS WERE INDEED BLACK PEOPLE.  LUZIA, AND NAIA WERE BOTH CLASSIFIED AS NEGROID BY SOME OF THE WORLDS TOP ANTHROPOLOGISTS/ARCHAEOLOGISTS, AND THEIR SKELETAL REMAINS DATE BACK  TO THE PERIOD OF THE “ICE AGE” WHEN TRAVEL WAS UNVIABLE FROM EUROPE.ASIA TO THE AMERICAS.   THE MANY OLMEC NEGROID FACIAL SCULPTURES THAT EXISTS IN MANY PARTS OF MEXICO, AND MANY OTHER ARTIFACTS OF NEGROID PEOPLE WITH AFRO, AND AFRICAN CORNROW AND BRAIDED HAIR, AS WELL AS WEST AFRICAN FACIAL SCARIFICATIONS IN THEIR TERRACOTTA SCULPTURED FORM LEAVES ME WITH NO DOUBT THAT THE FIRST AMERICAN CIVILIZATIONS WERE OF PURE 100% NEGROID RACIAL DESCENT.   FOOLS CAN ARGUE,AND INTELLIGENT PEOPLE CAN LISTEN, BUT THAT KIND OF RHETORIC WILL NEVER CHANGE THE FACTS ABOUT WHAT EXISTS TODAY IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL/ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENTIFIC CIRCLES…..LATER

Charles Bowles

It was not impossible to travel in a small boat from Asia to America during an ice age.
The first kind of seafaring followed the coasts and for a maritime people adapted to an arctic environment the shelf ice's rim was as good as a coast. The Inuit hunted in arctic waters, the Unangan did as well, both with seaworthy boats covering hundreds of kilometers. They did it for thousands of years using a stoneage technology.
Since the Unangan and Inuit were able to pull off such feats, there is no reason to assume, that the cold adapted ancient Paleoindians weren't. Looking at the distribution of the R1b Haplogroup in Europe and Northamerica there is even some evidence, that ancient european people living in Doggerland did the same and paddled merrily along the shelf ice's rim to North America.
I won't rule out an early passage across the Atlantic, but that didn't leave much genetic evidence for sure.

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