Native American History: Origins of Early People in the Americas
- Track Progress
- 0:06 The Bering Land Bridge Theory
- 1:02 The Atlantic Theory
- 2:24 The Oceania Theory
- 3:25 Lesson Summary
Because the first humans and civilizations got their start in Africa and the Middle East, historians and anthropologists have had to figure out how Native Americans got to the Americas. In this lesson we look at the three prevailing theories of the earliest migration to the New World.
Many theories exist about how people first got to the Americas, but there are three really predominant theories: the oldest being the theory of the Bering Land Bridge and then, more recent in the last couple decades, are the Atlantic Theory and the Oceania Theory. There are others, but these are the three we're going to cover today.
The Bering Land Bridge Theory
The most commonly held is the Bering Land Bridge Theory. This has been at the forefront for over 50 years. Basically, the idea is that during the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago (or a little less), lower water levels created a frozen bridge of land. The first settlers of the Americas are believed to have come across this land bridge called Berengia. This theory has dominated for a long time, but there are other ideas discussing what may have brought the people who developed into native cultures.
Our next theories actually involve Boats. That's right, boats! It's probably hard to believe that Stone Age people were crossing the ocean, but people have actually tried to reproduce vessels with Stone Age tools, supplies and everything. It's important to remember, just because a modern human can build something with Stone Age tools, it doesn't mean that a Stone Age craftsman could have. These are all theories, but remember, these are theories that do have strong supportive evidence.
The first theory is the Atlantic Theory. The name kind of tells you that this is going to assume that people had to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Archeologists have found these specific, early spear points, originally found near Clovis, New Mexico. Being deemed Clovis Points, for a long time they were offered as evidence for the Land Bridge theory because similar points have been discovered in the area the around Beringia. It turns out, though, these spear points are very similar to points found in Europe, and the oldest example to be found in the Americas have actually been found in the Eastern U.S. This points to migration from Europe to the east of the Americas. This migration pattern would mean that the people who made these earliest spear points had to cross the Atlantic.
Now if people crossed the Atlantic, obviously, we need a theory of people crossing the Pacific! This is the Oceania Theory.
Anthropologists and linguists couldn't help but notice that the culture and languages of South America had oddly similar traits to those of Australia and Polynesia. This theory would also mean people would have had to use boats, but this time to cross the Pacific.
This journey would have been later than either of the other theories we discussed. The best evidence of this is the finding of the Kennewick Man. The 9,500-year old Kennewick skeletal remains were found in Washington State in the nineties. The features of the remains are in line with the Ainu, a native people of Hokkaido, Japan. Now, I don't really see the resemblance, but it may be the reconstruction's lack of facial hair! But seriously, this discovery is evidence of a tie to early Native American people from the Pacific Region.
So, there are three theories that we covered. The most evidence available makes the arrival of people across the Bering Land Bridge almost definite. There is also good evidence for the Atlantic Theory and Oceania Theory as well, but the evidence is far thinner. Many other theories exist, but what we know for sure is that people were in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus or the Vikings.
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Chapters in History 103: US History I
- 1. First Contacts (28,000 BCE-1821 CE) (7 lessons)
- 2. Settling North America (1497-1732) (11 lessons)
- 3. The Road to Revolution (1700-1774) (6 lessons)
- 4. The American Revolution (1775-1783) (10 lessons)
- 5. The Making of a New Nation (1776-1800) (12 lessons)
- 6. The Virginia Dynasty (1801--1825) (11 lessons)
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