The First Americans May Not Have Come Over the Bering Land Bridge After All

A new book on anthropological genetics shakes up what we thought we knew about the first Americans. Instead of crossing by foot over the Bering Land Bridge, (a theory known as the Clovis hypothesis), geneticist Jennifer Raff suggests that early settlers in to the Americas likely came via what is known as the Kelp Highway. This is also called the coastal route theory.

Kelp Highway hypothesis: no Bering Land Bridge

Archaeologist Jon Erlandson first developed the Kelp Highway hypothesis. It evolved from a similar theory about the early human settlement of Australia, Melanesia and Japan, which eventually expanded into Russia and Alaska. Eventually, these longtime Beringians traveled along a Pacific coastal route to settle in the Americas.

Erlandson’s hypothesis suggests that these ancestral peoples found their way to Chile and California’s Channel Islands at least 14,500 and 13,000 years ago, respectively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that those locations were the initial entry points for inward migration into the Americas — just that human activity at those sites predates any known activity further inland.

Erlandson posits that settlers used dense seaweed forests to survive and navigate their surroundings. The kelp forests along the Pacific Rim once flourished far beyond today’s patches. Those vast swaths of kelp would have made for easier and safer travel, as the nutrient-dense sea vegetable not only fosters an abundance of edible sea life, it dampens waves in the same way that swimming pool lanes do — important for those primitive, vulnerable boats.

Overall, prehistoric coastlines were much more hospitable to survival than inland areas, which featured harsher weather, more challenging terrain, and less food than the always abundant ocean.

A depiction of migration patterns according to the Kelp Highway hypothesis. Image: National Geographic

Migration patterns according to the Kelp Highway hypothesis. Image: National Geographic

 

Coastal Route theory and the Americas

In her book Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas, Raff combines data supporting the Kelp Highway hypothesis with information from archaeological digs, genetics, and linguistics. She argues that the Bering Strait was a homeland, not a passageway. People inhabited it for thousands of years, first brought by coastal walkers from western Melanesia and Japan.

“Beringia…was a place where people lived for many generations, sheltering from an inhospitable climate and slowly evolving the genetic variation unique to their Native American descendants.” she wrote.

Summation of migration patterns according to global Coastal Migration theory. Image: Science Mag

Migration patterns according to Kelp Highway or Coastal Migration theory. Image: Science Mag

 

Two critical pieces of evidence “strongly suggest” that when various groups in Beringia began migrating, they did so along the coast rather than inland.

First, Raff points out, coastal America was open by 16,000 years ago, whereas the ice-free corridor between the two ice sheets wasn’t a viable route until about 12,500 years ago. Second, the populations split so swiftly — almost instantaneously, according to their genetics. This fits more closely with southward migration by boat rather than overland.

She admits, however, that we are still beginning our journey of understanding the multi-pronged outreach of humanity from our African beginnings.

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
21 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
chris
chris
2 months ago

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-bones-spark-fresh-debate-over-first-humans-in-the-americas/

Its likely that humans were in the americas LONG before what is “established” fact… Sadly racism, ego and pride has kept what is likely the truth suppressed.

Jmaf
Jmaf
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

Scientist aren’t “suppressing truth” for racism. This theory that humans were here earlies is based on the finding of mammoth bones that look like they could have been broken by humans. No hard physical evidence (ie human bones) supporting the presence of humans was found at the site so it is a stretch theory at best. To be fair, other than the continued propagation of the false paradigm that the “system” is unfair, I don’t see what this has to do with racism at all.

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  Jmaf

You sure? One can look at recent covid events and see a clear suppression of evidence by so called scientist’s…
And to admit that the first people in the america’s didnt come from Asia would be hugely political and racism has everything to do with why much of the evidence is ignored.
Heck even things like “indigenous day” would change..
Perhaps this is an American concept lost on foreigners

Last edited 2 months ago by chris
C K
C K
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

You seem to be conflating several different controversial migration theories. The article you linked is about a site in California, and the authors have proposed an earlier out-of-Asia migration. But the comment about racism seems to be referencing the Solutrean Hypothesis, about Europeans arriving to the east coast of the Americas as the earliest migration. The largest resistance to both of those theories comes not from racism, ego, or pride, but from a lack of supporting evidence uncovered since the controversial theories were suggested. It is certainly possible that humans arrived much earlier than the timeline as proposed in the… Read more »

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  C K

I did not cite any theory. I simply linked an article that shows what very well may be earlier evidence of human occupation than what is currently accepted. And the lack of “evidence” is a really a lack of support amongst the scientific community to embrace the evidence there is. This is because few want to float the idea that the first humans in the america’s came from Europe rather than Asia. If you dont realize why this is then you are likely not American and dont understand the implications of such things on American society- like the whole “indigenous… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by chris
C K
C K
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

Let’s address these one by one, because you’ve just thrown out a whole string of questionable claims and included zero links to research or sources: -“And I say its likely for several reasons- the fact that clovis technology was lost” I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make stating that clovid technology was lost. This is interesting research about the short window of time that these artifacts were found and dated to, but how does that support any theory of humans arriving >100,000 years before? https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aaz0455 -the fact that vikings did indeed come to north America before Columbus What… Read more »

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  C K

clovis technology disapeared and we have no idea why- yet you seem to think that we fully understand who came here first.. Right.. It was long established “science” that vikings never came to North America… Until it was proven they did… Yet you seem to think that we fully understand who came here first… right The evidence of earlier habitation is only “controversial” is your ego, pride and racist thinking gets in the way of reviewing plausible theory’s based on actual evidence of human habitation. Being called a white supremicist if you say Europeans may have been here first is… Read more »

C K
C K
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

I’d be thrilled with compelling evidence of earlier human migrations, but nothing I’ve seen so far has been enough to convince me that the timeline could be as early as 100,000 years ago. Stating past examples of when science updated hypotheses is not a valid argument for why your hypothesis is correct. From the article you posted: “Together with the discovery of some stone points that resemble spikes that are only known from the Solutré region of France, these puzzles have given rise to some pretty wild theories that the first Americans actually reached America by crossing the Atlantic Ocean.… Read more »

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  C K

“Where in any of my posts do I claim we fully understand anything? You’re the only one who seems “so sure” of anything. ” “I’d be thrilled with compelling evidence of earlier human migrations, but nothing I’ve seen so far has been enough to convince me that the timeline could be as early as 100,000 years ago.” Your first sentence..You dismiss any idea that humans were here earlier than what is currently accepted “science.” Hard to be open to new ideas when you shut down any new theory. Even when there is evidence to support such a theory- but you dismiss… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by chris
chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  C K

“If there really were humans here 100,000-120,000+ years ago, why have only two controversial studies found archeological evidence?”

The ending of the last glacier period lines up with when the “first” remains of human habitation that is currently accepted are found. Seems plausible that the presence of the ice age, a lack of much population, and time have destroyed much of the evidence that may well have existed..

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  C K
Peter Flynn
Peter Flynn
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

You criticize science articles which is fair enough, but your only source is the communist Guardian which spews nothing but anti white racism on a daily basis. You need to broaden your horizons.

chris
chris
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Flynn

I have no clue what you are talking about. I dont live in the UK. Perhaps inform me about this “anti white racisim” ???

Kathy
Kathy
1 month ago
Reply to  chris

The discussion between C.K. and Chris was fascinating . So nice to see disagreement that doesn’t unravel into insults.
Thank you both

Kathy
Kathy
1 month ago
Reply to  chris

Although I agree with much of C.K’s statements,
Chris is right about one thing.
Some of the resistance to new ideas by scientists is rational. In the past new ideas proposed by female scientists has often been dismissed, of course.
Theories have to adjust to new data. Those who are invested in the old theories often do not give updated ones a fair shake.

But Chris certainly has to do some reading on phenotypes. He/she has a lot of misconceptions about “race”.

Kathy
Kathy
1 month ago
Reply to  Kathy

Oops. I meant “not rational”.

JRog
JRog
2 months ago

This still seems like a hell of a long way to go for the aborigine people.

Tara
Tara
2 months ago
Reply to  JRog

They had a lot of time to move.

JRog
JRog
2 months ago
Reply to  Tara

True, but there is a much more direct route.

Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  JRog

How so? And why do you think that humans would be less able to cross and settle the America’s versus the also lengthy Eurasia?

Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

Americas, sorry. Autocorrect.