The people occupied North America around 11,000 BC. BC, but the exact timeline of how early people first arrived on the continent is debatable. Two new studies suggest that humans lived in North America as early as 30,000 years ago – some earlier estimates by more than 15,000 years ago.
According to traditional narration, the first North Americans were big game hunters who crossed a land bridge connecting Asia with North America about 13,000 years ago. They left clear, fluted arrowheads, as well as bone and ivory tools called “Clovis” tools. “This narrative, known as ‘Clovis-first̵
Your new analysis shifts this date by several millennia. The study, “The Timing and Impact of Earliest Human Arrivals in North America”, published in the journal nature, examines radiocarbon and luminescence data from Beringia, a region that historically linked Russia, Alaska and North America. A statistical model built using this data shows that a significant human population lived on the continent long before the Clovis era. According to the study, these people were likely present before, during, and after the last Ice Age maximum – the time when ice sheets covered much of North America 26,000 to 19,000 years ago.
These results also contradict the land bridge theory. Instead of taking a simple trip from Asia to North America and populating the southern half of the continent as the Clovis had assumed, the first humans might have traveled to America by traveling along the Pacific coast. “These are paradigm-shifting results that shape our understanding of the initial spread of modern humans to America,” says Becerra-Valdivia. “They propose exciting and interesting opportunities for what is likely to be a complex and dynamic process.”
The second related study in nature“Evidence of human occupation in Mexico at the last glacier maximum” supports this new narrative. In it, researchers from institutes in Mexico, the UK and other countries share artifacts and environmental DNA discovered in the Chiquihuite Cave – a high-altitude cave in Zacatecas, central Mexico. The tools, plant remains and environmental DNA collected there paint a picture of human life that was created 13,000 to 30,000 years ago. The evidence shows that the site was more than just a stopping point and that the people who lived there had adapted to the altitude and the rugged mountain landscape.
The two studies not only offer insights into when the first North Americans came to the continent, but also who they were and how they lived. America would have looked very different to humans during the last glacier peak than it did to the Clovis millennia later. The fact that the first North Americans left far fewer artifacts than the Clovis shows that their population remained relatively small. “The people in the Chiquihuite Cave would have been exposed to the hardness of the last glacier maximum, the climax of the last Ice Age, which would have kept their population at a low density,” says Becerra-Valdivia. “In contrast, the Clovis peoples flourished well after the last Ice Age and expanded far across the continent in a time of globally warmer temperatures. Their ways of life and subsistence patterns would therefore have been very different. “