The Peopling of the Americas
Theories of First People’s Origins
The Peopling of the Americas
• What different views exist regarding origins?
• What are traditional archaeological theories of
• How are these archaeological theories being
• What are some of the ethical concerns in
researching origins?
Two Views of Origins:
• Before 1990 archaeologists and historians agreed the
first inhabitants came from Asia across the Bering Strait
when sea levels were lower (~13 500 years BP)
• Since 1990 many questions surfaced contradicting this
theory: Shared plant life, structures, diversity of native
languages and so on fostered this questioning
Two Views of Origins: Aboriginal
• Many First Peoples see Canada as their
• They believe they have been here since “Time
• Aboriginal creation stories vary, but share one
thing in common – Aboriginal peoples have no
bond with any other place
Gathering Archaeological Evidence
• Archaeologists use artifacts as evidence to help
understand past societies
• Artifacts can deteriorate with age therefore the method
known as radiocarbon dating is used
• This process measures the age of carbon in artifacts and
therefore tells how old an artifact is
• Tools, utensils and weapons are all artifacts
archaeologists use to learn many things about the way
people lived
Gathering Evidence
• Evidence of Paleo-Indian is found in their
unique tools
• DNA analysis is now being used, however is
quite expensive
• The earliest evidence came in the form of spear
• Style of spear points determined age and culture
Traditional Archaeological Theory:
The Clovis Period
• 11 500 – 11 000 BP
• Many researchers believe hunters used spears to
hunt some mammals into extinction
• Archaeologists believed in this model so much
they virtually stopped digging any deeper
Traditional Archaeological Theory:
The Plano Period
• 10 000 – 7 000 years BP
• Large mammals like the camel and mammoth
disappeared around this time
• During this time the Plano peoples – descendants
of Paleo-Indian began hunting bison
• Change in spear and arrowhead design came with
the Plano peoples
Linguistic Evidence
• Archaeology does not provide all the answers
• Linguistics show how language of cultures
evolves over time
• Language can explain culture, its interrelations
and its differences
Linguistic Evidence
• Linguistics shows that the more diversity there is
in language – the more time has passed
• North America is one of the most linguistically
diverse areas suggesting that First Peoples arrived
here long before the Clovis period
Physical Anthropology
• Study past by examining human remains
(“CSI Historians”)
• Believe there were several migrations of
people to the Americas
• They also believe early peoples came from
different places at different times
Theories of First People’s Origins:
The Land Route
Geologists believe during the
last Ice Age (Pleistocene Era)
sea levels were lower across
the Bering Strait (between
Alaska and East Asia)
It is widely believed that
many peoples may have
migrated across this land
bridge into N.A. between 13
500 – 50 000 years BP
Theories of First People’s Origins:
The Land Route
• Geologists believe that during the last Ice Age, called the Pleistocene Era, sea
levels were lower across the Bering Strait than they are today.
• A vast grassy plain called Beringia, or land bridge linked what is now called
Siberia with Alaska.
• It is believed that at least 13,500-50,000 years ago early peoples migrated
across to North America.
• Similar fossils discovered on both continents prove that large grazing animals –
bison, caribou, horses, mammoths and musk oxen migrated across. Early
peoples probably followed the herds of animals.
• A stone tool radiocarbon dated 10200 BP makes it possible that a Pacific
Coastal route was taken.
• BP – Before Present
Theories of First People’s Origins:
The Pacific Route
• This theory suggests people first came to N.A. by
watercraft over the Pacific Ocean
• Fossil evidence in the Northwest Coast of sea and land
wildlife suggests there were enough natural resources for
people to survive
• There has been little archaeological exploration in this
area due to the belief it was covered by glaciers
Theories of First People’s Origins:
The Pacific Route
• Suggests that the First Peoples crosses the Pacific
by watercraft.
• Fossil evidence of sea and land mammals and
other wildlife dated 16800 years BP has been
found along the Northwest Coast
• May have inhabited South America first then
moved on to North America
• Genetic links
Theories of First People’s Origins:
An Atlantic Route
• Both land bridge and Pacific theories are challenged by
researchers who argue that early Asians didn’t have
technology that matched those of the Clovis period
• They’ve found evidence showing more similarities to
technology used along the Northern coast of Spain
• There is also DNA evidence linking Aboriginals to
Europeans and not Asians
• This suggests First Peoples may have come across the
Theories of First People’s Origins:
An Atlantic Route
• Clovis projectile points are more similar to
Solutrean points – found 16500-22000 years BP
where what is now the Northern Coast of Spain.
• Solutrean – an ancient culture of Western Europe
dating from 21000- 18000 years ago
• Genetic markers linking Aboriginal Peoples to
Europeans but not to Asians
A combination of all three
theories would explain the
diversity of the First
Peoples of the Americas.

The Peopling of the Americas