- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006


ST. LOUIS — It has long been thought that the arrival of the first modern humans to America was an epic ice-age hike across a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska, then a dash between glaciers covering the west and east of Canada.

But recent evidence questions that the first arrivals to the hemisphere migrated only by foot, if they walked at all. Instead, evidence is growing that they paddled, or floated, much of the way, perhaps via the Atlantic as well as the Pacific.

“The coastal-migration theory has yet to be proven with hard evidence, but we have been finding earlier and more widespread evidence for coastal settlement around the Pacific Rim,” said anthropologist Jon Erlandson, speaking during the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

His team shows how migration routes might have followed giant kelp forests growing along Pacific Rim coastlines even in the deepest freeze of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago.

On the East Coast, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has seen strong evidence that sea-mammal hunters living on Europe’s edge reached the New World in numbers sufficient to start colonies 5,000 years or more before any land bridge might have existed.

“The objection has been that people living in the far north couldn’t have gotten across the Atlantic because they didn’t have boats; that they didn’t venture out into the ocean ice. But they did have boats, and if they were anything like those the Eskimos have been using for thousands of years, some of the boats could carry 18 to 20 adults hundreds of miles,” Mr. Stanford said.

The discoveries reflect change in the way researchers are studying prehistoric culture, turning to colleagues who have expertise in everything from ancient climate and prehistoric animals to ecology.

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