The Americas – The First Human Settlement


Archaeologists are not in agreement over when the first humans occupied the Americas. However, they do agree that they crossed the Bering Land Bridge.

Archaeologists are not in agreement over the approximate time earliest immigrants crossed the Bering Land Bridge. They are, however, in agreement that this was the way the first immigrants came. There are two theories: the Pre-Clovis hypothesis and the Clovis hypothesis.

The first theory is the theory of the minority and hypothesizes that the Americas were first colonised some time during the Wisconsin glaciation, as early as 40,000 years ago. The Clovis hypothesis says that the first inhabitants of the Americas was much later – perhaps 20,000 years ago, during the Late Ice Age. Some people believe that settlement took place at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation – around 13,000 BC. Unfortunately, no human remains or remains of human manufacture have been found which can test these hypotheses.

The Pre-Clovis Theory

There is very little evidence to support the Pre-Clovis theory. Sites which had been formerly dated to pre-13,000 BC are often found to be much younger when modern dating methods and equipment are used. There is possibly evidence to be found for the Pre-Clovis theory in Mesoamerica and Latin America. The Bosqueira of Pedro Furado in Brazil could possibly be dated to 28,000 BC; however, there is scepticism as to whether the site was man-made in the first place.

Monte Verde in Chile has been radiocarbon-dated to between 11,000 and 10,500 BC. This site is exceptionally well preserved due to being buried under a peat bog. This site is the best evidence available for pre-Clovis human occupation in the Americas. There are levels below those already excavated, where it is thought the tools and debris may be from 33,000 years ago.

The First Alaskans

The first Alaskans appear to date from about 10,000 BC and evidence has been found at Bluefish Caves in the Yukon. Confirmation of the presence of humans in Alaska can be found at Mesa where temporary hunting camps have been dated to between 7850 and 9600 BC. Broken Mammoth, Mead and Swan Point sites, date to as early as 9700 BC. Remains of swans, bison, elk and geese have been found here, suggesting an ice-free corridor with plenty of water.

Dry Creek has been excavated on two levels. The first dating to around 9700 BC, contains cobble and flake tools, broken blades and thin bifacial knives and points. The second level dates to about 8700 BC and it is here that microblades and other artifacts have been found.

It is thought that with global warming, many Ice Age big game became extinct. This meant that the peoples of Alaska had to adapt to a different climate, different economy and different lifestyle. These factors account for the many different types of toolkits which have been excavated.


Anthropologists have highlighted biological similarities between the Siberians and the North American Indians. It has been confirmed that the same dental morphology exists in both northern Asians and Native Americans. It is thought that the Chinese population started to move into Northern America around 12,000 BC and slowly moved southwards. The ancient Athabaskan and Eskimo-Aleut populations did not move southwards. The southward movement was made difficult because of the two massive glaciers which almost covered the northern part of North America.

Although there was a corridor between the two ice sheets in most areas, this would have been a very harsh environment. The other possible route southwards, was down the coasts but any evidence is now submerged under the sea. The earliest evidence is 10,000-8,000 BC on Queen Charlotte Islands. Molecular biologists believe that all Native Americans are descended from a single group from Eastern Siberia and Beringia. Meadowcroft rock shelter is the only proven evidence of human occupation south of the glaciers and is dated to 10,000 BC or possibly 17,000 BC.

More digging needed

Substantially more research is needed to discover exactly when the colonisation of the New World occurred. It is known that it was peopled 12,000 years ago, but when did they arrive?