Languages spoken in North America and Siberia are distantly related. What does that tell us about the first Americans?
A few weeks ago, scientists announced an intriguing finding about the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. Previously, genetic analysis had indicated that they’d left Siberia to migrate across ancient Beringia (the strip of land that once connected Asia and what’s now Alaska) about 25,000 years ago, but the earliest evidence of human habitation on North America dates to 15,000 years ago.
In reconstructing the ancient Beringian environment, the researchers provided a new clue that could help explain this discrepancy. They drilled into the Bering Sea between Siberia and Alaska and recovered sediment cores, and found that they contained plant fossils and pollen from a wooded ecosystem. Such an ecosystem, the authors argue, would have been an ideal place for humans to live. And with ice covering much of Alaska, the ancestors of Native Americans needn’t have just strolled through Beringia, they suggested—they could have lived there for about 10,000 years before moving on. More.