The first settlers sailed to North America by kayaking along the Bering Islands of the archipelago


Paleopographical Reconstruction of the Bering Transitory Archipelago Dobson et al. / Ezgif
Paleopographical Reconstruction of the Bering Transitory Archipelago Dobson et al. / Ezgif

U.S. and Italian researchers conducted retrospective mapping of the Bering Sea and recorded a previously undocumented global geographic site that existed 30,000 to 8,000 years ago. They called it the Bering Transitional Archipelago. His discovery allowed scientists to put forward a new hypothesis of settlement of North America, according to which the first settlers first settled on the islands of the archipelago, and then arrived in Alaska by kayak. The findings of geographers and oceanographers are published in Comptes Rendus-Geoscience.



The first assumptions about migration processes from Asia to North America via the Bering Sea were made back in 1590. Although the direction of the route is almost uncontroversial, there is no debate about how and when it happened. There are several models of settlement in America. The main disputes are a chronology, route patterns among the harsh glacial landscapes, and questions of the genetics of paleo-Americans. It is known that the mitochondrial DNA of American Indians is significantly different from the DNA of Asian natives. Geneticists believe that such differences require at least 15,000 years of isolated population existence. But the answer to the question of where the Regugium (separate habitat) could be without external relations until recently, was not.


Bering Sea Islands Jimmy Emerson / Flickr
Bering Sea Islands / Jimmy Emerson / Flickr

A team of American and Italian researchers led by Jerome Dobson of the University of Kansas published the findings from the retrospective mapping of the Bering Sea region. They have reconstructed landscape changes over the past 30,000 years, based on sea-level changes caused by the glacier, taking into account the deformations of the earth's crust and gravity. Scientists have compiled a series of 61 digital maps in a step in 500 years. They reflect the sea-level rise and fall and the corresponding changes in the land that took place during the melting and freezing of ice in the last glaciation. Sea level modeling revealed a large number of islands, which made up a huge archipelago, stretching for almost one and a half thousand kilometers.


Researchers have suggested that these islands may have become a kind of "step" for the first settlers moving from Asia to the east. Scientists believe that these could be communities that left traces in the Siberian river basin of Yana or coastal hunters of northern Japan. Leaving the mainland or near islands, travelers were in the archipelago with suitable conditions for life. They were allowed to stay on these lands by a vast food base - fish, marine animals, and nutritious algae. The islands of the archipelago existed without major changes between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago. This allowed their inhabitants to settle down, hone the skills necessary for survival and for sea travel: hunting, building shelters, and kayaks.


Innuit on a traditional walrus leather kayak National Museum of Denmark / Flickr
Innuit on a traditional walrus leather kayak / National Museum of Denmark / Flickr

About 20,000 years ago the flooding of the Western Isles began, 16,000 years ago it accelerated and 10,000 years ago only three tiny islands remained on the west coast, leaving the population of the archipelago cut off from the Asian continent. The resulting geographical isolation quite convincingly explains the appearance of differences in mitochondrial DNA of Asians and Indians. Between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, the number of islands in the eastern part of the Transitional Bering Archipelago began to decline rapidly and their inhabitants had to be evacuated. But since the western islands were already flooded, people had no choice but to go further east. The authors of the study believe that underwater archaeologists should look for the first settlements off the coast of Alaska at a depth of 90 meters, which corresponds to the sea level during migration.



The first Americans moved across the sea on fun kayaks, the frame of which was made of bone or wooden planks and covered with walrus skin. Such a boat could move at a speed of 5.6-8.3 kilometers per hour and make crossings for 24-36 hours. Thus, the ice-free coast of Alaska in the area of Cordoba and Yakutat Bay is quite achievable for a kayak from the nearest islands. The version of migration from Asia to America on the "support stones" of the archipelago seems to scientists more convincing than the prevailing theories over the years about the "deplification corridor" or "Bering land bridge" from Chukotka to Alaska across the Bering Strait. They do not rule out that this path coexisted with the "kelp highway". This is the name of the migration route along the ocean coast, rich in algae and has a wide range of food resources for hunter-gatherers.

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