The First Americans

Assistant Village Idiot posted a link to this very interesting interactive map and timeline of human worldwide migration as suggested by mitochondrial DNA evidence.  Most of it was what I'd generally gathered from reading over the years, but there were two discontinuities that were new to me.  First, the Mt. Toba volcanic catastrophe of about 74,000 years ago cut off a lot of people who had managed to migrate east through South Asia to Indonesia.  After that, they radiated into Southeast Asia and Australia, but also back the way they came, all the way to Europe, reversing the direction of the pre-Toba migration.

Second, the East Asians made it up to the Bering Strait and crossed into North America between 25,000 and 22,000 years ago, including a significant group that arrived on the mid-Atlantic coast.  Between 22,000 and 15,000 years ago, however, an ice age wiped out nearly all settlements and movement north of the 55th Parallel, cutting off the New World from Asia.  When things warmed up, there was a whole new migration from Asia, this time mostly hugging the west coast of the Americas and spreading all the way down into the southern hemisphere.  In the meantime, the old settlements on the mid-Atlantic coast also spread down into South America, but mostly hugging the east coast.

I thought of the map today because of a Maggie's Farm link to a Smithsonian article about the long-simmering debate over whether the Clovis culture represented the first arrival of people in North America about 13,500 years ago.  The "science was settled" for quite some time, but more recent archaeology has led many to open their minds to the possibility of pre-Clovis cultures.  There may have been two major migrations, widely separated in time and geography.


Grim said...

There is a persistent legend about the Welsh sailing to this part of America in the Middle Ages. There's documentation in Medieval Welsh sources, which isn't taken very seriously since no one has found physical evidence of the Welsh here. However, there are also Cherokee legends of a strange people with odd physical characteristics (some of which are appropriate, like pale skin, but others of which are monstrous); and there's Fort Mountain, and Rabun Bald, that were allegedly held as fortresses by what the Cherokee describe as strange demon-peoples in the old days.

That's way too late to be significant to 'the very first,' but it's still interesting. The alleged date is 1170, so if it were true it would be between Leif Ericson and Columbus (but closer to the former, and crossing a much wider part of the Atlantic than the former, though a smaller than the latter).

Texan99 said...

I've also seen tool-based evidence of other migration from Europe tens of thousands of years ago. It may be persuasive from an archeological view, but there doesn't seem to be any trace of it in the mitochondrial DNA. That doesn't mean it couldn't have happened; DNA won't pick up a migration unless enough of its members survive to be statistically detectable in the bodies of people living today.

DL Sly said...

The VES was absolutely enthralled as we moved through the map. Thanks for the link.