Native American History: Origins of Early People in the Americas

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  • 0:06 The Bering Land Bridge Theory
  • 1:02 The Atlantic Theory
  • 2:24 The Oceania Theory
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

Because the first humans and civilizations got their start in Africa and the Middle East, historians and anthropologists have had to figure out how Native Americans got to the Americas. In this lesson we look at the three prevailing theories of the earliest migration to the New World.

Many theories exist about how people first got to the Americas, but there are three really predominant theories: the oldest being the theory of the Bering Land Bridge and then, more recent in the last couple decades, are the Atlantic Theory and the Oceania Theory. There are others, but these are the three we're going to cover today.

Settlers traveled over the frozen land called Berengia
Berengia Bridge Theroy

The Bering Land Bridge Theory

The most commonly held is the Bering Land Bridge Theory. This has been at the forefront for over 50 years. Basically, the idea is that during the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago (or a little less), lower water levels created a frozen bridge of land. The first settlers of the Americas are believed to have come across this land bridge called Berengia. This theory has dominated for a long time, but there are other ideas discussing what may have brought the people who developed into native cultures.

Atlantic Theory

Our next theories actually involve Boats. That's right, boats! It's probably hard to believe that Stone Age people were crossing the ocean, but people have actually tried to reproduce vessels with Stone Age tools, supplies and everything. It's important to remember, just because a modern human can build something with Stone Age tools, it doesn't mean that a Stone Age craftsman could have. These are all theories, but remember, these are theories that do have strong supportive evidence.

An image of a clovis point found in the Eastern U.S.
Clovis Points Found

The first theory is the Atlantic Theory. The name kind of tells you that this is going to assume that people had to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Archeologists have found these specific, early spear points, originally found near Clovis, New Mexico. Being deemed Clovis Points, for a long time they were offered as evidence for the Land Bridge theory because similar points have been discovered in the area the around Beringia. It turns out, though, these spear points are very similar to points found in Europe, and the oldest example to be found in the Americas have actually been found in the Eastern U.S. This points to migration from Europe to the east of the Americas. This migration pattern would mean that the people who made these earliest spear points had to cross the Atlantic.

Oceania Theory

Now if people crossed the Atlantic, obviously, we need a theory of people crossing the Pacific! This is the Oceania Theory.

Anthropologists and linguists couldn't help but notice that the culture and languages of South America had oddly similar traits to those of Australia and Polynesia. This theory would also mean people would have had to use boats, but this time to cross the Pacific.

The Kennewick Man statue has facial features similar to the Ainu in Japan
Kennewick Man

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