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Prehistoric Human Migrations: History & Movements

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  • 0:02 Theories & Prehistory
  • 1:00 Homo Sapiens & the Ice Age
  • 1:58 Waves of Migration
  • 2:46 The Americas
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high History and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in Education.

This lesson will seek to explain the theories concerning prehistoric human migration. In doing so, it will highlight the effects of the Ice Age on modern Homo sapiens and their migration into Eurasia and the rest of the globe.

Theories & Prehistory

There are certain parts of science that are considered to be cemented in stone. For instance, no one really questions that gravity is what keeps us from floating around or that red blood cells carry oxygen. However, when science dabbles in the theories of man's origin, there is a lot left up for grabs. In other words, many different theories or suppositions abound, and more often than not, more questions are asked than answered.

Keeping this in mind, our topic for today - the prehistoric migration of humans - is based in archaeological theories that often have the habit of being overturned as new discoveries are, literally, unearthed. For this reason, we'll stay rather general, realizing that even the dating of human migration is a hotly debated topic. After all, since 'prehistoric' actually denotes the time before written record, most scientists admit they are working to put together a puzzle, often times with little solid evidence on which to hang their hats.

Homo Sapiens & The Ice Age

Beginning our discussion of human migration: paleontology, the study of fossils of animals from ancient times, specifically prehistoric times, asserts that human life began in Africa. Working to support this assumption, some of the earliest fossil records of Homo sapiens or modern humans, have been found in the country of Ethiopia. With their dating being rather up for grabs, they are placed as belonging to a timeframe of over 200,000 years ago.

Moving away from origin and digging deeper into migration, archaeological record asserts that humans began migrating out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. Although no one can be certain why this migration occurred or when it occurred, many believe that a severe climate change may have been the catalyst, specifically the Ice Age, a prehistoric period marked by intense glacial activity. Continuing with this theory, it is asserted that the human population of the earth drastically dropped during the first migration out of Africa.

Waves of Migration

As the climate of the earth started to stabilize, many believe that some humans began moving out of Africa, going into what is often coined Eurasia, the landmass made up of Europe and Asia. During this migration it's believed that they crossed into Eurasia by way of a strait between the present-day small African nation of Djibouti and Yemen. From here, it's believed these rather adventurous humans moved eastward into places like India, Southeast Asia and even, eventually, Australia!

Bringing our discussion back to the lands of Africa, some scientists believe a second wave of migrators left Africa a little bit later. However, these guys decided to travel by land, moving into the regions of today's Middle East and Central Asia. From these locations, these early humans were able to move into Europe and the more Northern regions of Asia.

The Americas

Sticking with our travelers heading into North Asia, it's believed these risk-takers braved the hazardous weather and continued north, toward the East Asian Arctic region. It's asserted that there they found a large landmass that had most likely been created by the tumultuous weather of the Ice Age. Moving across this landmass, which connected Asia to the Americas, these travelers began the human trek, which would eventually find humans inhabiting from modern-day Alaska to the tip of Argentina!

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