What was Beringia? - Theory & Definition

What was Beringia? - Theory & Definition
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  • 0:05 The Bering Strait-Theory
  • 1:00 Climate
  • 1:30 Animals
  • 3:09 Humans
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stacy Chambers
Beringia was land between Siberia and Alaska that was exposed only during the Ice Age. Learn how and why it contributed to humanity's immigration to the New World.

The Bering Strait Theory

The world used to be a much colder place. Ice ages dominated much of prehistory, and the last Ice Age, which lasted between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, covered great portions of the world in sheets of ice. Because so much of the world's water was in ice form, sea levels were much lower than they are today - as much as 150 meters lower. Consequently, more land that had once been the floor of the sea was exposed. Beringia was basically the exposed floor of the Bering Sea between and around Siberia and Alaska.

The Bering Strait was part of Beringia, and it connected the two land masses of Siberia and Alaska. Historians theorize that our ancestors crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska during the last Ice Age. Around 20,000 years ago, the ice began to melt and sea levels rose. Eventually, the Bering Strait was again covered in water, like it is today. People on each side of it were separated.


Unlike Canada, which was covered in vast sheets of ice, Beringia had too arid of a climate to form ice sheets. Instead, it was a steppe region, meaning it was basically a vast prairie that supported many different types of plants. In Beringia's case, these included the dwarf birch, willows, grasses, and herbs. Steppe regions can range from somewhat wooded landscapes to semi-desert ones. Some areas of Beringia may have been tundra, which is an area of land where the subsoil never thaws (also known as permafrost).


Because it could support plant life, Beringia could also support animal life. Many animals of the Ice Age went extinct at some point. The woolly mammoth, the mastodon, the giant beaver, the steppe bison, the North American horse, the giant short-faced bear, and the American lion all went extinct sometime after the Ice Age ended.

While we don't know everything about how these animals adapted and survived during the Ice Age, archaeologists have recovered many bones and, in some cases, full skeletons - such as from the woolly mammoth and the scimitar cat. From these, archaeologists have been able to extrapolate the approximate size, shape, appearance, and weight of the woolly mammoth and scimitar cat and other extinct animals. The woolly mammoth, for example, was about the size of today's Asian elephant and weighed more than three tons.

Surprisingly, though, many animals that lived during the Ice Age are still around in the Americas today. Wolves, caribou, and wolverines are just some examples. Other animals, such as the musk ox, simply moved on to other places after the Ice Age ended. Still other animals only lived in Beringia between ice ages - presumably when there was more plant life to support them - and are now only found in other parts of the world.

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