First People of Americas


Ancestors of Native Americans have been in the new world since the last Ice Age.  Those people migrated too. Our species is a traveling species, both on land and sea.

Where did the North Americans come from?  That has been controversial too.      Many scientists believe that a small human population of at most a few thousand people arrived in Beringia from Eastern Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum. These people used Beringia as a platform to explore and settle North America. After that they expanded their settlement of the Americas sometime after 16,500 years ago when the massive continental glaciers started to recede and the ocean levels started to rise. After about 11,000 years before the present the bridge was covered again. It was no longer possible to walk back over land.

These theories, at one time controversial, have now been bolstered by genetic evidence. That genetic evidence suggests that the ancestors of ancient native North Americans came from somewhere in Asia. Admittedly no one is sure exactly where these people came from.  No traces of humans have been found in Beringia leading some to cast doubt on the theory. So the question of where the ancient homeland of the first peoples of the Americas is still a live question.

According to Niobe Thompson, in the limited television seriesThe Human Odyssey“research has confirmed what we have long suspected, that the ancient home of the First North Americans was in Siberia.”

These people from Asia were astonishing explorers. They even migrated into Europe. All of this makes it very clear that humans, even ancient humans, were capable of more things than we ever thought possible. We have no choice but to respect our ancient ancestors. They were amazing people.

There is yet one more amazing human migration, As Thompson said, “for a species born in Africa, the human adaptation to the Arctic was an impressive achievement and that adaptation was the key to the second half of the planet—the Americas…it was an Ice Age journey we once thought was impossible. Now we know humans found a way.”

The Bering Strait was once the Beringia land bridge. In the Strait there are massive nesting colonies of birds. Far from humans, yet the Inuit that live in there today, go there to supplement their dietary needs. They harvest the eggs of Thick-billed-murres and that is no mean accomplishment. Each spring the murres lay millions of eggs on craggy cliffs beside the ocean. And the Inuit have found out about it. What is even more amazing is that the Inuit travel there during the spring thaw when the Bering Strait is clogged with dangerous and unpredictable ice flows.

Sea travel there at that time of the year is all but impossible, except by using traditional methods. The Inuit use a traditional craft—a skin Umiak. It is light and very maneuverable. It is so light that men can carry it over the ice when necessary. Current Inuit use a boat that is very similar to that their ancestors would have used for millennia. The frame of the boat is covered with a single walrus skin so thin that it is almost transparent. A metal boat would be too heavy to drag over the ice when needed.  Without such a boat, travel in the ice-choked strait would be all but impossible. Once again the ancients were wise and the moderns are wise to follow them.

The television series showed how the modern Inuit crossed 22 km. of an ice-choked strait just to get those murre eggs.  What lengths did the ancients go? Have we underestimated them?  As Thompson said, “The Inuit have inherited the ancient world of the Beringians, like the Polynesians on the opposite side of the world, the Inuit know the sea is their home. Through them we can see back into our past, when we mastered the oceans and came to the end of the Great Human Odyssey.”

As Wulf Schiefenhövelsaid, in the television series, “We have also had the idea that men back in time were primitive, what you really find out is they were capable of amazing things. They were adventurous just as we are today.” They were more amazing than ever we considered remotely possible.

Nigel Thompson put it this way, “Our species has made a spectacular journey. From our humble origins in Africa to a global species, clever, and curious.”  Now that species is basically in charge of the planet. At least so it thinks. This development imposes an awful obligation on us as to how we relate to the globe and to each other. That is my conclusion from this film.

Thompson summed it up this way, “ a volatile world made us who we are: an animal of fantastic adaptability, but also the last of our kind, the only walking ape left. Yet I wonder, what lies ahead?  Our powerful mind got us this far. Are we clever enough for the changes to come?  Or will the hominid line die out with us?” Or will we learn from our wondrous science and our wondrous ancestors?

In the series, Lisa Mattisoo-Smith understood our predicament well. As she said,   “We are not indispensable. These are evolutionary dead ends. There are some species that don’t survive.” In fact most of the species that ever existed have died out. Will we be one of them? There is still some hope. We are the first species on earth that has ever been aware of the possibility of our own extinction, at least as far as we know.

We have learned at least one very important thing. As Wulf Schiefenhövel pointed out, “if you are not resourceful, you die.” So we can continue in our old ways, the ways that are destroying our planet. We can continue with business as usual. Or we can adapt and shine again. Which will it be?

Donald C. Johanson said, “We are the single most adaptable species. We can sit on a rocket; shoot ourselves into space. We are incredibly adaptable. That is hopefully our salvation.” Given all that we have done to the planet we will need all of that resourcefulness soon. This could be our salvation. We don’t know if it will be or not. That depends on us. It does not depend on anyone else.

Thompson said, “Our salvation could be in our very name: Homo sapiens. The thinking ape.” If we think we can adapt. If we don’t think we can perish. The choice is ours. Will we think? Are we smart enough? Or are we like lemmings jumping into the sea.  When I see that the richest and most powerful country in the world can elect someone like Donald Trump I don’t believe we are going to think this one through.  We will follow the lemming in front of us. I hope my fears are misplaced. Only time will tell.

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