How Did the First Americans Spread Across the Continent?

And archaeologist E. James Dixon argues in "Bones, Boats and Bison" that many areas along the northwest coast that were once thought to have been covered with glaciers were in fact ice free. Radio carbon dating shows, for example, that large animals, including bears, roamed through those areas at the very time they were supposedly iced in, so humans could have been quite happy sharing that environment.

What's frustrating about this debate is the evidence that would settle it one way or another simply doesn't exist, or at least cannot be found. If the First Americans came by boat, any evidence would have washed away centuries ago by rising waters from melting glaciers. A nice little village on Sanak Island would have been helpful.

"We looked, we really looked" for evidence of human habitation at the time of the migration, but all they found was evidence of settlements around 7,000 years ago, and a bunch of cows and horses left behind when a recent attempt to farm Sanak Island was abandoned, Misarti said.

Incidentally, if a daring adventurer tried to follow the route of those early settlers today, he would find it a very difficult task. Sanak Island lies just south of the Aleutian Islands, and it is surrounded by some of the most treacherous waters on the planet. Nearly every year at least a few fishermen die while fighting the wretched seas and catastrophic weather patterns.

But it may have been a little easier back then than it is today, Misarti said. Maybe the weather was a little tamer during the end of the last ice age.

Or maybe not.

At any rate, if this is the way it all happened, those hunter-gatherers were truly remarkable. They chased bison and deer when they could and they learned the predictable habits of wild salmon that even today turn up in the same places year after year after year.

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