Lecture 14: The Earliest American and Paleo-Indians

\star ya = years ago

The Earliest Americans

Origins in East Asia

Geographical evidence

  • Beringia land bridge: Ocean coastlines were exposed because water was frozen as glacial ice, creating a bridge from Siberia to America. This was the only and route between the new and old world after the continents separated.
  • Pacific Coastal Island hopping: Took small boats/rafts, staying along the coastline for food and shelter, near island areas.


  • Cultural evidence \rightarrow People were practicing lifestyles from 30,000ya in both America and Siberia, with similar hunting and the use of bone instead of stone.
  • Yana RHS site and others.
  • Physical/ genetic evidence
  • Morphology.
  • Genetic (ancient and modern populations): Their DNA matches modern North American native populations, so are ancestors.
  • Overall \rightarrow all lines of data support East Asian origin for first populations to settle in Americas

1302 Beringia hypoth

1303 Pacific Coast hypoth

Time of Arrival

  • Physical/genetic evidence \rightarrow
  • Post 35,000ya, Homo sapiens existed only.
  • Geographical evidence \rightarrow
  • Beringia and ice free corridor after 13,500. Land was exposed because water was frozen as glacial ice. Were able to get into Alaska but were blocked off to get to Canada. There is a brief period where they separate.
  • Pacific Coastal route (when coastal lines were exposed because of the glacial period, used boats/ rafts to get from one place to the other. Coastal regions had rich environments so had plenty of diverse food and shelter areas to survive on-the-move). Coastal resources by 16,000ya.
  • Cultural evidence \rightarrow hard to obtain as it was destroyed when the glaciers melted.
  • Linguistics: suggested people came into America by 18,000ya, and many migrated later. At 6,000ya, Inuit people became the Northern-people.
  • Current consensus \rightarrow 16,000ya or earlier with rapid expansion.

Earliest Evidence in America (Pre-Paleo-Indian Sites)

  • Monte Verde, South America. Verified pre-13,500ya = ca 14,500ya = pre-Paleo-Indian. Hunted small game, and plants. Used stone points, wooden spears and grinding sticks.
  • Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas, North America. Pre-Paleo-Indian tools stratified below. Paleo-Indian artifacts. Evidence for development of Clovis. Between 15,000 and 13,200ya.
  • Other sites (some underwater).


Who, What, When?

  • 13,200-9,000/ 8,000ya
  • Big game hunter of the plains, as meat was important, also eating fish.
  • Western North America (stereotype)
  • Tools and artifacts \rightarrow Had distinct stone projectile points, which were chipped in the middle to allow space for a haft. Used scrapers, cutting tools, wooden and plant based items such as fibers, baskets, clothing and shelters. Used grinding stones to process fat. Used large points to hunt large mammals such as pythons, and smeller ones for deer.
  • Hunting tools and animals hunted.
  • Example \rightarrow Clovis: 13,500 - 13,000 - mammoth. Folsom: ca. 12,500 - giant bison. Plano: 11,000 - 9,000 - bison.
  • Range of tools (smaller points, bows and arrows, spear throwers for deer and small game, plants and nuts) and lifestyles as for upper Paleolithic and Late Stone Age.
  • Example \rightarrow East Coast and Great lakes, North America.
  • Amazon in South America (Pedra Pintada Cave).

buttermilk creek AAAS org 0324sp_preclovis_tools_1024w

  • 1315 PaleoInd points

Clovis Folsom Plano Dalton

Pleistocene Extinctions

  • No evidence for Paleo-Indian focusing on killing a certain group as the effect for extinction (they probably killed a few), except for mammoths and elephants.
  • Species extinctions earlier and later \rightarrow Humans overhunted megafauna (large game mammoth) until they went extinct.
  • Climate instability at time \rightarrow extinctions were occurring before the humans arrived. We cannot assume the Paleo-Indians wiped out whole species, because their population wasn't large enough.
  • Still debated.
  • Overall \rightarrow Paleo-Indians cover a range of lifestyles, often meat focused.
  • Example \rightarrow in the Amazon they ate fish, shellfish etc.

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