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K. Kris Hirst

New Evidence for the Pacific Coastal Migration Theory

By June 22, 2012

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A new study of soil sediment cores on the Aleutian island of Sanak lends support to the Pacific Coast Migration Model of the original colonization of the American continents.

Map of the Pacific Rim Showing Sanak Island and Monte Verde Chile
Map of the Pacific Rim showing the locations of Sanak Island and Monte Verde. Base map by NordNordWest

In the 1970s, archaeologist Knut Fladmark argued that one overlooked pathway into the Americas was along the Pacific coast, following up along the Pacific Rim from Asia, along the coastal edges of the the now-submerged landmass of Beringia and down along the Alaskan and Canadian coast. Called the Pacific Coast Migration Model, the theory came to new attention in the late twentieth century, as more and more evidence of early sites along coastlines became apparent.

But there was still a hitch: the earliest sites in the New World were in South America's coastlines, dated around 15,000 years ago and located tens of thousands of miles south of the Bering Strait. Evidence seemed to show that ice blocked the passageway from Beringia to the coasts of America until 15,000 years ago: that didn't compute.

Published yesterday in Quaternary Science Reviews, however, is evidence in the form of pollen and charcoal from soil cores in deep water within three lakes on Sanak Island in the Aleutians, which suggests that Sanak (and perhaps the corridor into the American continents) was ice free by 17,000 years ago.

Misarti N, Finney BP, Jordan JW, Maschner HDG, Addison JA, Shapley MD, Krumhardt A, and Beget JE. 2012. Early retreat of the Alaska Peninsula Glacier Complex and the implications for coastal migrations of First Americans. Quaternary Science Reviews 48(0):1-6.


June 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm
(1) Charles Dohogne says:

The Aleution islands WERE the highway! With very low sea levels, the Eastern end was dry land and the Western islands were much bigger than now. Not nice country, but much more southerly route than Siberia!

June 25, 2012 at 7:42 pm
(2) helene maran says:

I remember doing a paper in college about this migration theory. There was interesting information about the teeth of the asians who crossed that way…across he Bering Strait, it was the formation called “shoveling” on the backs of certain teeth, I think the front teeth had this scooped out appearance.
The group that was suppose to have arrived in south american countries from the same area but went by raft over the Pacific (Thor Heyerdahl’s (sp) theory) do not show the same tooth formation. I remember going to the Field Museum in Chciago and was able to view samples of these teeth.
Do you have any information on that?

June 26, 2012 at 2:53 am
(3) Taylor Reisch says:

During anthro/arche undergrad & grad school, late 80′s early 90′s, I never could buy the migration re the ice free corridor thoery & felt that coastal migration was the only thing that made any sense, even though the instructor had barely mentioned it in class, & when questioned pretty much dismissed the theory – which was quite new at the the time.
I also asked her why I had heard no mention of the close similarity of Achulean tools to some found in North America. She just smiled & said that others had wondered about it too, but no credence was given it.
We had a mock debate in her class re Clovis vs pre-Clovis. Of course, I am pre-Clovis. No surprise – she was Clovis.
It greatly amuses me now to hear how some of these ideas/theories are gaining ground, while some are still stubbonly being argued against.

July 2, 2012 at 12:35 am
(4) Ken says:

Land migration vs sea migration.
Probably both happened. But with the size boats in that time period, more people would be able to migrate via land than by boat. Though migration by boat would have allowed faster dispersal over larger distances.
Perhaps the migration was lead by sea, with information about new, warmer lands being brought back, encouraging more land migration.

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