Fossils offer new clues into Native American's 'journey' and how they survived the last Ice Age

February 27, 2014

Researchers have discovered how Native Americans may have survived the last Ice Age after splitting from their Asian relatives 25,000 years ago.

Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the Universities of Colorado and Utah have analysed fossils which revealed that the ancestors of Native Americans may have set up home in a region between Siberia and Alaska which contained woody plants that they could use to make fires. The discovery breaks new ground as until now no-one had any idea of where the native Americans spent the next 10,000 years before they appeared in Alaska and the rest of the North America.

Professor Scott Elias, from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway said: "This work fills in a 10,000-year missing link in the story of the peopling of the New World. "

The findings, which are published in the journal Science, reveal that the ancestors of Native Americans may have lived on the Bering Land Bridge, which is now under the waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. The and some adjacent regions were not as dry as the rest of Beringia, and this central part of Beringia was covered in shrub tundra - the dominant vegetation in modern Arctic Alaska. It is dominated by dwarf willow and birch shrubs, mosses and lichens.

Professor Elias explained: "We believe that these ancestors survived on the shrub tundra of the Bering Land Bridge because this was the only region of the Arctic where any were growing. They needed the wood for fuel to make camp fires in this bitterly cold region of the world. They would have used dwarf shrub wood to get a small fire going, then placed large mammal bones on top of the fire, to ignite the fats inside the bones. Once burning, large leg bones of ice-age mammals would have burned for hours, keeping people alive through Arctic winter nights."

The academics made the discovery after analysing insect and plant fossils extracted from sediment cores taken from the ancient land bridge surface, which lies on the sea floor 50-60 metres below the water's surface.

Explore further: Warming climate may cause arctic tundra to burn

Related Stories

Warming climate may cause arctic tundra to burn

March 5, 2008

Research from ancient sediment cores indicates that a warming climate could make the world’s arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought. The findings, published this week in the online journal, ...

DNA reveals new clues: Why did mammoths die out?

February 6, 2014

Why did mammoths and other large mammals of the tundra suddenly become extinct some 10,000 years ago? It's a question that has divided scientists over the years. Now researchers from Lund University in Sweden (and 30 other ...

Study shows flowers powered the woolly mammoth

February 11, 2014

The Ice Age home of the woolly mammoth was carpeted in a sea of flowers that nourished the mega-beasts tens of thousands of years ago, according to new University of Alberta research.

Recommended for you

What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?

August 27, 2015

A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean. The results show how tsunami waves could hit and inundate coastal ...

Intensity of desert storms may affect ocean phytoplankton

August 27, 2015

Each spring, powerful dust storms in the deserts of Mongolia and northern China send thick clouds of particles into the atmosphere. Eastward winds sweep these particles as far as the Pacific, where dust ultimately settles ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Maggnus
5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2014
25000 year ago - this would predate the Clovis culture, assuming my memory to be intact (shuddup Captain!). I wonder if they may help explain some of the older fossils found in SA and along the Western coast of NA?

I also wonder if this might be evidence of more than one wave of settlement in the Americas?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.