The First Native Americans - Native American History answers questions
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First Native Americans


The history of North America up to 1500 AD is a story of a continent that started out empty and gradually got more and more crowded. Probably the first people to come to North America came from East Asia, over a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. We don't know for sure whether they came during an earlier Ice Age, about 30,000 years ago, or about 12,000 BC, during the last Ice Age. It could be both. DNA analysis shows that some of these people were related to the first people who left Africa, the people who settled in Australia and New Guinea; others were not.

Only a few people came over the bridge, with their dogs. They may have been following woolly mammoths that they were hunting for food. The people probably didn't even realize they had crossed over to North America. Probably other people came from East Asia in small boats, crossing the Pacific Ocean by following the coast around by Alaska; maybe these people were following the salmon they ate. We don't know when that happened, but people were definitely catching salmon in Alaska by 11,500 BC.

There's no archaeological evidence for either method, walking or in boats, but people did get here somehow from East Asia, because we have archaeological traces of people that scientists can date to about 12,000 BC.

(This is what most archaeologists think. Some of the people whose ancestors lived in North America, like the Navajo and the Sioux, tell a different story about their own origins, which you can see here).

Go on to the Paleo-Indian period

Bibliography and further reading about the earliest Native American history:

Native Americans
South and Central America home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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