Scientists may have finally solved “one of the greatest mysteries of our time”. It was previously believed that the first settlers in North America arrived by crossing the Bering Strait Land Bridge; however, new studies have provided a different theory. Scientists found that a group of islands in the Gulf of Alaska were above the water’s surface during the last Ice Age and may have been used as “stepping stones” for the arrival of the migrants.
Scientists in the United States and Italy (specifically the University of Kansas (KU) along with universities in Bologna and Urbino, Italy) have claimed that there was once a shifting archipelago that measured nearly 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) in the Bering Sea that migrants coming from Asia to North America used as “stepping stones” about 16,500 years ago.
During the last Ice Age, the sea levels dropped which allowed the big chain of islands to sit on top of the water and that’s where the migrants were believed to have rested up during their journey. These islands, which have been named “Bering Transitory Archipelago”, may have appeared as far back as 30,000 years ago.
The researchers came to this conclusion based on evidence of a large formation underneath the water. “We digitally discovered a geographic feature of considerable size that had never been properly documented in scientific literature,” explained Jerome Dobson who is a professor emeritus of geography at KU. “We named it the Bering Transitory Archipelago; it existed from about 30,000 years ago through 8,000 years ago.” “When we saw it, we immediately thought, ‘Wow, maybe that's how the first Americans came across.’ And, in fact, everything we've tested seems to bear that out—it does seem to be true.”
According to their research, the closely space islands stretched all the way to Middleton Island which is located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Cordova, Alaska. The study explained this further by detailing that there was then a space of approximately 124 miles (200 kilometers) “that would have to be navigated alongside the present coast, next a pair of islands close together, and then another 200 km gap with a stretch alongside today’s coast as far as Yakutat Bay.”
Since the migrants would have been travelling in skin boats, they would have traveled at a speed of between 3 to 5.1 miles per hour (4.8 to 8.2 kilometers per hour) while moving from one island to the next. “They probably traveled in small groups,” Dobson explained, adding that they were “either from Asia or islands off the coast of Asia. Some maritime people are known to have existed 27,000 years ago on northern Japanese islands. They probably were maritime people—not just living on islands, but actually practicing maritime culture, economy and travel.” Their study was published in Comptes Rendus where it can be read in full.
Maps showing their pathway to North America can be seen here.