A few years back at a different newspaper I was editor at, one of my reporters told me she had First Nations blood. As we discussed the issue, she described herself as “25 per cent native.”
She also said something to the effect that she wanted to learn more about ancient native peoples, or “pre-Columbian” as the historians usually say.
I’m not an educated historian, but I seem to be obsessed with archeology, anthropology and history. I mentioned to my reporter some of the things I’d learned over the years about aboriginal history that fascinated me: Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump, ancient arrowheads that had been found near the North Saskatchewan river west of Rocky Mountain House and the Bering Land Bridge that the first aboriginals used to come to the western hemisphere from Asia.
My reporter’s face went immediately blank. “What do you mean, they came here from Asia? I thought native people were always here.”
To which I answered, “Archeological evidence proves that at the end of the last ice age, which ran between about 125,000 and 14,500 years before present, low sea levels exposed a land bridge between what is now Russia and Alaska; people whose descendents became aboriginal peoples, plus many types of wildlife, used this land bridge to emigrate from Asia to North America, which had no human inhabitants before that time.”
While exact details are always debated, generally speaking archeologists suspect that a population of thousands of people, usually called Paleo-Indian, walked about 1,000 kms across this land bridge between 16,000 and 12,500 years ago, which existed as the ice age waned. The cold temperatures meant sea levels were lower than modern times, exposing the land bridge. However, as the ice age glaciers receded, it allowed the first Paleo-Indian people to arrive on and explore North, Central and South America.
The origins of Paleo-Indians are not really in question, as scientists have proven through language links, blood types and genetics that Paleo-Indians hailed from eastern Siberia. According to a 2007 paper called Genetic Variation and Population Structure in Native Americans “… every human who migrated across the land bridge came from Eastern Siberia, and that every indigenous person directly descends from that same group of Eastern Siberian migrants. The authors note that a ‘[u]nique genetic variant widespread in natives across both continents suggests that the first humans in the Americas came in a single migration or multiple waves from a single source, not in waves of migrations from different sources.’”
These Paleo-Indians didn’t instantly become Aztec, Sioux and Mohawk; the newcomers across the Bering Land Bridge gave birth to cultures such as the Clovis and Folsom that no longer exist; however, Clovis pre-Columbian homes, tools and remains have been found.
As glaciers disappeared, Paleo-Indians moved south and east. Archeologists have discovered a trail of evidence that stretches from Alaska in the north (in general, the oldest artifacts) to the southern tip of Argentina (generally, newer).
I pointed out to my reporter that she was genetically linked to the first human beings who came to the Americas. Coincidentally, I was genetically linked to the first Europeans who came to the Americas (no, not the Spanish): the Vikings.
But that’s a subject for another day.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.