During the era of the landbridge across the Bering Strait, evidence suggests that people traveled from Asia to North America by foot, becoming the first humans in the Americas and the ancestors of the Native American peoples.

That being said, even today the Bering Strait isn't terribly wide. About 50 miles at its narrowest point, roughly analogous to the English Channel and closer than Japan is to Korea. It's not a terribly hospitable environment at either end, so travel might not have been considered worth it, but given how humans tend to work their way into every nook and cranny of a landscape, it seems odd that there wasn't consistent (if infrequent) travel between Alaska and Siberia even after the landbridge disappeared.

Is there any evidence for travel, especially consistent back-and-forth travel, between Asia and North America before the modern age, but after the landbridge disappeared and foot-travel became impossible?

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    Besides the Inuit and Aleuts, who traverse the strait by kayak even today? – Pieter Geerkens Oct 23 '14 at 23:43
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    No idea why this was downvoted; this is a question I've often wondered myself. – LateralFractal Oct 23 '14 at 23:50
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    @PieterGeerkens Today we would just take a plane, so traveling such a remote route is unnecessary. But for most of history it would have been the only way to get to a huge landmass on the other side. Given how far Polynesian peoples sailed just to reach tiny islands, it isn't unreasonable to wonder if anyone travelled that route sometime in the last 16,000 years. – Nerrolken Oct 23 '14 at 23:52
  • @LateralFractal: Seriously, Google History of Inuit. The Inuit/Aleut traversed from Siberia, shortly before Leif Ericson sailed to Vinland, and by 1500 CE had chased the Norse out of Greenland. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 23 '14 at 23:55
  • @PieterGeerkens All the research I've been able to find says that the ancestors of the Inuit came "from the Bering Strait region of Alaska" or that they "developed in coastal Alaska", without reference to when exactly they crossed from Siberia. If you have the answer, post it. That's what this site is for. – Nerrolken Oct 24 '14 at 0:06

Yes, your suspicion is correct. Once man had boats (no later than 40,000 years ago) and the ability to live in the arctic, the island chains strung across the Bering Straight could not have been a significant barrier. There are native peoples who traverse it regularly today using native methods.

As for evidence, archeologically we know about the Thule people (ancestors of today's Inuit), whose culture is first found in the Chukchi Peninsula (Asian side of the straight) and the Bering islands around 200BC, and spread eastward across the straight and clear to the Atlantic Coast of North America.

Linguistically there appear to be no less than 3 waves of immigration that occurred across the straight (4 if you count the Inuit). Genetic studies show at least 2 (3 if you count Inuit), with the Na'Dene people almost certainly having come over after the land bridge submerged 15,000 years ago. Thus boats would have been required.

Genetic flow over Beringia enter image description here

Present-day distribution of Na'Dene enter image description here

For these reasons, very few scholars still argue that the only immigration from Asia to the Americas happened over an Ice Age land bridge.


I recently read a book, Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture that purports to challenge the foot traffic in two ways - first that ancient peoples were far more handy on boats than current thought, so a foot path isn't needed for them to spread, and second that evidence for passage from the Bering area is fairly thin in the period where land bridge was in place. They then try to show that the Clovis point culture has links to Europe and evidence seems to show that it spread from East to West.

While this isn't a direct answer, the authors try and show that the use of boats and pack ice, like the Inuits do today, can allow spread over oceans without the need of a land bridge, forming a pack ice bridge that can be lived on during transit, and they do discuss evidence for migration into and from Alaska (to refute or mimimize it as an answer to the Clovis peoples) that might directly answer the question.

I found the book interesting.

  • This reminded me of something that writer Louis La'more once said: (I'll have to paraphrase) "It always surprises me when historians assume that ancient seafarers never left sight of shore. It must be because they never spent time on a fishing boat. Even with motors to overcome the wind a shoreline represents danger. When a storm comes up the first thing you do is put as much distance between you and shore as possible." – H.R.Rambler Oct 26 '14 at 17:37
  • But in this case, even with that restriction, pack ice adds a whole lot of "shore" that we don't see today. But, yes, the assumption that early man was unable to solve problems while living with megafauna in an Ice Age is a stumper. – Oldcat Oct 27 '14 at 17:56
  • Yes - the ships that are the most 'landbound' were the galleys of the Mediterranean Sea because of their specialization for combat - and inablilty to carry water for all the rowers. Trade vessels and true ocean vessels are more flexible. – Oldcat Oct 27 '14 at 18:01
  • The book in question gets a mention in the Solutrean hypothesis wiki page. I'm not a fan of the hypothesis myself. My two biggest rules of thumb are to require extra scrutiny for theories that are either a) more complicated than necessary (Hanlon's razor) or b) attractive to their proponents for emotional reasons. This one hits both. – T.E.D. Oct 28 '14 at 18:05
  • (good answer otherwise though, and I agree wholeheartedly with its non-Europe-based points. I upvoted). – T.E.D. Oct 28 '14 at 18:07

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