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Over time human cultures tend to naturally migrate, influenced by various push and pull factors. According to the gravity model of migration and specifically the concept of distance decay, very few of these displacements are over long distances. This theory helps explain why we have dominant regional cultures instead of a completely entropic mixture.

Map of Athabaskan languages

Like Athabaskan peoples shown on the map above, some cultural identities have survived treks of thousands of miles. Linguistic evidence shows that the Navajo and Mexica have roots far to to the north of their modern homelands. Certainly they blended with neighboring peoples along the way, but their languages still reflect those particularly far-away kinships. To indulge in a little survivorship bias, not many cultures succeeded at making such epic treks while maintaining their identities.

Critical masses of each group apparently had reason to keep going even while crossing entire climate zones. I'm curious about this behavior, since it's hard for me to imagine that getting away from enemies and finding new sources of food would take quite so much travel.

How could push or pull factors persist across such great distances?

  • I'm sure someone will answer in more detail, but I'd guess it's a matter of population density. Like any other animal, a unit of territory can only sustain so many living things before the population needs to expand into new territory. And so I suspect density pressures pushed natives through the Americas. – Canadian Coder Dec 12 '18 at 20:05
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    No individual really has to go that far. If every successive generation moves at least some offspring 150 miles further south (where presumably there's new territory with less competition from other people in their society), it would only take about a millennium to populate the entire continent from Alaska to Tierra del Feugo – T.E.D. Dec 12 '18 at 22:11
  • Your premise is faulty; consider the retreat of the Ostrogoths after they ran into the peoples fleeing the Hunnish menace in the east. The Ostrogoths kept moving until they crossed the Roman border. And the Huns showed up right behind them! – Peter Diehr Dec 12 '18 at 23:40
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    Did the Navajo & Mexica "keep going" - that is, make a trek as a group (or groups) until they reached their current locations? Or is it more likely that at one time the Athabaskan-speaker population had expanded until there was a continuous red swathe from north to south on your map, then at some later time peoples of other language families pushed in from east & west, isolating them (and the small pockets in the Pacific Northwest) from the other Athabascan speakers? – jamesqf Dec 13 '18 at 5:10
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    It's approaching from a different angle, but this question is functionally similar to Why did native americans originally migrate to the Americas? From the first section in my answer there: because "tribes or subtribes would've moved short distances, but over multiple generations. Humans were hunter-gatherers, dependent on ranging for food, so it was both a natural inclination to explore beyond the horizon, and to move around according to resource availability." Uninhabited places generally have more resources than populated ones. – Semaphore Dec 13 '18 at 7:54

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