Twenty-five thousand years ago, sea level fell more than 400
feet below its present position as a consequence of the growth of
immense ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere. A dry plain
stretching 1,000 miles from the Arctic Ocean to the Aleutians
became exposed between northeast Asia and Alaska, and across that
plain, most likely, walked the first people of the New World. This
book describes what is known about these people and the now partly
submerged land, named Beringia, which they settled during the final
millennia of the Ice Age.
Humans first occupied Beringia during a twilight period when
rising sea levels had not yet caught up with warming climates.
Although the land bridge between northeast Asia and Alaska was
still present, warmer and wetter climates were rapidly transforming
the Beringian steppe into shrub tundra. This volume synthesizes
current research-some previously unpublished-on the archaeological
sites and rapidly changing climates and biota of the period,
suggesting that the absence of woody shrubs to help fire bone fuel
may have been the barrier to earlier settlement, and that from the
outset the Beringians developed a postglacial economy similar to
that of later northern interior peoples.
The book opens with a review of current research and the major
problems and debates regarding the environment and archaeology of
Beringia. It then describes Beringian environments and the
controversies surrounding their interpretation; traces the evolving
adaptations of early humans to the cold environments of northern
Eurasia, which set the stage for the settlement of Beringia; and
provides a detailed account of the archaeological record in three
chapters, each of which is focused on a specific slice of time
between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. In conclusion, the authors
present an interpretive summary of the human ecology of Beringia
and discuss its relationship to the wider problem of the peopling
of the New World.