Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
First Peoples in a New World

First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America

David J. Meltzer
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 464
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    First Peoples in a New World
    Book Description:

    More than 12,000 years ago, in one of the greatest triumphs of prehistory, humans colonized North America, a continent that was then truly a new world. Just when and how they did so has been one of the most perplexing and controversial questions in archaeology. This dazzling, cutting-edge synthesis, written for a wide audience by an archaeologist who has long been at the center of these debates, tells the scientific story of the first Americans: where they came from, when they arrived, and how they met the challenges of moving across the vast, unknown landscapes of Ice Age North America. David J. Meltzer pulls together the latest ideas from archaeology, geology, linguistics, skeletal biology, genetics, and other fields to trace the breakthroughs that have revolutionized our understanding in recent years. Among many other topics, he explores disputes over the hemisphere's oldest and most controversial sites and considers how the first Americans coped with changing global climates. He also confronts some radical claims: that the Americas were colonized from Europe or that a crashing comet obliterated the Pleistocene megafauna. Full of entertaining descriptions of on-site encounters, personalities, and controversies, this is a compelling behind-the-scenes account of how science is illuminating our past.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94315-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    David J. Meltzer
    (pp. 1-22)

    It was the final act in the prehistoric settlement of the earth. As we envision it, sometime before 12,500 years ago, a band of hardy Stone Age hunter-gatherers headed east across the vast steppe of northern Asia and Siberia, into the region of what is now the Bering Sea but was then grassy plain. Without realizing they were leaving one hemisphere for another, they slipped across the unmarked border separating the Old World from the New. From there they moved south, skirting past vast glaciers, and one day found themselves in a warmer, greener, and infinitely trackless land no human...

  6. 2 THE LANDSCAPE OF COLONIZATION: Glaciers, Climates, and Environments of Ice Age North America
    (pp. 23-62)

    In late June 1838, Charles Darwin set off on a geological mission to Scotland to examine the famous Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, several long, paired terraces that extended down both sides of this narrow mountain valley at matching elevations. Local legend pegged these as hunting paths of ancient Celtic warriors.¹ Geologists doubted that explanation, but were mystified all the same.

    It was “admitted by everyone,” Darwin later wrote, “that no other cause, except water acting for some period on the steep side of the mountains, could have traced those lines.”² Yet, how could water have been raised to this...

    (pp. 63-94)

    In the fall of 1781, the governor of Virginia received a letter from the secretary of the French Legation, inquiring about the political institutions, natural history, and native peoples of his state. Times being what they were (hostile British forces were advancing on the governor’s home) his answer was postponed until the following summer, after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown and the governor had retired from office. “Great question has arisen,” Thomas Jefferson then replied in his now-classicNotes on the State of Virginia, “from whence came those aboriginal inhabitants of America.” For that matter, who were they, and when...

    (pp. 95-136)

    In the late 1980s, about the time the pre-Clovis dispute in America was nearing a boil, archaeologist Jack Harris visited my university, bringing with him the just-excavated artifacts from the Senga site in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Judging by the animal bones found with them, he inferred the specimens were more than 2.3 million years old—making them nearly 100,000 years older than any previously known artifacts from Africa, and thus the earliest human tools ever found. At the end of a brief talk about his excavations at Senga, Harris laid the specimens on the table.

    It is...

    (pp. 137-182)

    “The hour has at last arrived,” Pliny Earle Goddard crowed the spring of 1927, “for an extensive reorganization of our conception of the peopling of America.” About time, too. Goddard, a linguist, had just read Harold Cook’s proclamation that the Lone Wolf Creek site (Chapter 3), with its artifacts and extinct bison, proved beyond “reasonable doubt” humans were here in the Pleistocene. Goddard had long suspected as much and was delighted by the news, for it meant Holmes and Hrdlička, whom he despised (the feeling was mutual), were finally proven wrong on their terms. Goddard scolded them for refusing to...

  10. 6 AMERICAN ORIGINS: The Search for Consensus
    (pp. 183-208)

    In March of 1774, on its second circumnavigation of the globe, Captain James Cook’sResolutionanchored off Easter Island (Rapa Nui), a tiny island and one of the most isolated on the planet. Some of the islanders canoed out to greet his ship, and the moment they hove into view, Cook was astonished by the natives’ tattoos, tapa (bark-based) clothing, weapons, and especially—when they began speaking—their language. He instantly recognized unmistakable variants of words he’d heard spoken by Tahitians and Maoris (of New Zealand), who lived thousands of miles away across vast stretches of open ocean. That the...

    (pp. 209-238)

    The helicopter pilot pointed to the Arctic tundra below, where a pair of grizzlies were ambling in the distance. His voice came over my headset: “Did you want to go down for a closer look?”


    We dove for the deck and were soon skimming along fifteen feet above the surface, headed for the grizzlies. The wind was against us, but the bears soon enough heard the thumping rotors and raised up on their hind legs to look around. The instant they spotted us, the female started galloping away. The big male took off running, too—straight for us.


  12. Plates
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 239-280)

    Edgar B. Howard, of the University of Pennsylvania’s museum, had been ambushed before, so this time he moved fast. He caught a westbound train on November 12, 1932, alerted to the news a road crew mining gravel from an old pond on the high plains of eastern New Mexico had struck bones. Lots of them apparently, and big ones, too: mammoth and bison. That summer, Howard had seen scraps of the bones and Folsom-like fluted points ranchers had been finding in wind-scoured “blowouts” in these old ponds. The road crew had hit the mother lode.

    Howard knew the stakes. Earlier,...

  14. 9 SETTLING IN: Late Paleoindians and the Waning Ice Age
    (pp. 281-320)

    In the 1930s, the United States was staggering from a wicked one-two punch. The Great Depression, fast on the heels of the 1929 stock market collapse, halved the country’s industrial output, flung nearly a quarter of its workers from their jobs, and led to the failure of thousands of banks, and with them the disappearance of millions of savings accounts. Homes and businesses were foreclosed, displaced people hit the roads and rails, and even organized crime foundered when Prohibition’s repeal dropped the bottom out of the bootleg liquor market. Evidently the distressed nation needed a drink more than it needed...

    (pp. 321-344)

    On March 18, 1835, Charles Darwin disembarked the H.M.S.Beagleat Valparaiso, Chile, and set off with “two Peons & 10 mules” on a three-week round trip over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina. Mules and weather cooperated, the mountains enchanted. He wrote his sister, Susan, that it was all so new and spectacular he “could hardly sleep at nights for thinking over [his] day’s work.” Best of all, what he saw of Andean geology promised “a very important fact in the theory of the formation of the world” (and, incidentally, inspired his explanation of the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy). Little...

    (pp. 345-348)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 349-384)
    (pp. 385-420)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 421-446)