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Human Ecology of Beringia

Human Ecology of Beringia

John F. Hoffecker
Scott A. Elias
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Human Ecology of Beringia
    Book Description:

    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 This volume synthesizes current research-some previously unpublished-on the archaeological sites and rapidly changing climates and biota of the period, suggesting that the absence of woody shrubs to help fire bone fuel may have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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50388-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, History, Geography

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface Lost Continent
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    John F. Hoffecker and Scott A. Elias
  4. 1 An Introduction to Beringia
    (pp. 1-21)

    During the summer of 1985, the research vessel Discoverer was cruising in waters of the Chukchi Sea roughly 500 kilometers north of the Bering Strait. The Discoverer was a 92-meter-long diesel-powered ship owned by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and used for various research projects.¹ In 1985, it was collecting sediment cores from the submerged continental shelf between Chukotka and northern Alaska. The project was under the direction of Lawrence Phillips of the U.S. Geological Survey (Phillips and Brouwers 1990).

    Phillips drilled more than twenty cores into the shallow floor of the Chukchi Sea and brought them back to...

  5. 2 Beringian Landscapes
    (pp. 22-76)

    It is difficult to characterize the modern regions of Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon that were formerly part of Beringia, simply because this enormous region is so environmentally diverse. Some of the southern, coastal regions experience a relatively narrow range of temperatures today, with winter temperatures that rarely dip far below freezing and summer temperatures that rarely exceed 10°C. In contrast, the interior regions of Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory experience some of the coldest winters in the world, yet summer temperatures often exceed 30°C. Following is a brief regional overview of the modern environments of the Beringian region....

  6. 3 Settlement of Northern Asia
    (pp. 77-100)

    The settlement of Beringia can be understood only within the wider context of the human colonization of northern Asia. Although climate change at the end of the Pleistocene and its effect on biota was a factor, the movement of people into areas east of the Verkhoyansk Mountains—and across the now-submerged continental shelf area between Chukotka and western Alaska—was primarily a consequence of the evolved ability of humans to occupy environments outside the tropical zone.

    The process began with human expansion into mid-latitude regions of North Africa and Eurasia after 1.8 million years ago by early representatives of Homo....

  7. 4 The Beginning of the Lateglacial
    (pp. 101-131)

    Based on available evidence, permanent settlement of Beringia, including eastern Beringia, took place at the beginning of the Lateglacial interstadial. Archaeological sites dating between 15 and 13.5 cal ka (15,000 and 13,500 calibrated years ago) are found in various parts of Beringia, although the status of many remains problematic. The earliest firmly dated sites of this interval are found in the Tanana Basin of central Alaska. The site of Berelekh—located near the mouth of the Indigirka River in the northwest lowlands of Beringia—probably dates to the earlier phase of the Lateglacial as well.

    The appearance of these sites...

  8. 5 The End of the Lateglacial Interstadial
    (pp. 132-161)

    Although the ice core record indicates that temperatures were slightly cooler during the latter phases of the Lateglacial 13,500–12,800 years ago ( Johnsen et al. 1997), pollen records from Beringia indicate continued expansion of shrub tundra vegetation. Well-dated cores from central Alaska show that shrub tundra spread into upland areas during this interval (Bigelow and Edwards 2001; Bigelow and Powers 2001). By 13,000 calibrated years ago (13 cal ka), much of central Beringia had been inundated by rising sea levels (Manley 2002), which presumably increased available moisture over land areas (e.g., Mann et al. 2001:127–131). By 13.5 cal...

  9. 6 The Younger Dryas and the End of Beringia
    (pp. 162-204)

    Cooler climates prevailed across the Northern Hemisphere during the Younger Dryas interval, which lasted for more than a millennium, 12,800–11,300 years ago (12.8–11.3 cal ka). Fossil beetle assemblages in northern Beringia indicate a decline in summer temperatures at this time, while the pollen-spore record in many regions reflects a resurgence of herbaceous tundra vegetation (Elias 2000; Bigelow and Edwards 2001). Minor glacial readvances took place in some mountainous areas (e.g., Ten Brink and Waythomas 1985). Lake levels, which had risen significantly during the Lateglacial interstadial, fell during the Younger Dryas, indicating increased aridity (e.g., Mann et al. 2001:125)....

  10. 7 Beringia and the New World
    (pp. 205-228)

    Despite the remoteness and lack of development, much field research has been conducted on the earliest prehistory of the surviving land portions of Beringia. Since the 1930s, archaeologists on both sides of the Bering Strait have been searching for remains of the first Beringians. And much of the impetus for this search—including archaeologists in Northeast Asia—has derived from an almost obsessive concern with the origins of the native population of the Americas.

    As described in chapter 1, speculation on the origins of Native Americans has focused on Northeast Asia and Alaska since Fray José de Acosta published Historia...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-244)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-278)
  13. Index
    (pp. 279-290)