“BRAVE NEW WORLDS”
THE PEOPLING OF AUSTRALIA AND THE AMERICAS
40,000 to 12,000 years ago
|This map shows some probable paths of early human migrations from about 200,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago.
Credit: Image by Altaileopard, courtesy of Wikipedia.
For most of the human evolutionary story, hominins first evolved from ape ancestors in Africa and then spread to the Near East, Asia, and Europe. But during the last Ice Age, anatomically modern humans made some important new migrations. Around 40,000 years ago they were able to somehow cross water from Southeast Asia and reached Australia with a simple core-and-flake technology. And in the last 15,000 years they were able to migrate from Siberia into the Americas by crossing the Bering land bridge (the area between Siberia and Alaska was connected during glacial times when sea levels were lower). The earliest widespread evidence of the first North Americans was the mammoth-hunting Clovis Culture, dating to about 13,000 years ago and characterized by beautifully-made, large fluted projectile points. There is a growing number of sites that suggest there may be a pre-Clovis phase of human occupation in the Americas.
Early archaeological sites in Australia include Devil’s Lair and also Lake Mungo (about 40,000 years old) and Kow Swamp (about 25,000 years ago). Early sites in the Americas that may predate Clovis sites include Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania ca. 16,000 years ago and Monte Verde in Chile at 14,800 years ago. Clovis sites include Blackwater Draw and Burnet Cave in New Mexico, the Lehner mammoth kill site and Naco mammoth kill site in Arizona, and the Colby mammoth kill site in Wyoming, all between 13,500 and 12,500 years ago.
|This Clovis point from North America, about 12,500 years old, represents migrations of people that almost certainly originated in eastern Asia and spread across the Bering Straits, but developed their own technological patterns in the Americas. These points are associated with mammoth hunting sites on the Great Plains of the United States.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Well-dated sites in Australia (such as Lake Mungo and Kow Swamp) testify to early occupation of this continent, and well-dated sites in the Americas (such as Blackwater Draw in New Mexico and the Colby site in Wyoming) testify to early occupations on those continents. DNA studies of modern human populations have confirmed that the Native Americans are descendants of Northeast Asian populations, and that the Australian aborigines are descendants of populations from Southeast Asia.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
The modern human condition is characterized by migrations and occupation of all but the most extreme conditions on the earth. These early migrations to Australia and the Americas would herald later human migrations to other, previously unoccupied parts of the world such as the Caribbean, Ireland, Greenland, Iceland, Madagascar, Ceylon, and the Pacific Islands including the Phillipines, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island.
This is a National Geographic article about first humans in Australia.
This is a discussion of the peopling of Australia.
This is an article from Science Daily chronicaling the first humans in the Americas.
This is an article, “The Peopling of the American Continents.”
This is another discussion of the peopling of the American continent.