Textbook story of how humans populated America is “biologically unviable”, study finds

Using ancient DNA, an international team of researchers headed by center leader Eske Willerslev have created a unique picture of how a prehistoric migration route evolved over thousands of years – revealing that it could not have been used by the first people to enter the Americas, as traditionally thought.

Read more via Center for GeoGenetics

The first people to reach the Americas crossed via an ancient land bridge between Siberia and Alaska but then, according to conventional wisdom, had to wait until two huge ice sheets that covered what is now Canada started to recede, creating the so-called “ice-free corridor” which enabled them to move south. The corridor is thought to have been about 1,500 kilometres long, and emerged east of the Rocky Mountains 13,000 years ago in present-day western Canada, as two great ice sheets – the Cordilleran and Laurentide, retreated.

See video with Willerslev talking about the studie

Foto: Mikkel Winther Pedersen Picture shows a present day view south in the area where the retreating ice sheets created the ice free corridor more than 13,000 years ago. Until now, nobody had looked at when the corridor became biologically viable, that is when people could actually have survived the long and difficult journey through the corridor. (Photo: Mikkel Winther Pedersen)

“The bottom line is that even though the physical corridor was open by 13,000 years ago, it was several hundred years before it was possible to use it. That means that the first people entering what is now the US, Central and South America must have taken a different route. Whether you believe these people were Clovis, or someone else, they simply could not have come through the corridor, as long claimed”, Willerslev says.

Eske Willerslev
Lundbeck Foundation Professor
Prince Philip Professor
Centre for GeoGenetics
University of Copenhagen
University of Cambridge
Department of Zoology
Tel. +45 2875 1309

Mikkel Winther Pedersen
Centre for GeoGenetics
University of Copenhagen
Tel. +45 2927 5342

David Meltzer
Department of Anthropology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, Texas,

Charles Schweger
Department of Anthropology
University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alberta