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BERING STRAIT CROSSINGS.

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Essay Subject:
Archeological analysis of cross-cultural influences of peoples crossing between Siberia & Alaska over land or sea. Evidence, theories, examples.... More...
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Paper Abstract:
Archeological analysis of cross-cultural influences of peoples crossing between Siberia & Alaska over land or sea. Evidence, theories, examples.

Paper Introduction:
The earliest human beings to enter the American continent crossed the Bering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska at various times between 11,000 and 40,000 years ago. They were stone-age hunters who followed herds of large animals across the bridge and, eventually, down into North and South America. Because, after 11,000 BP (years before the present), the level of the Bering Sea rose and cut off this means of access, the American continents have sometimes been called "a laboratory for modern man" (Farb 3). The people who moved into these new territories brought their culture with them. But, their material culture was extremely limited, as with most migratory stone-age peoples, and any material objects made of organic materials have long since vanished, leaving primarily a few bone tools and the technological tradition of spear points as their only legacy.

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The relationshipbetween the cultures of the Americas and those of Asia is, therefore,extremely limited if only the arrivals across the Bering land bridge areconsidered. Even though Japanese influence cannot be accepted as thesource, via Valdivia, of all South American pottery, Jomon Japan couldstill "represent an early contributor" to Precolumbian pottery (Jett 566). After 5 AD, subsequentmigrations from "nearby coastal Asia or the islands around Bering Strait,"added "new sea mammal hunting technology" and began the transformation ofAlaskan cultures to their modern stage (Anderson 9 ). Jennings. As the glaciers had repeatedly risenand melted throughout the Pleistocene, Beringia had appeared andresubmerged. Archaeologists pointed outnumerous parallels between the techniques, decoration, and forms of potteryfrom Jomon-era Japan and the Valdivia pieces. New York: Dutton, 1968.Jennings, Francis. Because, after 11, BP (years before the present),the level of the Bering Sea rose and cut off this means of access, theAmerican continents have sometimes been called "a laboratory for modernman" (Farb 3). Thus, the culturalseparation of Asia and the Americas long antedated the rise of highercivilizations in Precolumbian America. The earliest human beings to enter the American continent crossed theBering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska at various times between11, and 4 , years ago. Fritz. Jennings 27). Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1993.Farb, Peter. Their"exquisite animal and anthropomorphic figures in a Scytho-Siberian artstyle" and other art objects, as well as their hunting and housingtechnology, display this influence (Anderson 88). San Francisco: W. Quest for the Origins of the First Americans. Thus, Asianinfluences after the closing of the land bridge involved only the muchlater arrivals, who came from Siberia, but did not influence the majorityof Native Americans who had long been in residence throughout the twocontinents. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1978. But, "although possibly sharing a common technological origin, eachreflects different environmental and technological adaptations to differentecological and environmental conditions" (Dixon 124-5). WORKS CITEDAnderson, Douglas D. San Francisco: W. New World Beginnings: Indian Cultures in the Americas. Comparisonshave even demonstrated that this supposed influence may have worked bothways, so that, by 3 BC, the Olmec culture was influencing China as well(Jett 574). H. The possible dates for the first arrivalscan be narrowed by considering the development of the species."Biologically modern Homo sapiens emerged only about 4 , years ago" andno remains of biologically primitive humans have ever been found in theAmericas (Snow 19). This "uniquelyAmerican technology from the more southern regions, spread to the northuntil it reached eastern Beringia, but it stopped there, and "flutedprojectile points do not occur in Asia" (Dixon 124). They were stone-age hunters who followedherds of large animals across the bridge and, eventually, down into Northand South America. Jennings. 1996: 41.Dixon, E. Thus the possibility arisesthat America was inhabited by arrivals from the south as well as across theBering land bridge. Yet,the parallels remain so strikingly strong that the idea cannot be dismissedaltogether. Ezra B. The end of the Pleistocene Epoch, and beginningof the Holocene, is dated at around 1 , BP. There are similarities between thespear points found in the subarctic regions of eastern Beringia around thistime. W. The primary surviving link between the peoples of the Americas andthose of Asia is the, relatively low, level of genetic similarity betweencontemporary Native Americans and Siberian tribesmen. Since emigration toward the Americas took place over extended periodsof time, and in successive waves of new arrivals, Asian influence on theculture of the Americas, via Beringia, was extremely limited. New York: Viking, 1976.Vlahos, Olivia. If such sitesas, for example, Monte Verde in Chile (33, BP), Pedra Furada in Brazil(33, BP), and Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania (17, BP) areverified then it would be necessary to conclude that South America wascolonized by 35, BP and that Pleistocene humans entered the easternUnited States by 18, BP. Sites of much greater antiquity have beendiscovered and they fail to fit the patterns that scientists have theorizedfrom the existing evidence. New York: Norton, 1993.Jennings, Jesse D. As Vlahos noted, if the first arrivals had gotten to America withinthe past seven thousand years, linguistic scholars would "be able to tracetheir word connections--the resemblances in sounds and meanings andlanguage structure" (17). Therefore, the greatest possibility for a direct influence onthe civilization and art of Precolumbian America lies with the randomtransoceanic contacts that took place, perhaps as early as 3, years ago,when human civilizations on both continents had reached a much higher levelthan that of the late Pleistocene. Yet, the story is never really finished because other evidencecontinues to be found. The very early dispersal ofsuch stone-age hunters throughout the Americas is testified to by thelocation of Pleistocene sites. Since no other examples ofpottery preceded them, they proposed that "a boatload of inadvertentvoyagers from Japan strayed ashore" in Ecuador 5, years ago andintroduced pottery making to the continent (Meggers and Evans 97). Thus, it isthe Ipiutaks whose culture displayed the closest links to Asia. H. 25-67.Jett, Stephen C. All of these hypotheses, however, have little proof to backthem up. At thesesites in the American southwest, a new type of spear tip, the "flutedprojectile point," has been discovered and reliably dated (Dixon 124).These samples are the earliest cases of the fluted spear point and laterexamples spread out toward the north. In this case, archaeologists recognize "121 individual traits thatcharacterize bark-cloth and paper making" and 92 of these traits are sharedby the process and tools in Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica (Jett 568).Much more recent Chinese influences have been suspected in comparisons ofPrecolumbian Olmec art and Shang dynasty works from China. Inaddition to the very strong technical and stylistic parallels between theJapanese and American pottery, the direction of ocean currents, thelocations of japan and Ecuador, the absence of earlier pottery, and theability of Japanese deep-sea fishermen to sustain themselves on longvoyages, tended to validate the initial hypothesis. Zubrow, Margaret C. But, few of them have been as convincing as the Valdiviacase. Earlier dates for humanmigration across Beringia were rejected largely because northeasternSiberia was not even populated by human beings until after 4 , BP. The Eskimos are thought by manyarchaeologists to have developed from the Ipiutak culture, which resultedfrom very recent migrations of Siberian Asians across the frozen BeringStrait (Anderson 88). The best understoodreversal occurred in the area of hunting technology. Man's Rise to Civilization as Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State. Ed. But, withthese few possible exceptions, the inhabitants of the Americas had nosignificant contact with other cultures until the first European settlementin Greenland approximately, 1, years ago. The Archaeology of North America. Some scientists believe that the southwardmigration of the earliest immigrants followed the western coastline,because the passageway through the glacial ice of Canada was not open untilthe very end of the Pleistocene. "A Transpacific Contact in 3 B. Instead, the separations among the variouslanguages are older than distinctions among the Indo-European languages.Far older still are the separation of language groups in the Americas where"many major language groups" are as distinct from each other "as the Indo-European language group is different from the languages of Asia" (Vlahos17). New York: Viking, 197 . Jesse D. Jesse D. Freeman, 1983. Distinctively American cultures developed throughout the twocontinents, and new arrivals crossing the bridge met groups that hadalready begun developing cultures separately from the Asian originals.After 11, BP, human beings in the Americas were cut off from contactwith the cultures of other continents. The few possible exceptions to thisisolation were principally transoceanic contacts with Asia, though somecontacts with Europe have also been raised as possibilities. Jennings 31). The Founders of America. As the groups spread throughout western North America, they refinedtheir hunting technology. Vol. This accounts for the fact that theearliest sites are found in the south and west, while emigration to theeast had to wait until a passage opened through Canada around 12, BP.Until that time, the eastern part of the present-day United States was verydifferent from what it is today, with "subarctic creatures," such as thearctic hare, found as far south as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia(Jesse D. San Francisco: W. "Origins." Ancient North Americans. In addition, because the dispersal of people over the entire lengthand breadth of the Americas took place long before Beringia disappeared,the flow of culture was, eventually, reversed. Though many such sites are still beingverified, some have been reliably reported and may "withstand rigoroustesting of the scientific criteria required to establish Pleistoceneantiquity and validity as archaeological sites" (Dixon 124). Thus, the passage of human beings across this area took placein several different time periods. H. Since there is "nothing to suggest significant diffusion between thehigh cultures of the two hemispheres by way of the Bering Strait," anypossible contacts must have been transoceanic (Jett 559). Fritz and John M. From the firsttrickles of migratory hunters in the late Pleistocene Epoch millions ofpeople, in over 2, linguistically distinct groups and civilizations ofgreat complexity, had arisen everywhere in the Americas. 557-613.Meggers, Betty J., and Clifford Evans. The data derived from the study of the crossings of the Bering Straitland bridge clearly indicate why, by the time Columbus reached the Americas5 years ago, the continents were widely inhabited. The people who moved into these new territories broughttheir culture with them. Such problems with passage to the east probablyaccount for the differences in the levels of civilization reached by theresidents of Mesoamerica and South America compared with the eastern NativeAmericans. The originalemigrants from Asia were following animals such as "the horse, camel,reindeer, and Ice Age species like the mammoth, mastodon, woollyrhinoceros, and giant ground sloth" (Snow 19). Freeman, 1983. James. Peanuts, indigenous to theAmericas, have been found at two archaeological sites in China andtentatively dated from 33, BP to 28, BP. There are many other indications of possible contact that are just astantalizing. 4. Though therehave been numerous attempts to identify such random events, very few havecome close to being proved. The Pleistocene ended asthe great glaciers that covered most of what is now Alaska, Canada, and thenortheastern United States, receded. Evenmore recent estimates by Soviet scientists held that the population inSiberia was not sufficient to provide a sizable migrating population untilas recently as 2 , BP (Francis Jennings 27). Now theearly dates of the settlement of distant islands indicates that Pleistocene-era humans from Micronesia "were capable of making open water crossings asearly as 35, -4 , years ago" (Dixon 132). But, "specimens of Erectusand Neanderthal variants of Homo sapiens" have been found in the Pekincaves, much farther south of Siberia, and "the possibility of emigrationfrom the Pekin area toward Beringia must therefore not be overlooked"(Jesse D. Archaeologists have no certainty about when the first humans crossedthe bridge and began to move throughout the Americas, but the range ofpossibilities can be narrowed considerably by considering several factors.The migrations took place over thousands of years and under varyingconditions. Thus, the entry of the first arrivals wouldhave to pushed back farther than anyone previously thought possible. The most recent theory states that the lower AmurRiver basin and coastal areas far south of Siberia were the staging areafrom which, "groups of Asiatic Mongoloids spread to the American continentsin remote antiquity and from which groups of Asiatic Mongoloids spread tothe Asian northeast in much more recent periods" (Francis Jennings 28).This theory accounts for the fact that, while the closest genetic links forNative Americans are to Siberian tribesmen, "the blood groups of today'scentral Asians differ markedly from those of today's American Indians"(Vlahos 17). The location of a new variant on spear points inNew Mexico and Texas indicates that, by 11,5 BP, a separate technologicaltradition had been established in the interior of North America. "Prehistory of North Alaska." Handbook of North American Indians. At the time of thediscovery, in the 196 s, this pottery from the Valdivia culture was theoldest datable pottery in the Americas. 97-1 4.Snow, Dean. C." New World Archaeology: Theoretical and Cultural Transformations. But, archaeology hasmoved rapidly in the last few decades, and "pre-Valdivian pottery, withoutJomon parallels" was found at the same Valdivian sites (Jett 566). The greatest number of hypotheses concern cases of possible Chineseinfluence on South American civilizations. "Precolumbian Transoceanic Contacts." Ancient North Americans. Ed. It is understood, from the dating of various artifacts andcampsites, that many groups followed earlier migrants who were already wellestablished when they arrived. The Eskimos, much more recent migrants, are genetically distinct fromNative Americans and much more closely linked to the Eskimo groups inSiberia, Greenland and other locations. Dixon reports thatthe study of Pleistocene Epoch migrations to throughout Austronesia(Australia and Polynesia) provides interesting parallels for studying themigrations in the north (125). In another example, bark-cloth manufacturing tools, from a process that originated in China around4,4 BP, have been discovered in Mesoamerica and dated at around 2,8 BP. Freeman, 1974. The Ipiutak culture only arose in Alaska about 2, years ago, at the beginning of the Christian Era in Europe. The numberof completely distinct languages in the Americas offers further proof ofthis. One of the most interesting examples of suchhypothesized contact is the discovery of pottery in Ecuador, dating from5, BP and displaying possible Japanese influence. It was only in the 198 s that Pleistocenesites began to be discovered on islands far out into the Pacific. But, their material culture was extremelylimited, as with most migratory stone-age peoples, and any material objectsmade of organic materials have long since vanished, leaving primarily a fewbone tools and the technological tradition of spear points as their onlylegacy. The subcontinent of Beringia is now mostly under 3 feet of water.But, the most recent sample cores taken from the floor of the Bering andChukchi Seas show that Beringia was above sea level as recently as 11, years ago ("Bering" 41). But, the concept of a "bridge" may mislead people intothinking that the migrations must have occurred "over what is now theshortest point between the continents," while, in fact, the original routescould have been very close to the coastline all the way around the archbetween Asia and America (Francis Jennings 27). But, the most interesting possibility of non-Beringian Asian accessto the Americas does not come from the Holocene period. 8 -93."Bering Land Bridge." Science News 2 Jul. Ed.

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