This video is part of a series of 5 animated maps.

View series: Prehistory

Series: Prehistory
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Colonisation of the Americas

This map is part of a series of 5 animated maps showing the history of Prehistory.

Evidence shows that Homo sapiens was present in Eastern Siberia at least 35,000 years ago. At that time, due to low sea levels, a wide strip of land called Beringia connected Eurasia to the American continent.

Groups of hunter-gatherers crossed Beringia following herds of large herbivores such as caribou or mammoths. Signs of their presence dating back 25,000 years have been found in caves near the Bluefish River in the far northwest of present-day Canada.

With the onset of a period of global warming, the huge North American ice sheet began to retreat. Homo sapiens advanced south, probably in several waves, either through a central ice-free corridor or along the Pacific coast, as suggested by the 13,000-year-old human footprints found on Calvert Island in British Columbia.

The Clovis site discovered in New Mexico in the 1920s was long considered evidence of the earliest colonisation of America by Homo sapiens. This site gave its name to the Clovis culture, which is characterised by the production of fluted stone points shaped using percussion on both faces. Other, more recent discoveries of archaeological sites in North America have now cast doubt on the anteriority of this colonisation.

Homo sapiens continued to migrate through Central and South America to reach Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of the continent. Numerous archaeological sites attest to this advance, such as Taima-Taima in Venezuela, Huaca Prieta in Peru and Monte Verde in Chile.

The dating of some prehistoric sites in the Americas is the subject of controversy among archaeologists, specifically with regard to the dating techniques used and the nature of the remains. This is the case of the Pedra Furada site in present-day Brazil, which, according to some experts, dates back 30,000 or 40,000 years. This age would imply that the land route through Beringia was not the only route to the Americas and that H. sapiens may have originally migrated by sea along the Pacific coast.

Sea levels have since risen by about 100 metres and submerged any sites along this route where H. sapiens may have been present, thus destroying any physical evidence of interest to archaeologists.