New evidence suggesting the area of the Bering Strait, called Beringia, supported trees during the last glacial maximum have led some scientists to conclude that 17-year-old theories that the first American Indians made a “10,000-year pit stop” there en route from Asia to the Americas are true.

But, as Alex Ewan of the Purepecha Nation writes at Indian Country Today Media Network, the new discoveries tend to cloud, rather than support, the theories.

As a review in Past Horizons, an archeology magazine, noted, “the weakest link to the Out of Beringia theory is the lack of archaeological evidence.” There is absolutely no sign that humans lived in this region during this time. In addition, although the study showed that the area had “surprisingly mild temperatures” during the summer (for an ice age), it was still cooler than the area is now, which is not particularly hospitable.

Indeed, if anything, the study findings set the Beringian Standstill theory back. According to a review in Scientific American, “This kind of vegetation would not have supported the large, grazing animals – woolly mammoth, woolly rhino, Pleistocene horses, camels, and bison.” It had previously been presumed that Beringia was covered in grass, and that the large animals were what the Paloeindians had lived on, but the shrub tundra would have only supported small mammals, “perhaps some bighorn sheep,” and possibly elk.

Sediment cores from the region dating between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago show evidence of trees, important because people would have needed fuel for campfires in the cold climate.

One author of the study, John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado, calls it “solid evidence for humans in Beringia before the last glacial maximum, as geneticists first predicted in 1997.”

But Ewen, at ICTMN, calls it ” ‘science by press release,’ where the conclusions are hyped well beyond what the actual findings show.”

Since the early 1990s … the genetic evidence indicates that Indians, as a distinct peoples, are at least 30,000 years old, and likely much older. Linguistic evidence has also pointed to Indians being at least 35,000 years old, and possibly 50,000 years old. The Beringian Standstill theory thus allows the archeologists and the geneticists to have their cake and eat it too, as it gives the time for the Paloeindians to develop unique genetic and linguistic characteristics, while at the same time, it keeps them out of the Americas.

But like the Bering Strait theory, the Beringian Standstill theory requires some unusual circumstances to make it work, the most important of which is that the Paleoindians who lived in Beringia were completely isolated from any other humans for more than 10,000 years and maybe up to 20,000 years, to prevent genetic and linguistic mixing.

Ewen says it may lead to other views about Indian origins in the Americas being taken more seriously.

- Vince Devlin

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