An ambitious new cross-disciplinary study promises to at least partially resolve a long-running debate in science. Did the first Americans arrive via an inland land-bridge route, threading their way through ice sheets in modern-day Alaska? Or did they skirt the coastline from Asia to the Americas?
According to the new analysis of archaeological, genetic, and other data, the answer is … both. Probably.
The conclusion leaves a bit to be desired in terms of wager-settling, but according to the research team, it really is the most accurate assessment archaeologists can make at this point.
The findings, if widely accepted, represent a potentially major shift in scientific thinking. For much of the 20th century, it was considered bedrock truth that the first Americans came to the continent via the ice free corridor — or IFC — a route between two massive ice sheets from Asia through the interior of Alaska and finally into the high plains of North America.
But in the last 20 years or so, new data has emerged suggesting that at least some of the very first Americans may have arrived by way of the “kelp highway” — a coastal route from Asia to the western coastline of North America. Emerging consensus on this theory refers to the pathway as the North Pacific Coast route, or NPC.
The authors of the new paper conclude that although the IFC route is more often supported by data, the NPC route is now adequately well-supported too, and both theories should be considered as viable pathways to the Americas.
“I think we’re in a very exciting time where we can’t exclude either coastal or interior route,” study author Ben Potter, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, said in a conference call with reporters. “Both could be used, actually; I suspect both probably were used.”
The research was published August 8 in the journal Science Advances.