Document-Based Investigation Who Was Here First?

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Document-Based Investigation

Who Was Here First?

Background Information

How do we know what happened in the past when no written records are available? Archaeologists use scientific methods to collect and examine items people of the past made, used, or modified. Anthropologists study human beings and use a variety of methods to analyze and describe the culture and way of life of a group of people.

Historical Context

Most textbooks state that the first people of the Americas migrated via the land bridge in the area of the Bering Strait. However, new evidence has been discovered that questions the accepted explanation of the arrival of man in North America. Read through the following sources to determine what evidence is used to answer the question, who was here first? As you read, consider whether or not some sources are more believable than others.

Source A: Map presented in your American history textbook.

asia migration

Transparency, American History: Beginnings to 1865. Holt McDougall

The new world's earliest people; tests hint campsite is 15,000 years old
New dating tests and other evidence are encouraging archaeologists to think that a campsite in southeastern Virginia was occupied by people more than 15,000 years ago and thus could contain the earliest known traces of human beings in North America.
The findings appear to lend further support to the growing belief that the New World was occupied thousands or tens of thousands of years earlier than once thought. When, where and how people first came to the New World is the oldest mystery of American archaeology. . .
What is especially remarkable, archaeologists said, is that the discovery appears to reveal two distinct cultures at the two levels.

The people who built campfires there 11,000 years ago had stone projectile points made in the style developed by what are known as the Clovis people. Similar stone weapons were first discovered in the 1930's near the town of Clovis, N.M., and have since been found at many sites dated at 10,000 to 11,200 years ago. For several decades, these people were assumed to be the founding population of today's American Indians.

But in 1997, after years of bitter dispute, leading archaeologists established that an apparently pre-Clovis people had been living as far south as Chile at least 12,500 years ago. Now, at Cactus Hill's lower level, archaeologists have found blade-type stone tools that appear to have been used for butchering meat and processing hides, but nothing closely resembling Clovis spear points.
''Welcome to the pre-Clovis world,'' said Dr. Dennis Stanford, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, commenting on the mounting evidence of earlier American occupation. Other places where pre-Clovis people may have lived in the Eastern United States include the Meadowcroft rock shelter near Pittsburgh and the Topper site near the Savannah River in South Carolina.
Source B

Article from The New York Times reporting on the discovery of new evidence of early man

Wilford, John Noble. "The new world's earliest people; tests hint campsite is 15,000 years old." New York Times 11 Apr. 2000: D2 (N); F2 (L).
General Reference Center Gold. Web. 5 June 2010.

Source C

Portion of an encyclopedia article from the Web site of the Smithsonian Institution

Recent discoveries in New World archaeology along with new scientific methods for analyzing data have led to new ideas regarding the origin of the first peoples of the Americas and their time of arrival.

The traditional theory held that the first Americans crossed the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska around 11,500 years ago. . .
There is convincing evidence of human habitation (the place one lives) sites that date earlier than the Clovis culture including sites located in South America. Monte Verde, a well-studied site located along a river near southern central Chile, dates 12500 years ago. This site contains the buried remnants (remaining pieces) of dwellings, stone tools . . . preserved medicinal plants.
A coastal migration route is now gaining more acceptance, rather than the older view of small bands moving on foot across the middle of the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska and into the continents. Emerging (coming to one’s attention) evidence suggests that people with boats moved along the Pacific coast into Alaska and northwestern Canada and eventually south to Peru and Chile by 12,500 years ago—and perhaps much earlier. Archaeological evidence in Australia . . . and Japan indicate boats were in use as far back as 25,000 to 40,000 years ago. Sea routes would have provided abundant food resources and easier and faster movement than land routes.


Source D

A map showing possible migration routes, including some by water.allover


Source E

Americas Settled by Two Groups of Early Humans, Study Says

At least two distinct groups of early humans colonized the Americas, a new study says, reviving the debate about who the first Americans were and when they arrived.

Anthropologists (scientists who study cultures) Walter Neves and Mark Hubbe, studied 81 skulls of early humans from South America and found them to be different from both modern and ancient Native Americans. The 7,500 to 11,000 year-old remains suggest that the oldest settlers of the Americans came from different genetic stock than the more recent Native Americans.
Modern Native Americans share traits with . . . peoples of Mongolia, China, and Siberia, the researchers say. But Neves and Hubbe found that dozens of skulls from Brazil appear much more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians (people from islands in the South Pacific), and sub-Saharan Africans. . . .
Some scholars favor coastal migration theories in which early settlers hopped along the Pacific coast in boats. More controversial theorists won’t rule out the possibilities of ocean crossings from Europe or Asia.
The supporting evidence in this source is based on the physical characteristics of human remains.

Source: Handwork, B. National Geographic News, December 12, 2005 retrieved from

Source F.

This report of the findings at Cactus Hill, Virginia is included on a Web site that examines how various people of the Pacific could have traveled by boat to North America.

The Cactus Hill site has been worked by archaeologists Lynn and Joseph McAvoy since 1996. It has a layer of Clovis tools (dated to around 11,000 years, a tool type that has for many years been thought to be the work of the earliest known migrants to North America. What makes the site special and unusually important is that is have unmixed . . . layers below Clovis with charcoal from a hearth (fire pit) dating to 15,000 years ago. As is usual with dates going beyond Clovis, there is intense controversy. However, the dating was tested using several different methods . . . and it does seem to be correct. This makes Cactus Hill one of the oldest sites found so far in North America . . .

Source: Weber, G. Cactus Hill site (Virginia, USA) retrieved from

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