April 3 (UPI) -- New analysis of ancient spear points suggests the first people to settle North America took the Pacific coastal route, while the interior Canadian route remained unexplored until several thousand years later.
The traditional story of America's peopling puts the first settlers on the interior Canadian route. As the ice-free corridor of interior western Canada emerged, the first Americans trekked across Alaska and Canada and into the Great Plains -- that's how the story goes, anyways.
But newer genetic studies of ancient Siberians, Alaskans and Americans have challenged the narratives, suggesting instead that the earliest settlers had made their way to southern Canada before an ice-free corridor made migration across Canada's interior possible.
As part of the latest study, researchers at Texas A&M's Center for the Study of the First Americans created a digital map of spear points left behind by early American migrants. New digital methods of analysis helped the researchers identify relationships between spear point technologies, revealing the geographical movements of early cultures.
"Although during the late Ice Age there were two possible routes for the first Americans to follow on their migration from the Bering Land Bridge area southward to temperate North America, it now looks like only the Pacific coastal route was used, while the interior Canadian route may not have been fully explored until millennia later, and when it was, primarily from the south," anthropologist Ted Goebel said in a news release.
The patterns revealed by the digital analysis showed these early Americans were moving northward through the ice-free corridor of interior western Canada, some 12,000 years ago, not southward.
"It shows that these early people in western Canada and Alaska were descendent of Clovis, the first settlers of North America, and they used the same type of weapons to hunt for food, especially bison," said researcher Heather Smith. "These makers of fluted points were not just all over mid-continent North America but were also migrating northward back to the Arctic."
The traditional explanation for the peopling of North America places a heavy emphasis on southward migrations, but the newest findings suggest the migration patterns of early migrant populations were more complex.
Researchers detailed their analysis of the spread of spear point technology this week in the journal PNAS.
"The findings of these fluted spear points provide archaeological evidence supporting new genetic models explaining how humans colonized the New World," Smith said.