Ancient Details about the Pre-Columbian World

An approximation of the theorized Bering land bridge during the Wisconsin Glaciation. Wikimedia Commons.

15. The Americas used to be connected to Asia by an enormous land bridge connecting Alaska to Siberia which comprised a fertile grassland region known as Beringia.

The modern-day regions of Siberia in Russia and Alaska in the United States were once connected by an extensive land bridge, enabling migratory human populations to become the original settlers of the ancient Americas; known as “Beringia”, this lost region comprised the land and sea located to the east of the Lena River, west of the Mackenzie River, south of the Chukchi Sea, and north of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Believed to have formed a massive land bridge between the continents measuring up to 1,000 kilometers wide, Beringia would have historically covered an area larger than modern-day British Columbia and Alberta combined, totaling in excess of 1.6 million square kilometers; the only remnants of this ancient land is a handful of islands scattered across the Bering Strait, notably the Pribilof Islands and the Diomede Islands.

Theorized to have existed around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, estimated to have occurred between 20,000-22,000 years ago and causing significant portions of the Earth’s water becoming stored as glacial ice, precipitating a noticeable reduction in oceanic water levels, Beringia itself was not a glacial or frigid environment; in fact, geological evidence suggests that in spite of its location the region was actually an extensive grassland steppe offering an encouraging and fertile region upon which early human settlers would undeniably have been attracted towards.

Arriving at some time during the existence of Beringia, between 20,000-16,500 years ago the American glaciers to the south of the now-submerged region melted to allow southward migration by these earliest of Americans. Disappearing under the rising seas as the absorbent glaciers melted about 11,000 years ago, the population of the region was forced to scatter to either ends of Beringia; the Yupik people stand as testament to the dramatic isolation caused by this event, with ethnic and cultural similarities remaining on either side of the newly-formed Bering Strait to this day.