Colonization of America

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The settlement of America is generally understood to mean the settlement history of the American continent , i.e. the history of (ethnic) immigration in contrast to mere discoveries of America without settlements. It is still much discussed among linguists , archaeologists , anthropologists , geneticists and ethnologists , especially with regard to the timing, but also the route. According to current research, the Native Americans immigrated in waves at the end of the last ice age , known in North America as the Wisconsin glaciation (Wisconsin Ice Age), no more than 15,000 years ago.

Genetic studies show that the ancestors of the modern Americans reached the continent at least 18,000 years ago. For their estimation, the researchers examined certain regions of the Y chromosome in today's native American population. Here they discovered a mutation that today's Asians also carry, which probably appeared in the human genome 18,000 years ago . The separation between Asians and Americans should therefore have taken place later.

Theories of first settlement

Since the 1930s and the discovery of the Clovis culture , most scholars have assumed that America was first settled over the Beringia Land Bridge after the end of the Ice Age 11,500 to 10,000 years ago . Based on radiocarbon dates , confirmed finds of the so-called Nenana Complex in Alaska are dated to up to 11,500  BP , which corresponds to a calibrated calendar age of about 11,500 BC. Corresponds to. Even older dates were known from excavations at the " Debra L. Friedkin Site " in Texas in 2011 , where find layers with stone tools were dated between 15,500 and 13,200 years ago. Although the question of immigration via Alaska is not archaeologically proven, the "Beringia Corridor" is still the generally accepted theory of colonization of the American continent.

Today anthropologists and archaeologists, based on both genetic analysis and linguistic research, tend to have at least three waves of immigration from Siberia:

  • The first and by far the most important wave, in the late Pleistocene at the end of the Ice Age around 15,500 years ago, when mammoths , horses and giant sloths still populated the continent.
  • The second wave brought the ancestors of the Na-Dene - Indians , mainly engaged in Alaska settled and in western Canada. Some groups, the ancestors of the Diné and Apache Indians, moved to the southwest of what is now the United States over the millennia.
  • With the third wave, the ancestors of the Eskimos , Unungun and Yupik arrived in Alaska.

On the basis of linguistic analyzes, some scientists assume that between the first and the Na-Dené wave there was another wave with which the ancestors of the Algonquin came to America.

The following theories have been put forward about the origin of the first American settlers:

Widely accepted theories

Map of the Bering Strait Theory
  • The Bering Strait Theory: This theory is the only one for which there is ample archaeological evidence and which is therefore supported by most scholars. It says that before at least 11,500 years (more than 35,000 years ago) during the last ice age, or until the end of the Ice Age, ie from East Asia coming hunter-gatherers first entered the American continent. Where the Bering Strait is today, they reached the then deserted continent via a wide land bridge ( Beringia ), which was created by the low water level during the last Ice Age. But they were prevented by the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the glaciers of the Coast Mountains from migrating further south from the then largely ice-free Alaska. It was only around 11,500 years ago that an ice-free corridor opened between the glaciated Coast Mountains and the Laurentide Ice Sheet in what is now the Yukon Territory . Around a thousand years later, the first groups arrived at the southern tip of South America. More recent research suggests, however, that the corridor could only be used for transit later.
  • The coastal theory: According to this theory, seafarers from Japan and Southeast Siberia, coming from Japan and southeast Siberia, spread along the then ice-free Aleutian Islands and the American west coast and finally settled the entire continent up to the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego . At that time , almost warm-time climatic conditions prevailed until the new cold snap of the Younger Dryas , but the evidence of an early coastal settlement is problematic because 15,000 to 13,500 years ago the sea level was much lower than it is today. Any find spots would be under water.
  • A combination of the Bering Strait and coastal theory considers an initial - weak - immigration along the coast to be probable at most 15,000 years ago, followed by a much stronger immigration around 11,500 years ago. This combined theory is most likely to bring all archaeological, anthropological and genetic studies under one roof.

Numerous finds in Siberia and America speak for both the Bering Strait theory and the coastal theory. In order to explain the time difference between the departure in Asia around 25,000 years ago and the arrival of the first humans in America around 15,000 years ago, a long stay in the area of ​​Beringia is discussed. The reason for the delayed migration is the heavy glaciation in America and the particular suitability of Beringia for human settlement, because climatic factors caused a tundra- like vegetation, which in particular offered trees and thus firewood.

Great uncertainty arose in 1996 when the Kennewick man was found in Washington State . The Kennewick man is a man dating back to about 7300 BC. BC (8410 ± 60 uncal. BP ) dated skeleton, the features of which were initially interpreted as " Caucasoid ", ie European. Later studies saw a comparison with the Ainu , the indigenous people of Japan. In 2015, DNA examinations were possible for the first time, which showed that the Kennewick man is neither particularly related to Europeans nor closely related to the Ainu, but rather is closest to today's representatives of West American Indian tribes.

The genetic relationship of Native Americans to the human populations of East Asia is undisputed. It was extensively investigated by a Japanese genetic study around 2009. It shows that some ancestors of three tribes of the South American Indians in the Amazon were related to today's Australian Aborigines . The same applies to some North American natives who, in addition to the East Asian genes, also have characteristics from early waves of immigration: Here, the genetic relationship to the Ainu (before the Japanese gene influx) and Northeast Siberian ethnic groups was confirmed.

In 2002/03, fossilized excrement with human DNA was found in the Paisley Caves (US state Oregon ), which is 14,300 years old and whose genes have similarities with people from Siberia . This tendency was confirmed by the finds in the Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas , which were dated to an age of 15,500 to 13,200 years BP in 2011, making them the oldest human finds in America to date. Other sites whose age was given to be more than 13,000 years, such as rock paintings examined by Niède Guidon in Brazil, stone tools in the USA or alleged human footprints in Mexico, did not stand up to verification.

A study published in 2010 showed that the late Pleistocene inhabitants of North America ( Paleo-Indians ) differ significantly in morphological features of the skull from the Indians of younger, pre-Columbian age. The former correspond to finds by the Shandingdong people in Zhoukoudian and Melanesians , the later are more closely related to today's Asians. The authors conclude that there were two waves of settlement whose last common ancestors lived in Asia.

The most extensive analyzes of genetic traits of Native Americans to date were published in 2012: They support the three-phase theory of immigration via Beringia and thus confirm earlier genetic, morphological and linguistic theories. 364,470 individual genetic characteristics of members of 52 peoples in all parts of the American double continent, 17 ethnic groups in eastern Asia and a further 57 populations in other parts of the world were examined as comparison material. Influences from Europeans and Afro-Americans were calculated from the data of the Indians and then a neighbor-joining algorithm was used to determine degrees of relationship. The resulting tree shows, with few deviations, the geographical distribution of the peoples from Siberia across Alaska and further from north to south, i.e. it corresponds to a direct and rapid spread of the people on the American double continent south. There are deviations in Central America, where they indicate secondary movements within this area in a retrograde direction. Two groups fall out of this pattern: The Chipewyan only fit 90% into this scheme, so that the analysts assume a second wave of immigrants, who directly cross the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the glaciated coastal mountains into central North America and the later prairie regions have advanced. And the inhabitants of the North American Arctic only cover 57% with the genetic data of the first immigrants, so that the third wave can be assumed here. In 2014, for the first time, a member of the Clovis culture from the only known Clovis grave, Anzick near Wilsal , Montana, could be assigned to the immigrants from Asia via DNA.

Genetic studies on 92 individuals from the period 8,600 to 500 years ago in South America and Mexico showed in 2016 that the coastal group grew from 14,000 BC. Spread to Chile within 1400 years . It could also be shown that the ancestors of the immigrants maintained contact with the Siberian population between 23,000 and 16,400 BC. Chr. Lost.

Genetic analyzes of a Homo sapiens from the Upper Paleolithic with an age of around 24,000 years, whose bones were found at Lake Baikal , allow the immigrants to America to be classified in the populations of Eurasia . Accordingly, the Native Americans descend from a population that lived in northern Eurasia and only spread to Western Europe after the later Americans split off. The analyzes allow the direction of genetic distribution to be clearly established, so that individual matches between the genome of Native Americans and the DNA of Europeans can be explained.

Further indications of the spread of humans in North America result from a comparative dating of projectile points of different types. It is only since the 21st century that finds of so-called Western stemmed points that can be dated from the Paisley Caves have been found in the Great Basin and other parts of the region between the Rocky Mountains in the east and the coastal mountains near the Pacific in the west. They were now recognized as coinciding with the Clovis tips common throughout eastern North America. According to this, a wave of immigrants along the coast would have developed different tools than the immigrants in the eastern parts of the continent.

In mid-2015, two studies appeared in Science and Nature at the same time , which found very small amounts of DNA from Australo - Melanesians in some Native Americans in the Amazon. Both come to different interpretations about the origin of these DNA parts. The Nature study provides evidence that three tribes from the Amazon region, the Ge- speaking Xavante , and the Tupi- speaking Surui and Karitinana, are genetically closely related to the Australian Aborigines and the Melanesians. This connection would therefore have taken place with high probability before the contact between the American indigenous population and Europeans and the subsequent inclusion of America in global migratory flows in the decades and centuries thereafter. In contrast, the Science study describes the traditional distribution of the Native Americans, but can date it better than before. It finds a small amount of Australo-Melanesian DNA both in the Amazon region and in the Aleutians in living descendants of indigenous people. However, the authors do not find this origin in the DNA from the bones of 17 people from population groups that were extinct several centuries ago and whose unusual head shapes first suggested a proximity to Australo-Melanesians. Therefore, contrary to the Nature study, they come to the conclusion that the Australo-Melanesian DNA was only recently introduced into the American population through historical contacts.

More recent dates of the finds in the Bluefish caves in the border area between Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory with an age of 24,000 years cal BP confirm a previously discussed theory that the first humans on the American continent were already at the height of the last Immigrated to Beringia through the ice. In combination with already known genetic data, it can be assumed that a small, genetically isolated population with only around 1000 to 2000 women lived in Alaska and immediately neighboring regions for several thousand years. It was only around 15,000 years cal BP that people would have spread southwards, with the ice-free corridor between the glaciated coastal mountains and the Laurentide ice sheet only being passable at around 13,000 cal BP. Expansion along the coast could have occurred earlier, perhaps by 16,000 cal BP

Scientifically discussed theories

  • First colonization of the South American Pacific coast : According to some researchers, new discoveries indicate that people from the areas of today 's Japan , China and Southeast Asia could have crossed the Pacific at the end of the last Ice Age. Controversial dates of up to 15,000 BP on fireplaces with stone tools and bones come from the Monte Verde site in Chile. The site, which was examined under the direction of archaeologist Tom Dillehay from the University of Kentucky , offers indications that Patagonia and the Chilean coast have been settled.
  • First settlement of the South American Atlantic coast : In the Serra da Capivara , a national park in the southeast of the Brazilian state of Piauí , traces of human settlement have been found that are believed to be more than 30,000 years old. However, the old age of scientific dating is controversial, as is that of South American rock art .
  • Oceania theory : According to this, seafarers hadcrossedthe Pacific Ocean from the South Pacific and would havelandedon the west coasts of North America or South America. For this theory, some use the 11,000 to 11,500 year old women's skull from Luzia in Brazil, in which some scientists recognize Austro-Melanesian features, even if this classification was made by the Brazilian anthropologist of the University of São Paulo Walter Neves , who wrote the skull analyzed by Luzia, is rejected. That would mean that the woman is related to the current inhabitants of the Southwest Pacific (Micronesia, Melanesia, Australia, Philippines). However, due to the well-dated arrival times of the Polynesians on the various Pacific archipelagos (the island groups relatively close to America such as Hawaii or Easter Island were reached no more than 1500 years ago) as well as the lack of linguistic, genetic and cultural similarities between Polynesians and Indians, it can be ruled out that that South America was settled directly from the South Pacific islands or Australia. It is more likely that Austro-Melanesian groups lived further north in the past (such as the “Negritos” of the Philippines today) and from here reached America early on via the North Pacific coasts (cf. coastal theory and the theory of settlement from South America ).
  • Some archaeologists claim bone finds from the Bluefish Caves in the Canadian Yukon Territory are the oldest evidence of settlement in North America. Archaeological research since the 1970s has revealed the presence of humans in these caves since at least 8000 BC. Prove. The assumption of the archaeologists excavating there that bones that are up to 25,000 years old have been manipulated by humans, as well as two stones that are regarded as chips , are still unanimously rejected by the scientific community of archeology. Since the up to 30,000 year old finds at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site ( Yana RHS for short ) near the mouth of the Jana River in Eastern Siberia , the discussion of the oldest sites in Northwest America has been gaining momentum.
  • Kon Tiki: Thor Heyerdahl showed with the Kon Tiki expedition in 1947 that prehistoric means could navigate the Pacific Ocean between Southeast Asia, Easter Island and the central South American coast. Statements about the actual origin are not connected with this.
  • Atlantic theory , even Solutrean hypothesis : the stone tools of the Clovis culture have a certain resemblance to stone tools of the Solutrean -Culture, a culture that in the period from about 22,000 to 16,500 before present in today's areas of France , Portugal and Spain home was. This fact allows direct immigration from Europe to be considered if one disregards the fact that there is a time gap of around 5000 years between the end of the Solutreen and the beginning of the Clovis cultures. According to this theory, the immigrants crossed the Atlantic along the polar cap, which reached far to the south, and landed on the east coast of North America. The theory was first advocated by the linguist Richard Fester , who justified it with similarities between European and North American languages, which are, however, linguistically controversial. The two archaeologists Dennis Stanford from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington and Bruce Bradley from the University of Exeter have been working on a new systematic compilation of the archaeological findings since around 2002. In the publication "Across Atlantic Ice - The Origin of America's Clovis Culture" by In 2012, in addition to the manufacturing features and the parallel in the tool deposit, a stone tip with all the features of the Solutreén artifacts, which was found off the coast of New England in the 1970s, will also be presented in detail. The Solutréen theory in the form of Stanford and Bradley was rejected in terms of content as early as 2005, because it only dealt with technical similarities and disregards the overwhelming differences. According to the DNA analysis of the Clovis Fund, Anzick has not been able to represent her since 2014 .
  • Much older finds: At various sites in North and South America ( Monte Verde , Chile; Serra da Capivara , Brazil; Bluefish caves , Yukon; Cactus Hill , Virginia; Cerutti Mastodon near San Diego , California and others), find situations have been found to be significant Dated 15,000 years ago. Sometimes their age is only around 1500 years before the established find contexts, sometimes finds in 130,000 year old layers (Cerutti Mastodon) are interpreted as the result of human activity. None of these finds contain human DNA in undisturbed stratigraphy. Find situations are always described as being influenced by people. In Cerutti Mastodon , broken marrow bones of a mastodon and stones found nearby are interpreted in a complex manner as the result of human activity recognized elsewhere and in a different time period as a specific method of extracting bone marrow for consumption. In July 2020, Nature published two studies and two technical articles that refer to much earlier dates. In the Chiquihuite Cave in northern Mexico nearly 2,000 stone tools were excavated, of which were found in layers 239, which could be dated to 32,000 to 25,000 years ago. These finds and a large number of other particularly early dated finds were summarized in the second study and statistically evaluated. The authors come to the conclusion that America must have been populated extensively 15,000 years ago and that there would have been a thin, local settlement before then. Both studies were criticized in the accompanying essays. Contrary to the findings of the excavators in the Chiquihuite cave, it is by no means certain that the stones found are human artefacts , they could be of natural origin. Human DNA was expressly not found. In addition, almost all dates in the statistical analysis are disputed in themselves. The problem with the very early ones of these dates is that there is no explanation as to when or how people were supposed to have reached America at such an early date. For the dates around 30,000 years Before Present , it is stated that migration along the coasts would be difficult to prove because the sites are now under water due to the rise in sea level.

Non-scientific hypotheses

Since the New and Old Worlds have been in permanent contact, i.e. since Columbus' journeys, numerous hypotheses and theories have been put forward about possible pre-Columbian contacts. Most of these theories are either refuted or based on weak evidence and have strong inconsistencies, so that the professional world generally rejects them outright. Many of the theories are based on historical revisionist ideas. Some of the most popular or historically most strongly advocated theses are presented here.

  • The Atlantis theory and theories derived from it: These theories from the 19th and 20th centuries assume that America was settled from parts of the world that no longer exist today, such as Atlantis. Corresponding assumptions are based, for example, on the mythology of the Hopi Indians. The " land bridge hypothesis " and "areas of eternal spring" have been described for millennia (Atlantis) and are scientifically clearly refutable. Greenland has been frozen for at least 200,000 years ( Greenland Ice Core Project ) and a land bridge between Europe and America has not existed for about 135 million years since the formation of the Atlantic through continental drift and the ocean floor spreading .
  • The Bible theory: In the colonial era, people tried to answer the question of the colonization of America with the help of the Bible. For example, it was thought that the Indians descended from the ten Jewish tribes that were expelled from Israel .
  • The Book of Mormon Theory: This religious book by Joseph Smith describes the settlement of America following the Tower of Babel . These first immigrants (Jaredites) were destroyed in civil wars. The book also tells of two groups of Israelites who lived independently of each other with ships around 600 BC. . BC came to America. These peoples met around 300 BC. Chr. Each other. After various divisions and reunions, the part of the people who kept the records was destroyed.
  • The Madoc Theory: According to legend, the Welsh Prince Madoc avoided an inheritance dispute in 1169 and sailed westward. He is said to have advanced as far as Mobile Bay in what is now the US state of Alabama . He then returned to Wales, only to leave for America a year later. With his group he is said to have settled in the Georgia , Kentucky or Tennessee area. Proponents of this theory see numerous indications that the Mandan are the descendants of this group. The Mandan language was similar to Welsh , their culture contained Welsh elements, their mythology roughly corresponded to the Madoc story and George Rogers Clark , the brother of William Clark , discovered a tombstone in Indiana in 1799 with the date 1186. Six skeletons were exhumed from the stone, which would have had the Welsh coat of arms engraved on a brass breastplate.

Occupied later stages of settlement

The first scientifically proven European settlement in America took place around 1000 AD by the Vikings .


According to an Icelandic saga , the Viking Leif Eriksson sailed from Greenland to America in AD 1000 or 1001 . It probably ended up in Newfoundland . According to the saga, a friend of Eriksson's named Bjarni Herjólfsson discovered America 15 years earlier after getting lost on the open sea. However, Herjólfsson had not landed in America, but drove on to Greenland without stopping. Leif Eriksson had consulted Herjólfsson for his trip to America. Eriksson and his men built houses on the coast and spent the winter on a stretch of coast they called Vinland . The next spring they sailed back to Greenland. While Leif succeeded his father Erik the Red as leader of Brattahlíð , his brother Thorvald went to America, found Leif's houses, but was killed in a dispute with the local population. His helmsman brought news of his death to Greenland two years later. Thorstein , another of Leif's brothers, followed their route but failed to find America and returned unsuccessfully.

In 1006 the Icelander Thorfinn Karlsefni , who had meanwhile married Thorstein's widow, made the first real attempt to colonize America. With three ships and 250 people he sailed to Vinland, where he found the abandoned huts of Leif. After initially friendly contact with the local population, tension developed and soon mutual attacks, in which most of the Vikings died. The survivors held out in Vinland for two more years before returning to Greenland.

A last attempt by Leif's half-sister Freydis Eriksdóttir followed . As soon as they arrived in Vinland, however, the Vikings fell out among themselves.

Reconstruction of a Viking settlement in Vinland in L'Anse aux Meadows ( Newfoundland )

Parts of this saga have been scientifically proven. Leif's description of America corresponds exactly to the actual situation. In 1961 a Viking settlement was excavated in L'Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland). The researchers assume that these were the houses built by Leif Eriksson.

The Icelandic annals tell of further trips to America, including by a bishop named Erik Gnupsson in 1121 and by priests in the 13th century . The last description refers to a crossing in 1347. It is unclear whether these Vikings stayed in America or returned to Europe.

There is evidence of Viking journeys further south along the North American Atlantic coast. The Maine State Museum in Augusta exhibits a 1065-1080 Viking coin that was unearthed in Maine.

Christoph Columbus

In 1492, the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus arrived in America while trying to find a new sea ​​route to India . What followed was what has been termed (historically imprecise) the European discovery of America . The double continent was gradually taken over and colonized by European powers .

The indigenous indigenous population and their cultures were often pushed back. European immigrants and their descendants as well as (black) Africans abducted as slaves shaped almost the entire continent from then on.

See also


  • David J. Meltzer : First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America. University of California Press, Berkeley / Los Angeles 2009, ISBN 978-0-520-25052-9 .
  • Ted Goebel, Michael R. Waters, Dennis H. O'Rourke: The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas. In: Science. 319, March 2008, pp. 1497-1502. (Summary of the state of research on the Clovis First debate)

Individual evidence

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