Spread of fluted-point technology in Canada's Ice-Free Corridor
Careful examination of numerous fluted spear points found in Alaska and western Canada prove that the Ice Age peopling of the Americas was much more complex than previously believed, according to a study done by two Texas A&M University researchers.
Texas A&M researchers Heather L. Smith and Ted Goebel analyzed numerous fluted spear points from Alaska, the Yukon, and artifacts from further south in Canada, the Great Plains, and the eastern United States.
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide compelling evidence that may change how we view the traveling patterns of early humans as they populated the Americas.
Using new digital methods of analysis that examined the geometric and morphometric shape, as well as a phylogenetic analysis of technological traits on the artifacts, the researchers came to the conclusion that early settlers in the emerging ice-free corridor of interior western Canada "were travelling north to Alaska, not south from Alaska, as previously interpreted," says Goebel, a professor of anthropology at Texas A&M.
"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," said Goebel.
It is believed the interior Ice-free route was not fully explored until millennia later, and then, primarily from the south. “The findings of these fluted spear points provide archaeological evidence supporting new genetic models explaining how humans colonized the New World.”
The traditional explanations of a migration route
It has been generally believed that early humans traveled from Siberia across the Bering land-bridge into Alaska and then followed the ice-free corridor that gradually opened in western Canada to reach the Great Plains of the western United States.
Mikkel Winther Pedersen
However, new genetic studies of ancient Siberians, Alaskans, and Americans, and the discovery of new sites south of the Canadian ice sheets that pre-date the opening of the ice-free corridor give credence to the belief that the first migration route was along the Pacific Coast.
One of the sites, on Triquet Island, on B.C.'s central coast, has been under excavation by researchers from the University of Victoria since 2012. The research team has found a number of artifacts that date to over 14,000 years ago, during the last ice age where glaciers covered much of North America.
The second site, reported on last month, is on Calvert Island, British Columbia. Archaeologists from the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria have been excavating the site since its discovery in 2014. Radiocarbon dating indicates people were living on the island over 13,000 years ago.
Clovis people arrowheads - Bill Whittaker
The team also found several stone tools, but none resembling the fluted projectile point of the Clovis style, usually associated with early North Americans. Clovis points have never been found this far north in Canada, suggesting these early humans used unfluted projectile points instead.
Study of the projectile points
“The key is that the projectile points are related in their technology and morphology, and the way in which some of these characteristics vary forms the pattern of an ancestral-descendant relationship,” said lead author Dr. Heather Smith, who worked on her Ph.D. at Texas A&M and is now with Eastern New Mexico University. “This suggests that the people who carried the artifacts to these locations were related as well.”
What does all this mean? Simply put, it shows that early people in Alaska and Western Canada were descendants of Clovis people, the first settlers in North America, and means they used the same type of weapons to hunt for food. More specifically, according to the researchers, this means that while the makers of the Clovis points were all over the mid-continent of North America, they also migrated northward, back to the Arctic region.
Fluted point examples included in the analysis: (A) the northern fluted complex, (B) Northeast, (C) Folsom, (D) Clovis and Clovis Caches, and (E) Great Lakes. - Heather L. Smith & Ted Goebel
These artifacts can be used to document migration patterns of prehistoric peoples," Dr. Smith says. "The spear points prove that the peopling of the Americas was much more complex than we had believed and that these early settlers went in a lot of different directions, not just south. We now have a better picture of what weapons they used to hunt and where their travels took them."
According to the study, this suggests fluting technology arrived in the Arctic from a proximate source in the interior Ice-Free Corridor and ultimately from the earliest populations in temperate North America, complementing new genomic models explaining the peopling of the Americas.