Linguistic Anthropologists using the latest technology are trying to solve an “ancient mystery” of how and when early humans inhabited the New World. Their latest finds suggest complex patterns of contact and migration among the first people who settled in the Americas. Ahhh…….life is not so simple and this research proves that once again.
The research is being led by the University of Virginia. Researchers say that ecological, genetic, and archaeological data support the hypothesis of human habitation in Beringia during the last Ice Age using new linguistic methods to compare similarities and differences between languages.
This new research is analyzing more than 100 linguistic features and findings indicate there were more complex patterns of contact and migration among the early people of the Americas. They note that the diversity of language in the Americas is like no other continent on the planet with 8 times more isolates than found on any other continent. Isolates are languages that have no demonstrable connection to any other language with which it can be classed into a family.
In North America there are 26 isolates while in South America there are 55. These isolates are primarily found along the western edges of North and South America. Compare this to just 1 isolate found in Europe, 8 found in Africa, and 9 in Asia and you begin to see the significance of this study! The isolates found in North and South America far outweigh those found in Europe, Asia, and Africa combined!!
Scientists have been rethinking the landbridge theory that is theorized to have existed (more than once) between Siberia and Alaska. It may NOT have just been a bridge! In fact, several scientists are coming to the opinion that it was far more than just a bridge, perhaps some kind of landmass. Humans are known to have lived in this area for up to 15K years and they are known to have migrated down into North America and some migrations were in reverse, meaning back into Asia.
The Linguists findings will be presented tomorrow at the annual meeting of the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science in Boston. Much of Beringia is believed to have been generally located between northwestern North America and northeastern Asia and is believed to have now been underwater for more than 10K years. Finding archaeological and ecological evidence is therefore difficult.
The new linguistic study used “big data” to compare similarities and differences between languages and findings suggest the people would have been linguistically diverse. Analysis seems to point to at least 3 now extinct languages spoken by these first people and it is believed these languages influenced the Aleut and Dene languages. The data supports the notion of PHASES of migration (more than one and more than one direction) ALONG THE ALASKAN COAST.
Traces of these language contacts also supports the notion of mixing populations at the time. People migrated back and forth and languages diversified NOT through isolation but through multilingual contact!! Further, this study supports the notion of not only migrations out of Asia into the Americas but also the notion that some migrations were from the Americas BACK into Asia! And it also supports the idea of MULTIPLE MIGRATION ROUTES not simply one!!!
Researchers also found connections between the Tsuu’ina Athabaskan language in western Canada and the Apache and Navajo languages found in the American Southwest!!
Language is important in the study of ancient people and Linguistics often provides us with some answers that are not found using other areas of research. In this case it appears that contact and back and forth migrations between the Americas and Asia were far more complex that most think. Interior passages and coastal passage I think now are BOTH rather obvious in light of this study! Hopefully this team will do more studies and reveal new findings to shine an even BIGGER spotlight on these migrations and ancient people. FANTASTIC!!!