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Data release for Ice and ocean constraints on early human migrations into North America along the Pacific coast

February 8, 2023

Founding populations of the first Americans likely occupied parts of Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) (1). The timing, pathways, and modes of their southward transit remain unknown, but blockage of the interior route by North American ice sheets between ~26-14 cal kyr BP (ka) favors a coastal route during this period. Using models and paleoceanographic data from the North Pacific, we identify climatically favorable intervals when humans could have plausibly traversed the Cordilleran coastal corridor during the terminal Pleistocene. Model simulations suggest that northward coastal currents strengthened during the LGM and at times of enhanced freshwater input, making southward transit by boat more difficult. Repeated Cordilleran glacial-calving events (2) would have further challenged coastal transit on land and at sea. Following these events, ice-free coastal areas opened and seasonal sea ice was present along the Alaskan margin until at least 15 ka. Given evidence for humans south of the ice sheets by 16 ka and possibly earlier (3), we posit that early people may have taken advantage of winter sea ice that connected islands and coastal refugia. Marine ice-edge habitats offer a rich food supply and traversing coastal sea ice could have mitigated the difficulty of traveling southward in watercraft or on land over glaciers. We identify 24.5-22 ka and 16.4-14.8 ka as environmentally favorable time periods for coastal migration, when climate conditions provided both winter sea ice and ice-free summer conditions that facilitated year-round marine resource diversity and multiple modes of mobility along the North Pacific coast.

Publication Year 2023
Title Data release for Ice and ocean constraints on early human migrations into North America along the Pacific coast
DOI 10.5066/P95V8DP2
Authors Jay R Alder, Summer K Praetorius, Alan Condron
Product Type Data Release
Record Source USGS Digital Object Identifier Catalog
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center