Early Native Americans spent millennia living on the Bering Land Bridge now buried under water before they appeared in Alaska and the rest of the North America, researchers said on Friday.
The finding provides answers to a long-running mystery about where the people who first set foot on the New World survived the last Ice Age after splitting from their Asian relatives 25,000 years ago.
“This work fills in a 10,000-year missing link in the story of the peopling of the New World,” said Scott Elias from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway College in London.
Insect and plant fossils found in the ancient Bering Land Bridge’s sediment cores revealed that hundreds or thousands of people likely called central Beringia home for 5,000 years or more.
The theory, known as the “Beringia Standstill,” was first proposed in 1997 by two Latin American geneticists and refined a decade later by a team led by the University of Tartu in Estonia that sampled mitrochondrial DNA from more than 600 Native Americans.
Mutations in the DNA indicated that a group of the Native Americans’ direct ancestors were likely isolated for at least several thousand years in the Bering Land Bridge area.
The land bridge is now buried about 50m to 60m under the waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
Many archeologists now say early humans first migrated to the New World about 15,000 years ago after retreating glaciers provided a path into North America through coastal and interior routes, though the subject is still a matter of debate.