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The Initial Colonization of North America: Sea Level Change, Shoreline Movement, and Great Migrations

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Mobility and Ancient Society in Asia and the Americas

Abstract

A number of different scenarios have been proposed regarding the origin, timing, and directions initial populations took as they first entered the Americas. In this chapter the major colonization models that have dominated thinking for decades are reviewed, followed by a detailed examination of the role sea level change played in early settlement, with a case study from the southeastern USA. How rapidly shorelines were changing is examined, in meters per year and decade, over 18 time periods from 20,000 to 10,000 cal year BP and along 22 transects running from the modern shoreline to the edge of the continental shelf spaced at roughly 250–300 km intervals from the Texas–Mexico border to the Virginia–North Carolina line. Shoreline movement was neither uniform nor unidirectional, and ranged from a few meters to hundreds of meters per decade, conditions that would have likely influenced human settlement. Shoreline movement was, on average, much faster along the Gulf of Mexico where the continental shelf was broader and more gently sloping than on the South Atlantic seaboard. Shoreline movement was comparatively minor in most areas from the Last Glacial Maximum until the onset of the Bølling-Allerød and MWP-1A, for several hundred years after MWP-1A, and again for several hundred years towards the end of the Younger Dryas. Much greater shoreline movement is evident during MWP-1A, at the end of the Bølling-Allerød and the initial centuries of the Younger Dryas, and during MWP-1B. Variation in coastal environments may help explain the lower incidence of Middle Paleoindian Clovis sites and isolated finds on the modern Gulf as opposed to South Atlantic Coastal Plains, and the increased use of interior areas during the Late Paleoindian period in parts of the region.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank the organizers and sponsors of this “Great Migrations” session for the invitation to attend and submit a paper to the proceedings volume. Just as the initial settlers of the Americas may well have come from Central Asia in the vicinity of Kazakhstan, another great human migration, hopefully the greatest of all, likewise started from Kazakhstan. The launching of the first artificial satellite in 1957, and of the first human to orbit the earth in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, may someday be recognized by peoples living in unimagined vistas across our solar system and beyond as a major turning point in human history, the expansion of our species off the planet and out into the universe. It was an honor to meet and interact with the poet and scholar Olzhas Suleimenov, who documented Gagarin’s achievement in his epic poem “Earth, Hail Man”. Finally, in the writing of this chapter, we thank our colleagues Stuart Fiedel, J. Christopher Gillam, Joseph Gingerich, Ted Goebel, Albert C. Goodyear, D. Shane Miller, Douglas Sain, Ashley M. Smallwood, Mike Waters, and Stephen J. Yerka for their advice about our analyses and various colonization scenarios. The data used in the current analyses is available on request and has been posted online on the PIDBA website at http://pidba.utk.edu/. We also thank Michael Fracketti, Robert Spengler, and K. Sharmila for outstanding help with the copy editing and production of the manuscript. Finally, Stephen J. Yerka deserves thanks for his help producing some of the figures used in this chapter.

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Anderson, D.G., Bissett, T.G. (2015). The Initial Colonization of North America: Sea Level Change, Shoreline Movement, and Great Migrations. In: Frachetti, M., Spengler III, R. (eds) Mobility and Ancient Society in Asia and the Americas. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15138-0_6

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