A picture of two Paleo-Indians (the name given to the first inhabitants of the Americas) looking across the Bering Strait - Bering Land Bridge

CAVEAT: For social and political reasons, this topic of who was first in the Americas is highly controversial. Some Native Americans, such as Jack D. Forbes, professor emeritus of American Indian studies and anthropology at the University of California, Davis, questions the credibility and motivations of scientists who see in the skulls of the ancient Americans hists of an older Eurasian population that gave rise to both early modern Europeans and early modern Asians. According to Forbes, the reason for seeing such connections is "a wish on the part of some Europeans to be nativized, to have gotten here early, not late."

As noted earlier, for many years the dominant scientific hypothesis concerning the origins of the Native Americans centered on the idea that a single population of so-called "Mongoloid" people entered North America from the Asian continent across the Bering land bridge (a broad strip of land between what now is Alaska and Siberia , but long since submerged) sometime towards the end of the last Ice Age, around 12,000 - 13,000 years ago. Although there was no skeletal data to support the hypothesis that the earliest migrants into the Americas came from such an Asian "Mongoloid", the fact that all historically known Native Americans strongly resemble historically known northeast Asians was taken as proof of the hypothesis.

However, recent discoveries of ancient human remains, along with re-examinations of older human remains, from both North and South America cast doubt on conventional theories of how the Americas came to be populated. Over the past decade, anthropologists have detected a surprising pattern in the small handful of North American skeletons more than 8,000 years old. The skulls difffer from the populations know historically from the Americas as well as bearing little, if any resemblance to what physical anthropologists had expected to find in the ancestors of the American Indians.

 Physical Features of Skulls Older than 8,000 Years From the Americas

Cheekbones are not pronounced.

Long skull (measured front to back).

Rather prominent noses with high bridges.

Narrow faces with deeper contours.

No shovelling on the incisors.

Little or no facial prognathism (facial forwardness).

Small bilobed or bifurcate chin

When taken as a whole, the skulls of the very ancient inhabitants of the Americas display features more typical of what some scientists call "Caucasoid" traits than "Mongoloid" traits. But by "Caucasoid" scientists do NOT mean they are "Caucasian" in the sense of "white" people today. Rather, they are using the term "Caucasoid" to refer to a branch of ancient, but anatomically modern, peoples who were the ancestors of several branches of historically known people: Europeans, southwest Asians, Indians from the subcontinent of India, west-central Asians, and the Ainu of Japan.

By selecting from the list below you can read a little bit about several of the ancient Americans, as well as see reconstructions of what some of them may have looked like. The reconstructions were carried out by forensic anthropologists using methods developed to aid police and humanitarian groups in various world areas to flesh out human skeletal remains. While such matters as skin, hair, and eye color, or the exact number and place of facial wrinkles is more a matter of intuition than science, the actual fleshing out of the skulls has, over time, been shown to be highly accurate.

Meet some ancient immigrants.


 Spirit Cave Man

 Buhl Woman

Kennewick Man

 Prince of Wales Island Man

 Arlington Springs Woman




Anthropology 7 Homepage | Preface | Syllabus

Brief Historical Overview
| History: Before the Europeans | History: After European Contact

Regional Lifeways

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Last Updated 17 Feb 2011 by CSmith