June 11, 2021

4.3 Latest Research on the Peopling of North America: The Timing & Effect of the Earliest Human Arrivals

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Dr. Lorena Becerra-Valdivia, School of Archaeology, Oxford University



Professor Tom Higham, Director, Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, School of Archaeology, Oxford University




Lorena Becerra-Valdivia & Thomas Higham 2020.  ‘The timing and effect of the earliest human arrivals in North America’, Nature 584.

The peopling of the Americas marks a major expansion of humans across the planet. However, questions regarding the timing and mechanisms of this dispersal remain, and the previously accepted model (termed ‘Clovis-first’)—suggesting that the first inhabitants of the Americas were linked with the Clovis tradition, a complex marked by distinctive fluted lithic points1—has been effectively refuted. Here we analyse chronometric data from 42 North American and Beringian archaeological sites using a Bayesian age modelling approach, and use the resulting chronological framework to elucidate spatiotemporal patterns of human dispersal. We then integrate these patterns with the available genetic and climatic evidence. The data obtained show that humans were probably present before, during and immediately after the Last Glacial Maximum (about 26.5–19 thousand years ago)2,3 but that more widespread occupation began during a period of abrupt warming, Greenland Interstadial 1 (about 14.7–12.9 thousand years before ad 2000)4. We also identify the near-synchronous commencement of Beringian, Clovis and Western Stemmed cultural traditions, and an overlap of each with the last dates for the appearance of 18 now-extinct faunal genera. Our analysis suggests that the widespread expansion of humans through North America was a key factor in the extinction of large terrestrial mammals.


Higham, T, Douka, K, Wood, R, Ramsey, CB, Brock, F, Basell, L, Camps, M, Arrizabalaga, A, Baena, J, Barroso-Ruíz, C, Bergman, C, Boitard, C, et al 2014. 'The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance', Nature: 512(7514) pp.306 - 309


This is a podcast about new and innovative research in archaeology.

Each episode I talk with pioneering and influential archaeologists about their journal papers, books and research projects.

Season 1 is all about the latest research into the Archaeology of the Roman West.

Season 2 is on Innovative Research in Australia.

Season 3 is on the Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe.

Season 4 is on Latest Research on the Peopling of North America.

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