Tech UPTechnologyWho came to America first?

Who came to America first?

Neither Columbus nor the Vikings, this is not the debate we are raising. The question of this article goes further: we wonder who were the first to arrive in America , what group of human beings populated the last great continent that remained to be dominated. If human life originated in Africa and spread throughout Eurasia, when did Homo sapiens arrive in the Americas? Where do we get from?

Where do these people come from?

When Europeans sailed west in search of spices, they came upon a continent that was not Asia. After realizing this detail, they wondered who, then, were the people who inhabited that New World . In Modern times the source to answer all questions used to be the same: the Bible . Some said that the Native Americans would be descendants of Noah , who saved mankind from the Flood. Others spoke of the lost tribes of Israel . And the most fanciful even dared to defend that they must be the survivors of Atlantis .

Since then, science and research have advanced towards more rigorous positions. In 1929, stone points appeared in Blackwater Draw , near the town of Clovis , New Mexico. This enclave gave name to the culture that was studied from these findings, whose main features would be the use of red ocher, ivory tools such as needles, to sew the skins worn by these hunters of large mammals such as mammoths and bison. And, above all, their large points stood out, carved on both sides, with a central groove to be able to put a handle on them and use them as knives or spears.

The Clovis remains were dated to be around 13,000 years old and have been considered the first settlers of the Americas for decades. It was understood that they had arrived during the Würm glaciation, the last glacial period that our planet has experienced, which lasted from 110,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago. During this time, due to the glaciation, the sea level dropped drastically . This left open a passage that linked Asia with America through the Beringia Bridge . The current Bering Strait is 50 meters deep. The sea level during the Würm glaciation dropped 120 meters, so the union between what is now Alaska and Siberia was a huge region with an environment similar to the Asian tundra, where mammoths, bison and humans traveled.

But this union of land did not solve all the problems. At that time, much of present-day North America was frozen. Two huge ice sheets , called Cordillera and Laurentino, made the continental north an uninhabitable mass of snow. But in certain periods, between the plates a corridor was opened that allowed the passage to the center and south of America. Just under these plates and coinciding in chronology, the Clovis points were found.

Clovis first or not?

The historical debate has always been present about the first settlers of America. Other sites with remains other than the Clovis culture have appeared throughout the entire American continent, dated even earlier than the Clovis points . There were those who defended that some burned rocks were samples of fire lit by humans thousands of years before the Clovis. And, although the scientific community does not support the theory and hides behind the few and partial findings, the reality is that no remains of the Clovis culture have been found in Northeast Asia, where they theoretically come from.

These facts have sown evident doubts : did the Clovis and the South Americans evolve from other previous inhabitants? Are we facing different cultures that arrived at the same time? Who came first? Neither more nor less than the exciting (and frustrating) world of research in the past.

Those who were before the first

At Debra L. Friedkin , 60 km from Austin, Texas, they found 15,528 artifacts in the Buttermilk Creek complex . Knives sharpened on both sides, spatulas and axes carved in flint and small in size, typical of hunters and gatherers. They were dated to between 13,200 and 15,500 years ago, delaying the traditional chronology of the first settlers by 2,500 years . These new finds prove that there were humans who lived in the Americas before the Clovis .

We are no longer facing a few remains and partials, but rather, supported by this early pre-Clovis settlement , there are those who bet on another route of arrival before the corridor between the ice sheets allowed the passage from Bering to the center of America. The “algae highway hypothesis” posits that the first settlers of America would have arrived following the Pacific coast, where there were seaweed forests whose biodiversity would be an invaluable source of resources for the societies of the time. The problem is that the current sea level keeps the algae highway submerged, making it an archaeologically inaccessible territory.

The discovery of the Buttermilk Creek remains, together with genetic studies of modern Native Americans and prehistoric skeletons , demonstrates that the arrival of the first humans in the Americas dates back to 15,000 or 16,000 years ago and that there is genetic continuity between early settlers and modern Native Americans.

Almost the entire scientific community defends that man came to America from Asia, despite the different routes that are proposed. Doubts are greater regarding the chronology. Fortunately, the investigation continues its course exploring new data that will clarify current and future doubts.


Pedersen, M. W. et all. 2016. Postglacial viability and colonization in North America’s ice-free corridor. Nature 537, 45-49. DOI: 10.1038/nature19085.

Waters, M. R. et all. 2011. The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin Site, Texas. Science 331, 6024, 1599-1603. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201855.

Waters, M. R. et all. 2018. Pre-Clovis projectile points at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas—Implications for the Late Pleistocene peopling of the Americas. Science Advances 4, 10. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505.


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