National Geographic : 1955 Dec
Ice Age Man, the First American 781 With Atomic Age Tools, Scientists Pick Up the Trails of Nomadic Hunters Who Peopled the Western Hemisphere Thousands of Years Ago BY THOMAS R. HENRY With Eight Paintings by Andre Durenceau OST in the cold emptiness of a vast con tinent, groping their way dimly through wind-tossed glacial mists, the first Americans arrived. Homeless nomad hunters, they numbered a few thousand at most. They had wandered out of Siberia and across Bering Strait to Alaska, perhaps on a land bridge when the level of the sea was lower than it is now, perhaps on the ice in winter, perhaps even by boat (map, page 786). Their blood may well run in the veins of living men, for almost certainly they were the ancestors of some, at least, of the Ameri can Indians.* Nomads Hunted Camels and Mammoths After the first Ice Age men made the cross ing, migrations from Asia continued for thou sands of years. Ancestors of the Navajos, Apaches, and other Athapascan people of the Southwest perhaps arrived only a few cen turies before Columbus. There may even have been some travel back to Asia. The great glaciers were disappearing slowly, summer after summer, when the first Ameri cans came. In the wake of the retreating ice, forests and meadows were spreading. A strange assemblage of animals now ex tinct-mastodons and woolly mammoths, na tive camels and horses, and a huge species of bison-mingled in the continent's lush grass lands. With them were wolves, bear, deer, antelope, and rabbits, which have survived essentially unchanged to modern times.t As the ancient Americans who hunted these animals moved from camp to camp, they left behind fragments of weapons, charcoal from fires, and bones of the creatures they cooked and ate, certain evidence of man's presence on the glacier-gripped continent. Piecing together the story of the first Amer icans, how they lived and hunted, their mi gration routes, and above all how long ago they lived, is a fascinating task of scien tific detective work, and one that is still going on. Until recently, we knew only that these Ice Age people must have lived 10,000 or more years ago. We knew it because they hunted animals which existed then but later became extinct. The dart or spear points of chipped stone which they fashioned have been found closely associated with the bones of the mam moth, giant bison, and a species of camel. These points, chipped from quartzite, jas per, chert, chalcedony, and other materials, are of several distinct types. The best known are called "Folsom points" after the village of Folsom in northeastern New Mexico, near which numerous specimens have been found. The mysterious hunters who made them are often called "Folsom men" (page 785). When Europeans crossed the Atlantic and began to explore the vast New World, they found the wilderness from Labrador to Pata gonia sparsely populated. The first few Ice Age immigrants had increased by scarcely more than a million north of Mexico and 14 million south of the Rio Grande. The ways of life of these New World men ranged from among the most primitive on earth to the relatively high civilizations of Peru and Mexico. Their cultures and tradi tions appear to have developed independently through thousands of years. Folk Tales "Explain" Indian Origins The Indians were basically a Mongoloid people, closer in appearance to eastern Asians than to any inhabitants of western Europe. For the most part, they lacked anything like records. Stories of the past had been trans mitted orally from generation to generation until reality had become hopelessly confused with the supernatural. To explain their * See National Geographic on INDIANS OF THE AMERICAS, A Color-illustrated Record. Just off the press, this 432-page book is obtainable only from the National Geographic Society, Washington 6, D. C.; price $7.50 postpaid in the United States and Posses sions ; $7.75 elsewhere. All remittances payable in U. S . funds. t See "Parade of Life Through the Ages," by Charles R. Knight, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1942.