Paleoamerican Odyssey

By Kelly E. Graf; Caroline V. Ketron et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Siberian Odyssey

Kelly E. Graf

ABSTRACT

Human dispersal to the Americas was a complex process. Both place of origin and timing of this event are
hotly debated. Based on genetics, geography, language, and cultural similarities, most researchers consider
Siberia the homeland of the First Americans with migration via the Bering Land Bridge. Others, however,
argue earliest colonizers originated in Western Europe, arriving via a trans-oceanic voyage. Some hold that
this early colonization event took place before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), while others contend it
happened much more recently during the Late Glacial. In this chapter, I review Siberian Upper Paleolithic
archaeology. The Siberian record indicates two pulses of modern humans into far northeast Asia during the
late Pleistocene, one before and one after the LGM. The colonization of Siberia by modern humans was an
episodic process, taking over 10,000 years, setting the stage for the initial peopling of the Americas.

KEYWORDS: Siberia, Upper Paleolithic, LGM


Introduction

Archaeologists have long looked to Siberia as the homeland of the First Americans. Despite resistance from some archaeologists (see Collins et al. this volume; Bradley and Stanford 2004; Stanford and Bradley 2012), mounting evidence mostly from molecular geneticists investigating DNA from both ancient skeletons and living populations has very convincingly illustrated that all founding lineages and sub-lineages of First Americans originated in greater Northeast Asia and came to the Americas via a single migration (de Saint Pierre et al. 2012; Derenko et al. 2001; Fagundes et al. 2008; Fu et al. 2013; Gilbert et al. 2008; Kashani et al. 2013; Kemp et al. 2007; Kitchen et al. 2008; Mulligan and Kitchen, this volume; O’Rourke and Raff 2010; Tamm et al. 2007). Clearly if we are to understand where First Americans came from, then DNA studies are the definitive way to do this because try as we may, we cannot make silent stones and bones speak about their makers’ origins.

Because Siberia is likely the Pleistocene homeland of Native Americans, I want to turn attention to the archaeological record of this vast region of Northeast Asia to look at the behaviors that conditioned the timing and process of dispersal to Beringia and the New World.

The Siberian Upper Paleolithic record is traditionally divided into three phases: early, middle, and late Upper Paleolithic (Vasil’ev 1992). These phases are based on typological and chronological distinctions. The record is characterized by peaks and nadirs of dated cultural layers (or occupations). When compared with global climate records, high points in occupation numbers tend to align with warm intervals, while lows in occupation numbers tend to correspond with cold intervals during the second half of the late Pleistocene (Graf 2005). In the sections that follow, I provide a broad overview of the archaeological record of modern humans in Siberia during the late Pleistocene and follow up with a discussion of how this record can inform on dispersals north and to the Americas.


Early Upper Paleolithic

Anatomically modern Homo sapiens were not the first people to inhabit southern Siberia, evidenced by archaeological and skeletal remains of Neanderthals and Denisovans at Denisova and Okladnikov Caves in southwestern Siberia (Derevianko

Center for the Study of the First Americans, Department of
Anthropology, 234 Anthropology Building, 4352-TAMU,
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843–4352;
e-mail:kgraf@tamu.edu

-65-

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