North to the Future


Alaskan History

Alaska's History is the History of Mankind's Migration to the Americas,
A synopsis by Pat Smith

Pre history is speculative, and far from exact. Archaeologists and the scientific community now hold as conclusive that mankind first arrived in North America from Asia via Beringia, the Bering Strait Land Bridge, during the late Pleistocene Age, perhaps 50,000 BC. Generally, over many thousands of years, migration routes and settlements were influenced by receding glaciers of the Wisconsin Period, later driven by cultural expansion of dominant societies.

Much of what we know of Alaskans who lived thousands of years ago is based on archaeology, or pre-history, while written history is less than 300 years old. The first people to immigrate to the Alaskan interior, 25,000-15,000 years ago, were the first inhabitants of the American Continents and the ancestors of most Indian Tribes in North and South America.

A second wave of immigrants left the Northeastern forests of Siberia, 14,000-9,000 years ago, and are the ancestors of the Tlingit, Eyak, and Athabascan people of Alaska, and the Apache and Navaho people of the American Southwest.

The last group of immigrants came from Northeastern Siberia, 10,000-4,000 years ago, and are the ancestors of the Eskimo and Aleut. By the beginning of written history, mid-1700's, there were between 60,000 and 80,000 Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos in Alaska. Tlingit and Haida occupied Southeast Alaska, and numbered about 10,000. Aleuts inhabited the Aleutian Islands and the Southwest Peninsula, and numbered about 15,000. Eskimos, numbering to 30,000, lived along the coast from the Arctic to Yakutat, including the Northern and Western Coastal Tundra, Kodiak Island, and part of the Alaskan Peninsula.

Southeast Alaska was originally inhabited by Tlingit and Haida Tribes for centuries before Spanish explorers first came in the 1770's, naming many of the islands, inlets,and waterways. Captain George Vancouver, a British chart-maker, explored the area in the late 18th century, and named Prince of Wales Island in 1793 for George, Prince of Wales, who would be crowned King George IV in 1821. Russian occupation in the 19th century and phonetic rendering of original Tlingit names account for the names of many other islands, towns, and waterways in Southeast Alaska.

Source: Alaska's Heritage, Antonson & Hanable, 1985, LOC card# 84-72718

Archealogical Update - July 1997

In an Associated Press story released July 4, 1997 U.S. and Canadian researchers say they have clear evidence that a combination of dropping sea level and rising land created an ideal home and a migration route for people walking to what is now the Americas. From archealogical evidence, including a 10,000 year old skull found on Prince of Wales Island, AK it appears that a pleasant migration corridor existed along Southeast Alaska and western British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands during the period between 9,500 and 14,600 years ago. The migration route was probably usable for only about a 2,000 year window due to the changing geophysical conditions which opened the corridor in the first place. Several thousand feet of ice sitting on the coastal mountains basically displaced the adjacent continental shelf causing it to rise. This formed a beach-front path past the formidable mountains of ice. Scientists are quick to explain that this research addresses only a small part of the total migration route and timeframe of these earliest immigrants. The parts of the route north of the study area would have been far more difficult to traverse and the migrations surely lasted many thousands of years overall. 

Source: Ketchikan Daily News, AP story by Paul Recer, July 6-7, 1997

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