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Feb 28, 2014 11:15 AM EST

Early Native Americans Lived on Bering Strait for Millennia Before Traveling into North America

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New research has suggested that early Native Americans lived on the Bering Strait land bridge for millennia before traveling into North America.

According to NBC News, anthropologists have proposed a theory that states the early Native Americans settled in Beringia for at least 10,000 years. When the land bridge from Siberia to North America vanished, so did evidence of their time spent there.

Published in the journal Science, three researchers believe they have found new clues to the lost world of Beringia. From Bering Sea sediments, they found fossilized insects, plants and pollen that would suggest Beringia was one of the only Arctic shrub tundra areas, meaning it had wood available for fuel.

"A number of supporting pieces have fallen in place during the last decade, including new evidence that central Beringia supported a shrub tundra region with some trees during the last glacial maximum and was characterized by surprisingly mild temperatures, given the high latitude," study lead author John Hoffecker, of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said in a press release.

Scott Elias, of Royal Holloway, University of London, said the migrants may have stayed so long in Beringia because it acted as a refuge in the middle of their journey. He said they could have stayed there until the climate warmed up and caused the glaciers to recede.

"The climate on the land bridge and adjacent parts of Siberia and Alaska was a bit wetter than the interior regions like central Alaska and the Yukon, but not a lot warmer," he said in the release. "Our data show that woody shrubs were available on the land bridge, which would have facilitated the making of fires by the people there."

The theory of early Native Americans settling in Beringia originated in 1997 and was dubbed "the Beringia Standstill." Two Latin American geneticists found the Native Americans' archaeological evidence from that area only went back 15,000 years ago, a time period known as the Last Glacial Maximum.

The new study aligns with the original Beringia theory, that early Native Americans would have settled there, but any evidence sunk with the Bering Strait land bridge.

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