Who were the first Americans, how did they get to the Americas, and when did they arrive?
The term “pre-Columbian” refers to life and conditions for humans in the Americas before Columbus’ arrival in 1492. This time period was tens of thousands of years long, but receives only a few pages in a college history textbook, and I only teach on the subject for one class period. The rest of the U.S. History to 1865 course is dedicated to the 373 years after Columbus landed at San Salvador. History is the study of written historical accounts, but most pre-Columbians had few written narratives of their history. Tribes had rich oral histories, but they lack a clear timeline of specific events. Therefore, they are pre-historic.
The classic answer to the question above is that tens of thousands of years ago ancient primitive Mongols migrated over a land bridge connecting Asia and North America. This theory known as the Bering Strait Theory states that during the last ice age, ocean levels were significantly lower meaning that land known as Beringia, now submerged under the Bering Strait, was exposed and covered in ice. Nomadic Mongols followed their prey into North America and over the next centuries gradually migrated throughout North, Central, and South America with certain tribes choosing to settle the lands they found while other pushed on eastward, westward, and southward.
If you look at a globe this theory makes sense. If you look at the physiology of Indians and Mongolians and the DNA of both groups you will find that genetically speaking, they are close relations. Because we were not there to witness the event we are left to theorize, but in my next columns I will discuss some other theories that are gaining acceptance as possible explanations of how and when some other pre-Columbians made it to the Americas.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.