Linguistic map of North America by Ishwar, Wikimedia Commons

When the Last Glacial Maximum finally relaxed its grip on the planet, the vanishing glaciers from Beijing to British Columbia allowed people from Asia to trickle into a new world.

The newcomers spread throughout North and South America, where they shaped their cultures around their environments over thousands of years. Much of what we know of these early times has been gleaned through modest data and theoretical tools.

Today, recent advances in biology, linguistics, and modeling, along with new archeological finds, prompted SFI to hold a late September workshop that took a new fresh at the peopling of the Americas.

Many aspects of how and when people arrived in the Americas are still debated, says SFI Distinguished Fellow Murray Gell-Mann. For example, how strong is the evidence for cultures earlier than the Clovis culture of twelve and a half thousand years ago?

Another example: If we look at the linguistic map of North America, the northernmost layer, Eskimo and Aleut, appears as the latest arrivals, preceded by a layer of “Na-Dene,” including Athabaskan and Tlingit. But who arrived just before that? The adjacent layer of “Algic,” including Algonquian and related languages? Or is the layer approach too naïve?

The September 25-26 “Peopling of the Americas” workshop was co-organized by Gell-Mann, SFI External Professor Henry Wright (University of Michigan), and SFI collaborator Ilia Peiros. Participants included geneticists, physical anthropologists, linguists, mythology expert Yuri Berezkin from the Russian Academy of Sciences, and many archaeologists.

Read more about the workshop here

Learn more about the Evolution of Human Languages project here

Recent SFI news here.