What we know:

Between several ice ages the Bering Strait connected the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean.

During ice ages the atmosphere evaporated water from the sea which formed clouds over the land which snowed a lot and the snow compacted into ice sheets and glaciers.

So much water was taken from the sea that sea level lowered up to 500 feet, and the floor of the Bering Strait was probably boggy but people and animals 15, 000 years could pass over what Scientists have dubbed a land bridge, but native Indians and Aleutes say they did not come that way.

Consider Alaska and Siberia at the apex of the last ice age 20,000 years ago when global weather began to warm and ice began to melt. These ice sheets in the west extended down to the 45th parallel in Idaho and Washington State, and in the east down to the 40th parallel near Ohio and Kentucky.

Ice lobes and glaciers pushed down and retreated four times before retreating into Canada and Alaska.

Another glacier issued from Siberia to  skirt the west coast of Alaska and Canada  into Washington State, which retreated to Alaska where it is still melting.

Scientific Theory:

Scientists disagree on many points, but most agree that the weather turned warm rather rapidly and, though glaciers melted and froze, expanded and retreated four times, they are still here and still melting today.

About 15,000 years ago, melting ice opened a clear passage through Alaska and Canada where people  could walk into Idaho and Montana.

Similar migrations occured in the east as well.

The author of the picture top right rendered his vision of what the land masses of  Siberia, Alaska and Canada must have appeared at the time, and he marked the elevation of the sea with a dotted line showing the existing shoreline.

The deepest parts of the  Bering Sea were still under water. People would have found routes blocked by water, or icy lakes, and often walked around hills which are now  islands in the Bering Strait, and they would have had preditory animals to guard against. 

During low ocean levels, land masses extended further out to sea. Aleutian Islands with a shallow off shore shelf was above water and twice as wide as today.

Scientists say that all people who settled North and South America originally came across the land bridge, but the Aleutes and Indians of Alaska, Canada and the United States, all dispute that, and dispute that they came from Siberia at all. 

The Aleuts are quite certain that they came from Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, traversed the Aleutian Archipelago, setteling on islands which had fresh water, and made it to the mainland of Alaska, using umiak boats to cross water channels between islands. 

At mainland Alaska the Aleutes encountered a warlike tribe, probably Athabascan Indians, so they turned their umiaks south to settle on Kodiak Island.

The Indians say thay have been here from their Genesis, and never came from anywhere except this continent.

Crossing that bridge would have given the migrants two advantages and perhaps three, moving to warmer weather and finding more game was certain, and escaping from enemies in Siberia might have been the third.  

Given that early peoples populated the continent as far as South America, here are the stories about the three main groups of native peoples who stayed in Canada and Alaska, including subsidiary problems they had to overcome to build new lives.



Eskimo  Aleut people. the first people, settled Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands.

Eskimo  Eskimo peoples of Siberia who settled the coast of northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

Eskimo  Indians who settled the central and coastal areas of southern Alaska and Canada. 

Eskimo  People had natural enemies all around, volcanic eruptions, and wild animals on the prowl for food. 

 by Alaska Natives Association


Chart Of Native Corporations

The graphic on the left shows the approximate boundaries of the Alaska Native Corporations. Corporation members may actually live in any part of Alaska, or even in the lower forty eight.

Click here for a full size chart.


The artist conception of north west America 18,000 years ago. It looks exactly like some parts of Alaska now. Only the Mastodon pictured is out of place. Imagine a Moose instead of the Mastodon, or Mammoth, and you have it. 18,000 years ago the glaciers retreated from America. Notice how wide Florida was. See at top left the often discussed separation of glaciers that cleared an ice free path south through British Columbia to North America. 


© fun histories 2002