News FocusArchaeology

The Peopling of the Aleutians

Science  13 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6065, pp. 158-161
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6065.158

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The ancient Aleuts began exploring the 2000-kilometer Aleutian archipelago—the world's longest—at least 9000 years ago and had the islands to themselves for thousands of years, making the archipelago is a living laboratory for studying human migratory behavior. Many of today's Aleuts can trace their ancestry back to the islands' first inhabitants. The Aleuts' story also opens a window into the peopling of the Americas as a whole. The Aleuts descend from ancestors who lived in Asia at least 13,000 years ago, making them part of the great migrations across the now-submerged Bering Strait land bridge into North America. To some, the Aleuts' maritime adaptations strengthen the idea that the first Americans were sea travelers. Others counter that the Aleutians were settled too late to have a bearing on the land-versus-sea debate. Either way, the story of the Aleutians reveals how maritime migrations work.