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A Journey to a New Land

Yukon horse
Post secondary Level Resources


The term "Beringia" describes a geographic region of northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia that remained unglaciated during the last Ice Age. It was a huge area of land that stretched from about the Mackenzie River in Canada to the Lena River in Siberia, and incorporated present-day Alaska, Yukon, eastern Siberia and much of what is now seabed under the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea.

The environment in Beringia was very dry, and this aridity ensured that much of it remained unglaciated throughout the ice age. Beringian vegetation included grasses and broad leaf herbaceous plants, and was productive enough to support large populations of woolly mammoth, horses and bison. However, there is some debate regarding when the Bering land mass could have supported this type of environment.

Botanist Paul Colinvaux has argued for Beringia as a cold and inhospitable place. His research indicates that life was concentrated in river valleys since they were the only places where small vegetative patches could grow until 14,000 years ago. Other researchers, like paleoecologist Steve Young, have collected and interpreted evidence gathered from pollen cores. Young suggests that the landscape was more habitable and steppe-like. These extensive grasslands would have has a wide variety of vegetation, and perhaps even marsh land, making them more attractive for large herbivores.

Combining these two ideas, geologist J.V. Matthews used data from many different sources, including the fossilized remains of insects to suggest that Beringia included areas of both steppe-like and tundra environments. Regardless of how sparse the environment was in Beringia, it is clear that it was largely treeless and could support, in some amount, enough of an animal population to encourage early humans to enter this land in search of food.

Other Evidence
Archaeology in Siberia
Bering Land Bridge