Skip to page content

A Journey to a New Land

First People

Coastal Route Hypothesis

Americas at 14000 BP

The coastal route hypothesis is based on the idea that the first people to inhabit North America traveled by boat down the Pacific coast, living in areas of ice-free land, called refugia, along the way. They may have hunted some land animals, but they also would have fished and hunted sea mammals. Once they reached lands south of the ice sheets, some groups then made their way inland and settled in central and southern North America. These people were the ancestors of the people who later made and used the Clovis spear points.

In order to find out whether the coastal route hypothesis is correct, archaeologists must find supporting evidence. Some of the things they are looking for are:

  • evidence that early people had the tools and skills to make boats, and to catch fish and sea mammals. So archaeologists look for boat-building tools or the remains of the boats, and for things like fish hooks and harpoons. So far none have been found that are early enough to have belonged to the first people in North America.
  • evidence that ice-free areas were available for people to live in along the coast. Archaeologists working in caves on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island have found evidence that such areas did exist during the ice age.
  • archaeological sites along the coast that are earlier than the Clovis sites inland. No such sites have yet been found on the coast.

So far, there is not very much hard evidence to support the coastal route hypothesis. Many archaeologists support it, however, because they say it is the most likely route that early people could have taken from Siberia to North America. They also point out that one of the reasons that sites have not been found is that much of the coast was submerged when sea levels rose after the glaciers melted. So the evidence may lie on the ocean floor.