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A Journey to a New Land

First People

Ice Free Corridor Route

Americas at 12000 BP

During the last ice age, about 25,000 – 10,000 years ago, two huge ice sheets, the Laurentide in the east and the Cordilleran in the west, covered most of what is now Canada and the northern United States. According to the ice-free corridor hypothesis, there was an area of land, or a passageway, between the ice sheets on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. This land was ice-free for all or part of the ice age, and early human travellers could have made their way through this corridor to central North America. They may have followed herds of the large grazing animals they hunted, such as mammoths and bison, across the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia, and then through the corridor to lands south of the ice sheets.

In order to find out whether the ice free corridor hypothesis is correct, archaeologists must find supporting evidence. Some of the things they would have to find are:

  • evidence that the passage between the ice sheets was open for humans and animals well before 11,500 years ago, when the Clovis people were already established in the southern part of the continent. But geologists say a chain of large boulders along the east side of the Rocky Mountains proves that the ice free corridor was closed until as late as 12,000 years ago. (Read Foothills Erratics Train to learn more.) Even after the ice melted, it would be many years before the land could support plants and animals.
  • archaeological sites along the ice free corridor route that are earlier than the Clovis sites to the south. No such sites have yet been found.

The ice free corridor route was first suggested many years ago when archaeologists were first beginning to investigate this subject. Today, there is little hard evidence to support the hypothesis. But it is important to remember that archaeology often reveals only a glimpse of the past. Archaeological sites in the corridor area may have been swept away by floods of melting ice or lie buried beneath tones of glacial till. Future archaeological survey and excavation in the ice-free corridor area may one day provide us with new information about the earliest people in this region.