Re: The Anthroplogy of the New World

Scott C DeLancey (
6 Dec 1994 15:17:58 -0800

In article <>,
Gerold Firl <> wrote:
>What are the latest estimates for how long we have been here? Every now and
>then I see claims that man arrived long before the end of the last glacial
>period (~12,000 years ago); what kind of evidence supports such a claim?

There are several archeological sites in North and South America
that may be datable to 15,000-30,000 years. All are still somewhat
controversial, but there are at least 3 or 4 (Meadowcroft Rock
Shelter in Pennsylvania, what's the one in Brazil?) that many
reputable archeologists accept as older than 12,000 BP. As far
as I know, claims older than that are based on flimsy evidence or
One archeologist (Ruth Gruhn) and one linguist (Johanna
Nichols) claim that the distribution (Gruhn) and/or the diversity
(Nichols) of New World languages imply ~40-50,000 years of habitation,
but neither argument is very strong. I would say, though, that the
New World languages are sufficiently divergent that, if they all
represent descent from one migration, it was more likely 15-20,000
than 10-12,000 years ago.

>The inuit show clear signs of cold-climate adaptations. The obvious
>indications are their short limbs, but I would expect some metabolic
>changes as a result of their unusual diet, as well. But they didn't arrive
>with the bering migration(s) (there has been more than one, judging by the
>linguistic evidence), but rather have spread throughout the circumpolar
>region using the waterways. The inuit have had longer than 12,000 years to
>adapt to the cold.

I'm not sure what you're saying here. The Inuit have been in North
America considerably less than 12,000 years, but, as you say, have
presumably been living in the frozen north for a long time.

>So yes, I would say that the human residence time in the americas has been
>sufficient to produce biological adaptations.

It doesn't take that long, does it?

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA