First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America

by David J. Meltzer

Paperback, 2010



Call number

E77 .M45


University of California Press (2010), Edition: First, 464 pages


More than 12,000 years ago, in one of the greatest triumphs of prehistory, humans colonized North America, a continent that was then truly a new world. Just when and how they did so has been one of the most perplexing and controversial questions in archaeology. This dazzling, cutting-edge synthesis, written for a wide audience by an archaeologist who has long been at the center of these debates, tells the scientific story of the first Americans: where they came from, when they arrived, and how they met the challenges of moving across the vast, unknown landscapes of Ice Age North America. David J. Meltzer pulls together the latest ideas from archaeology, geology, linguistics, skeletal biology, genetics, and other fields to trace the breakthroughs that have revolutionized our understanding in recent years. Among many other topics, he explores disputes over the hemisphere's oldest and most controversial sites and considers how the first Americans coped with changing global climates. He also confronts some radical claims: that the Americas were colonized from Europe or that a crashing comet obliterated the Pleistocene megafauna. Full of entertaining descriptions of on-site encounters, personalities, and controversies, this is a compelling behind-the-scenes account of how science is illuminating our past.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dandelionroots
Meltzer presents, discusses the reliability of, and deliberates research across numerous disciplines concerning the initial peopling of the Americas (how/when/who) - published in 2009. From constraints&benefits the landscape would have imposed/provided via glaciers (climate both macro and micro),
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the availability of flora/fauna/resources, and the absence of predators/competing human populations to grasping the difficulty of discovering traces of this initial (and early subsequent) habitations and accurately determining their significance.

How: taking advantage of the land bridge, Beringia, then either through an inland glacial corridor or down the Pacific coast (geography isn't terribly fluid when you zoom in).

When: accepting Beringia as the pathway narrows to 12,500ish years before present (+/- a few thousand because technology has potential), but improved accuracy could alter timelines significantly.

Who: reviewing possible links through language grouping, dental characteristics, tracing single nucleotide polymorphism (DNA mutations), and cranial variation to try and determine where/what population the early colonizers ventured from. With the exception of some of the gene work, these avenues are largely paved with shit scientists, but reinforces the absurdity of this task -- it's just too fucking long ago for current technology to assist with anything beyond speculation, hopefully the logical variety.

Largely interesting - especially the lesson on why the Native Americans lacked their own biological weapons (disease): their relatively limited domestication of animals.

"… a lineage might see the Northern Lights, note the transit of the Equatorial sun, and feel the chill winds of the southern oceans in the space of ten or fewer generations. This is its own form of success." (Beaton)
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

10 inches


0520267990 / 9780520267992

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