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PLoS One. 2010 Aug 30;5(8):e12472. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012472.

Archaeological support for the three-stage expansion of modern humans across northeastern Eurasia and into the Americas.

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Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America.



Understanding the dynamics of the human range expansion across northeastern Eurasia during the late Pleistocene is central to establishing empirical temporal constraints on the colonization of the Americas. Opinions vary widely on how and when the Americas were colonized, with advocates supporting either a pre- or post- last glacial maximum (LGM) colonization, via either a land bridge across Beringia, a sea-faring Pacific Rim coastal route, a trans-Arctic route, or a trans-Atlantic oceanic route. Here we analyze a large sample of radiocarbon dates from the northeast Eurasian Upper Paleolithic to identify the origin of this expansion, and estimate the velocity of colonization wave as it moved across northern Eurasia and into the Americas.


We use diffusion models to quantify these dynamics. Our results show the expansion originated in the Altai region of southern Siberia approximately 46kBP , and from there expanded across northern Eurasia at an average velocity of 0.16 km per year. However, the movement of the colonizing wave was not continuous but underwent three distinct phases: 1) an initial expansion from 47-32k calBP; 2) a hiatus from approximately 32-16k calBP, and 3) a second expansion after the LGM approximately 16k calBP. These results provide archaeological support for the recently proposed three-stage model of the colonization of the Americas. Our results falsify the hypothesis of a pre-LGM terrestrial colonization of the Americas and we discuss the importance of these empirical results in the light of alternative models.


Our results demonstrate that the radiocarbon record of Upper Paleolithic northeastern Eurasia supports a post-LGM terrestrial colonization of the Americas falsifying the proposed pre-LGM terrestrial colonization of the Americas. We show that this expansion was not a simple process, but proceeded in three phases, consistent with genetic data, largely in response to the variable climatic conditions of late Pleistocene northeast Eurasia. Further, the constraints imposed by the spatiotemporal gradient in the empirical radiocarbon record across this entire region suggests that North America cannot have been colonized much before the existing Clovis radiocarbon record suggests.

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