It's across this bridge of land that humans first entered the Americas. The general hypothesis is that humans made this migration in various waves before the land bridge was submerged by the ocean. After this the populations on both sides remained isolated from each other, expect perhaps for limited sea-migrations, up until the modern period of European exploration. Many different theories abound though, and some less orthodox researchers have suggested that native peoples may have been making sea journeys across the Pacific with more sophistication than is generally imagined by mainstream academics.
Anyway, with that brief explanation out the way it's time to have a little look at the people on both sides of this divide.
First up it's worth noting that nearly all Eskimos look East Asian. The only obvious exception being the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, and even then some Sami look quite oriental. In fact, it may be worth looking at this in a future article.
Now I'm using the term Eskimo, and not Inuit or some other more politically correct term, simply because it's much more straight forward. Everyone reading this will know what I mean by Eskimos .. native populations that live in Arctic regions. I'd rather not get bogged down with technicalities for the sake of looking like a nice guy.
Now on both sides of this Bering Strait divide Eskimos look distinctly East Asian - from Russia, across Canada, right on through to Greenland.
Going clockwise, starting top left;
Siberian Yupik woman holding walrus tusk (Russia), Eskimo women at Ashe Inlet (Canada, 1884), Inupiat Woman (Alaska, 1907), Inuvialuit drummers (Canada), Nunavik Woman (Canada), Inuit children (Labrador, Canada 1926), Kalaallit family (Greenland)
On face value (literally) they look like one contiguous population. They certainly don't look like they've been separated for thousands of years.
Now I'm not sure if the official history of the peopling of the Americas precludes Eskimos from traversing around the Arctic regions in kayak-type boats over the last few thousand years. Surely officialdom must maintain the same degree of separateness for Eskimos though, as if Eskimos can make the trip then what would be stopping everyone else from making the trip too. Especially when the original flow of humans into the Americas occurred in this very area.
So what about when we go further south? Do the Native Americans of North America have much in common with their counterparts over on the Asian continent?
Well actually they do have quite a bit.
For a start we're all familiar with the pointy tipi tents that Native Americans lived in, famous from numerous Cowboy movies. Well, people on the other side of the Pacific also lived (and still do live) in a very similar style of tent called a chum.
A chum is a temporary dwelling used by the nomadic Uralic reindeer herders of northwestern Siberia of Russia. The Evenks, Tungusic peoples, tribes, in Russia, Mongolia and China also use chums. They are also used by the southernmost reindeer herders, of the Todzha region of the Republic of Tyva and their cross-border relatives in northern Mongolia.
(Sioux tipi, watercolor by Karl Bodmer, ca. 1833)
(Chums in Tyva, Russia)
Now again, Native Americans often look quite similar to their counterparts in Asia in appearance. The similarity isn't as pronounced or consistent as with the Eskimos, but it's still hard not to notice. This wouldn't be out of keeping with the orthodox theory of course, as the Native Americans are said to be descendants of people who crossed the land bridge from Asia, albeit in prehistoric times. However, the parallels are still quite striking even when taking this into account.
I also came across the following article noting the genetic links between Native Americans and Mongolians.
The article states;
Altai in southern Siberia sits right at the centre of Russia. But the tiny, mountainous republic has a claim to fame unknown until now - Native Americans can trace their origins to the remote region.
DNA research revealed that genetic markers linking people living in the Russian republic of Altai, southern Siberia, with indigenous populations in North America.
A study of the mutations indicated a lineage shift between 13,000 and 14,000 years ago - when people are thought to have walked across the ice from Russia to America.Another commonality is shovel teeth. These are teeth that have a scoop or shovel shape that are common amongst Asian and Native American populations, but are uncommon or absent in Europeans and Africans.
Finally, it may be worth mentioning Great Tartary here. This was the name used in earlier times to designate the great tract of land stretching across northern and central Asia out to the Pacific. The label appeared in various forms on many older maps, but then simply disappeared as we began to enter the modern age.
Chart of the Coast of Asia and America - R. W. Seale, 18th Century (detail)
To my ears the name Tartar sounds a little similar to the word Arctic. I wonder if there was some confusion between what lay to the east and what lay to the north of Europe in earlier centuries? The Arctic Ocean was also sometimes labelled as the Tartar ocean/sea on maps as well.
Arctic Ocean labelled as "mer de Tartarie" - Vaugondy, 1772
It's also interesting to note that in the 16th century the French had a colony in South America named France Antarctique. This would suggest that at some point South America, or at least a part of it, was labelled the Antarctic. Once again we have a possible confusion between a polar region of Earth and a more temperate region. If it was believed at the time that the American continent was joined to Asia further north then this naming would make sense - as South America would've been viewed as a sub-equatorial portion of Tartary/Asia.
Pierre de Vaulx chart, 1613 (detail)