The First Americans
Nature Bulletin No. 360-A November 29, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
THE FIRST AMERICANS
When the Norsemen and then Columbus "discovered" America they
found people here -- people with bronze skins and straight black hair.
Because he thought he had sailed across the world and found a sea
passage to India. Columbus called these people "Indios". He was
wrong but we still call them Indians.
It is now generally accepted by scientists that the first humans arrived
on this American continent some thirty or forty thousand years ago. It
is believed that they came from Asia, across what we call Bering
Strait. The distance from the islands at the westernmost tip of Alaska
to the easternmost tip of Siberia is only 59 miles. In clear weather you
can see from land to land. In ancient times there may have been a
bridge of solid ice between the two shores, or there might have been an
actual land connection between the two continents. But even if there
were a 5-mile gap of water it could have been crossed in primitive
canoes by hungry people hunting for game. Hunger has been the
mainspring of civilization.
There have been various fantastic theories advanced to account for the
origins of the first Americans. One would have us believe that they
were survivors from a fabled "lost continent", called Atlantis, that sank
beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Another attributes them to a
continent, called Mu, that sank in the Pacific. A third, based upon the
curious similarity of outline between the east coast of South America
and the West coast of Africa, assumes that those two continents once
were joined and somehow drifted apart. The parallel between the
pyramids of Egypt and those of the Mayans of Yucatan, and other
similarities in the cultures of those races, gave rise to a theory that the
"lost tribes of Israel" somehow arrived here in America. These are pipe
Man i8 an inquisitive animal. He digs and digs. He has uncovered a
lot of ancient homes and artifacts -- utensils, tools, clothing and
ornaments made of clay, stone, bone or metal. Prehistoric man, until
he learned how to grow plants -- how to farm -- lived in caves. Or as a
nomad, following grazing animals, he lived in tents of skins. When he
learned how to kindle fire, his campsites were permanently marked by
the charcoal of those fires. He left the bones of the animals he ate, and
his own bones. In New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and elsewhere we have
uncovered such relics of bygone peoples on this continent.
Here in Chicagoland, for instance, there used to be a number of two
types of mounds built by two races of people who lived here before the
white man came. One race built pyramidal or "haystack" mounds of
the types preserved along the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois valleys.
The other race lived farther north and built effigy mounds in the shape
of some animal -- wolf, deer, bird or serpent.
The significant fact is that both races met here to trade and constructed
their characteristic mounds which had either a religious or a utilitarian
purpose. The southern people had corn, beans and squashes. The
northern people had copper and birch bark. They swapped.
Apparently, Chicago has always been a trading place and a crossroad.
America has been termed the melting pot of peoples. That is true.
Regardless of where we came from, or how we got here we should be
proud of it.
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Update: June 2012