history is speculative, and far from exact. Archaeologists and the scientific
community now hold as conclusive that mankind first arrived in North
America from Asia via Beringia, the Bering Strait Land Bridge, during
the late Pleistocene Age, perhaps 50,000 BC. Generally, over many thousands
of years, migration routes and settlements were influenced by receding
glaciers of the Wisconsin Period, later driven by cultural expansion
of dominant societies.
Much of what we know of Alaskans who lived thousands of years ago is
based on archaeology, or pre-history, while written history is less
than 300 years old. The first people to immigrate to the Alaskan interior,
25,000-15,000 years ago, were the first inhabitants of the American
Continents and the ancestors of most Indian Tribes in North and South
A second wave of immigrants left the Northeastern forests of Siberia,
14,000-9,000 years ago, and are the ancestors of the Tlingit, Eyak,
and Athabascan people of Alaska, and the Apache and Navaho people of
the American Southwest.
The last group of immigrants came from Northeastern Siberia, 10,000-4,000
years ago, and are the ancestors of the Eskimo and Aleut. By the beginning
of written history, mid-1700's, there were between 60,000 and 80,000
Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos in Alaska. Tlingit and Haida occupied Southeast
Alaska, and numbered about 10,000. Aleuts inhabited the Aleutian Islands
and the Southwest Peninsula, and numbered about 15,000. Eskimos, numbering
to 30,000, lived along the coast from the Arctic to Yakutat, including
the Northern and Western Coastal Tundra, Kodiak Island, and part of
the Alaskan Peninsula.
Source: Alaska's Heritage, Antonson & Hanable, 1985, LOC card# 84-72718
Alaska was originally inhabited by Tlingit and Haida Tribes for centuries
before Spanish explorers first came in the 1770's, naming many of the
islands, inlets,and waterways. Captain George Vancouver, a British chart-maker,
explored the area in the late 18th century, and named Prince of Wales
Island in 1793 for George, Prince of Wales, who would be crowned King
George IV in 1821. Russian occupation in the 19th century and phonetic
rendering of original Tlingit names account for the names of many other
islands, towns, and waterways in Southeast Alaska.
Update - July 1997
Source: Ketchikan Daily News, AP story by Paul Recer, July 6-7, 1997
In an Associated Press story released July 4, 1997 U.S. and Canadian
researchers say they have clear evidence that a combination of dropping
sea level and rising land created an ideal home and a migration route
for people walking to what is now the Americas. From archealogical evidence,
including a 10,000 year old skull found on Prince of Wales Island, AK
it appears that a pleasant migration corridor existed along Southeast
Alaska and western British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands during
the period between 9,500 and 14,600 years ago. The migration route was
probably usable for only about a 2,000 year window due to the changing
geophysical conditions which opened the corridor in the first place.
Several thousand feet of ice sitting on the coastal mountains basically
displaced the adjacent continental shelf causing it to rise. This formed
a beach-front path past the formidable mountains of ice. Scientists
are quick to explain that this research addresses only a small part
of the total migration route and timeframe of these earliest immigrants.
The parts of the route north of the study area would have been far more
difficult to traverse and the migrations surely lasted many thousands
of years overall.