The Lost Continent

Whitehorse, Yukon Terr.

August 25, 2002

With as much traveling as we have done over the last half decade of RVing, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what this Continent was all about and most of the regions and what they had to offer.  So, I was quite surprised to find that I had missed an entire sub-continent. The land of Beringia was the theme of one of two museum on the outskirts of Whitehorse. The sub-continent of Beringia dates back to the last great Ice Age. While the rest of Canada lay frozen under massive sheets of ice, a region encompassing eastern Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon remained untouched by glaciers. During the last great ice age, snow drawn up as moisture from the oceans didn't melt. For years and years, snow was continually deposited in the northern part of America where it remained, being packed down and turning into ice. This ice reached depths in miles before the great thaw began. As a result, no water returned to the oceans and the ocean levels began to drop. It is believed that the water level in the Pacific Ocean dropped as much as 400 feet. This exposed the bottom of the Bering Straits, located between Siberia and Alaska and resulted in a land bridge between the two continents. It was over this mass of land that the first humans walked as nomadic hunters following the great animals that sustained them. The existence of Beringia has been uncovered in many different ways. The bones of Ice Age animals sometimes were exposed when a river cut into a bank or earth-moving equipment stripped away soils. For generations the native people of northern Yukon have helped researchers locate some of the most important Ice Age discoveries. Miners in the Klondike region also found fossils buried in riverbeds when they dug down to reach the gold bearing gravels. Since the Klondike Gold Rush, placer miners have found not just bones but even the frozen carcasses of long extinct animals. Occasionally Pleistocene bones may still display the cut marks of ancient stone tools, evidence of the first human beings. One of these marvelous creatures greeted us as we walked to the front door. To see a beaver the size of a human must have been quite a sight. Could you imagine the top hat that could be made from that pelt? Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) is reported to have built a dam clear across the Yukon River just below where Fort Yukon is today. Laura took a liking to the furry guy, but we had decided no pets in the trailer, so he was left standing guard until the next tourist came along. Inside we found more fossils on display. The skeletal remains of a Jefferson's ground sloth were among the representatives of this forgotten land. Giant Sloths were plant eaters and their teeth were long flattened pegs with ridges. Their curved front claws may have allowed them to hook down high leafy foliage from trees. Jefferson's ground sloth is known from Yukon and Alaskan fossils more than 200 thousand years old, apparently dating from the interglacial time before the McConnell (Winsconsinan) glaciations. This was a warm period when much of Beringia was forested. They appear to have vanished some 9400 years ago. There was also a lot of information on the pre-historic American Indians. Of course, there was no written language, so an exact picture of their life is not possible. Still much has been learned from artifacts left behind. Technologies that are hallmarks of the Eurasian-Beringia Upper Paleolithic include tailored clothing, techniques of food processing, preservation, and storage, dwellings, control of fire, hunting techniques including game surrounds and drives, and fishing. Tool kits contained many types of stone and bone implements reflecting innovative trends such as miniaturization and standardization. These cultural and technological traits, reflected in the archaeological record, provide us with an appreciation of the achievements of these Ice Age Upper Paleolithic Beringians who were the First Americans and to which all other Indian tribes in North, Central and South American can trace their ancestry. And now you know the rest of the story!

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