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THE MAKING OF A NATION #2 - March 6, 2003: First Peoples - 2003-03-05


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VOICE ONE:

This is Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Rich Kleinfeldt with the MAKING OF A NATION, a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

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Today, we present the first in our series of history programs. We tell about the first peoples to arrive in what would become North America.

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VOICE ONE:

Scientists and history experts say the first people to ever come to the western hemisphere arrived between fifteen-thousand and thirty-five-thousand years ago. They may have come in several different groups. No one is really sure who they were or where they lived before.

Experts say the best possible answer about where they came from is northern Asia. Most experts believe they crossed to the western hemisphere from the part of Russia now called Siberia. The first people came to the new world in a time of fierce cold.

Much of the northern part of the world was covered in ice. Because of this, the oceans were hundreds of meters lower than they are now. Scientists believe this made it possible to walk across the area that is now the Bering Sea. For a moment, let us follow a family group as it begins to cross the area that is now the Bering Sea. The time is more than twenty-thousand years ago.

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VOICE TWO:

The hunter watched the small group of animals. It had been several days since he had last killed an animal for food. The hunter's family had not much left to eat. It was the responsibility of the men to provide the food. Today they must get meat or their families would not survive. The fierce cold added to the sharp hunger that the hunter felt. He was dressed from head to foot in heavy animal skins to protect against the cold.

VOICE ONE:

The hunter was several kilometers from the animals. The animals had moved slowly during the night toward the rising sun. They had been moving in this direction for several days. They were also looking for food. The hunter knew there was not much for them to eat in this area. He knew the animals would keep moving.

The hunter's people had always followed animals for food. But they had never followed them this far toward the rising sun. The hunter looked behind him. He could see the women and children far behind. He picked up his weapon and moved forward.

VOICE TWO:

Later, the men killed two animals. It was enough to feed all their people for perhaps two days. That night as they cooked the meat, the hunter thought about turning back to the land behind them. The hunter knew that area well. But the hunting had been poor for a long time.

This was the first group of animals they had been able to follow any length of time. It was not a large group of animals but there were enough to follow. He decided that in the morning they could continue toward the rising sun. They would stay with this herd of animals. He knew his family had little choice. Follow them and live. Or go back and perhaps die from of a lack of food.

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VOICE ONE:

This is just a story. But it could be true. Scientists believe such hunters followed animals east across what is now the Bering Sea. It is only about eighty kilometers from Siberia to what is now the American state of Alaska. Eighty kilometers would not be a long trip for ancient people following animal herds.

Scientists have done new genetic tests on large populations of people. They show that about ninety-five percent of all native peoples in the western hemisphere came from the same family group. The scientists say this family may have crossed into the west about twenty-thousand years ago. This family group would have grown and divided during the next several thousand years. Over time, they would have spread out and explored most of the land that is North, Central and South America.

VOICE TWO:

Many of those early peoples stayed in the far northern parts of the American continents. They were already used to living in the extreme cold. They knew how to survive.

Today members of a tribe called the Yuit still live near the Bering Sea in Alaska. Other tribes live in the Arctic areas of northern Canada. These include several different tribes of the Inuit. Many of these people of the far North still hunt wild animals for much of their food.

VOICE ONE:

The early settlers in North America were not able to immediately travel south. Huge amounts of ice stopped them. Experts believe the early settlers lived in the far north for about two-thousand years before they began to move south.

One expert says it could have taken only five-hundred years for the early Indians to settle all of the western hemisphere from southern Canada to the end of South America.

VOICE TWO:

Scientists say it is more likely that the movement took several thousand years. But in time these people spread out over the western hemisphere. They became thousands of different tribes with many languages...from the Inuit in the far north, to the Yahgan people near the end of South America.

One group was the Maya of Mexico. They learned to read and write their language and build huge stone buildings that can still be seen today. The Inca of Peru also built stone buildings that are extremely beautiful. Some Indians still live much the same as they always have. An example is the Bora tribe that lives deep in the Amazon area of South America.

Other native peoples settled across the land that would later become the United States.

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VOICE ONE:

The earliest evidence of the existence of ancient Indians in North America was found in Nineteen-Twenty-Six. A worker found the bones of an animal sticking out of the ground. The bones were much larger than normal.

Experts were called. The experts learned that the bones were from an animal that is no longer found in North America. The experts also found the stone points of weapons that were used to kill this animal. Since then experts have found many similar areas with animal bones and weapon points. The experts believe most of these finds are between ten-thousand and eleven-thousand-five-hundred years old.

VOICE TWO:

The experts agree that these stone weapon points are very similar to weapons that have been found in the far northern parts of Siberia. They say this helps prove the idea that the first settlers in North America came from North Eastern Asia.

Near the small town of Clovis in the western state of New Mexico, experts found a new kind of stone weapon point. They named it the Clovis point. These points have been made very sharp by cutting away some of the stone from the sides. Experts say this kind of stone point is only found in America. The earliest ones were made about eleven-thousand-five hundred years ago. Experts say at the time, this kind of stone point was the most modern weapon of its time. They were a great improvement over the older kind of stone point.

VOICE ONE:

Many of the larger animals that were hunted by the early Indians began to die off with the end of the ice age. The Indians were forced to hunt smaller animals. In a period of several thousand years, the first peoples moved and settled across the land that would become the United States.

Some settled in the forest land of the east, like the Iroquois. Some lived in the southern desert like the Apache. Some settled in the open country of middle America like the Lakota. And others settled in the American northwest like the Nez Perce.

These tribes and several hundred others had lived in the western part of the world many thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived. Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in Fourteen-Ninety-Two. People in Europe did not know at that time that this land existed.

VOICE TWO:

When Columbus landed, several million people lived in the area between the far north of North America to the end of land in South America. These included large groups and small. Most had their own culture, language and religion. Many were extremely fierce. Some were very peaceful. Some were hunters. Others were farmers. Some built huge cities of stone. Others lived in simple homes made from animal skins or wood from trees. Their ways of living would change forever when European explorers found their land. The story of these explorers -- next week.

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VOICE ONE:

This MAKING OF A NATION program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

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