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Early Human Arrivals

Credit: Ryan Hutton

There are many mysteries surrounding the first humans to reach the Rocky Mountains. Little evidence remains to tell us about how or where they lived. These early people were likely hunter-gatherers, and remains of an ancient man found in White River National Forest suggest that people may have been crossing, or even living on, the high slopes of the Roaring Fork Valley as early as 8,000 years ago.

Read an Article on the Hourglass Cave Find

This short video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows a map that alters to display modeled ocean depths over time. Light shades of blue indicate shallow water, darker shades of blue indicate deeper water, and different shades of brown represent different elevations of land above sea level. The possible existence of a land bridge for several thousand years during an ice age is a critical component to one of the theories as to how early humans first migrated into the Americas.

Explore Other Migration Theories How long did humans live on the Bering Strait?'

Global Connection

One commonly accepted theory of how early humans made their way into North America is that they migrated (possibly multiple times) across the Bering Strait. Today, there's about 53 miles of water between the tip of North America and the tip of Asia, but it is hypothesized that around 16,000-13,000 years ago, this area was joined by a bridge of land. During a glacial period, the world's sea levels would have been lower, as much of the fresh water of the Earth was locked up in ice. If this land bridge did exist, then the earliest human inhabitants may have arrived in North America as early as they did thanks to ice age cycles.

Brain Bug

Consider your average walking speed. Imagine if climate conditions made the Roaring Fork Valley uninhabitable. Walking on foot, how long would it take you to reach the Gulf of Mexico? How would you navigate there without modern technologies--what clues or indicators could you use if there were no maps, GPS, or even anecdotal accounts of the area?