University of Virginia linguistic anthropologist Mark A. Sicoli and colleagues are applying the latest technology to an ancient mystery: how and when early humans inhabited the New World. Their new research analyzing more than 100 linguistic features suggest more complex patterns of contact and migration among the early peoples who first settled the Americas.
The diversity of languages in the Americas is like no other continent of the world, with eight times more “isolates” than any other continent. Isolates are “languages that have no demonstrable connection to any other language with which it can be classified into a family,” Sicoli said.
There are 26 isolates in North America and 55 in South America, mostly strung across the western edge of the continents, compared to just one in Europe, eight in Africa and nine in Asia.”Scientists in the past few decades have rethought the settlement of the Americas,” Sicoli said, “replacing the idea that the land which connected Asia and North America during the last ice age was merely a ‘bridge’ with the hypothesis that during the last ice age humans lived in this refuge known as ‘Beringia’ for up to 15,000 years and then seeded migrations not only into North America, but also back into Asia.”