Academic Minute
5:00 am
Mon May 27, 2013

Dr. Tom Dillehay, Vanderbilt University – Human Migration into the Americas

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University explains the debate over exactly how and when humans migrated into North and South America. 

Dr. Tom Dillehay, Vanderbilt University – Human Migration into the Americas


Tom Dillehay is the Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Religion, and Culture and Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University. His main research interests are migration, the long-term transformative processes leading to political and economic change, and the interdisciplinary and historical methodologies designed to study those processes. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

About Dr. Dillehay

Dr. Tom Dillehay – Human Migration into the Americas

Who were the first Americans? Where did they come from? Why did they first arrive and what kind of a culture did they have? These are questions that have haunted the scientific community of archeologists for nearly 100 years. Research on the first Americans is one of the hottest topics in world anthropology.

Until recently it was believed that the first people to come to the Americas were Asians equipped with a large fluted spearpoint called Clovis. These people were thought to have arrived about 11,500 years ago,  followed and killed big game, and migrated rapidly throughout the New World. But much rethinking has taken place in recent years as a result of new discoveries in archeology.

Several archeological sites in North America have documented human occupation long before 11,500 years ago. These northern sites are supported by several localities in Brazil and southern South America that date around or before 12,500 years ago. The archeological record now suggests that it is likely that multiple early migrations took place to the Americas, possibly even some humans arriving from regions beyond Asia such as western Europe.

This is an exciting time in our field. Not only are archeologists probing new questions about the first Americans, but geneticists, historical linguists, and bio-anthropologists studying human skeletons are all contributing to answering these questions and to rewriting the earliest chapter of humanity in the New World.


Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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