04 January 2014

The Bering land bridge

The Bering land bridge was both more and less than it is generally taken to be. On one hand, it is popularly misunderstood as a simple causeway between continents, an image reinforced by schoolbook and encyclopaedia depictions of headlong winter dashes over narrow spits of land and frost-nipped refugees glancing apprehensively over their shoulders towards Russia. ('What could be chasing them?' I recall wondering as I pored over one such illustration in my first-grade history text, concluding in a Cold War schoolboy way that it must be the KGB.) The bridge was in fact a belt of land twice the size of Texas, with an average north-south width of 600 miles [965km]. Dry winds from the south and the temperature-moderating influence of the Pacific are thought to have kept it largely unglaciated. It was the centrepiece of the large ecozone known as Beringia, a name coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hulten in 1937 and now used to denote the 2500-mile span encompassed by Siberia's Verkhoyansk Mountains and Canada's Mackenzie River. On the other hand, the bridge was a most undependable viaduct, subject to partial or complete flooding during temperate intervals - precisely the time when human beings were likeliest to be living at high enough latitudes to take advantage of it. The bridge sank beneath the waves for good between 10,000 and 9000 BCE, leaving, in the end, surprisingly few moments when it could have been navigated.

- John McCannon, A History of the Arctic, London, 2012, p.35 (w/ links added)

See also:
Books: Dostoyevsky meets Dickens, 3 January 2014
History: To the North Pole by Zeppelin, 1 August 2012
Blog: Russia, 1 September 2008
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