Section 1: Introduction

From the beginning of human existence, people have thought about where they came from. People have told stories from generation to generation so that the stories would not be forgotten. When the ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks and others developed a system of writing, the stories were recorded in clay and on paper. People who did not develop a writing system continued the oral tradition of keeping their origin stories alive.

All humans have migrated at some time or other. Some who continued the tradition of moving from place to place are called nomads. Others eventually settled on farms or in towns or cities. These people are called sedentary. After the People came to North America, BeringiaArchaeologists and paleontologists believe that both humans and animals traveled from Siberia to North America across a land bridge. During the Ice Age, the level of the oceans dropped and a piece of land was exposed that joined the two continents. The land bridge is called Beringia because it crossed the Bering Sea. Archaeologists at one time believed that this land bridge existed about 12,000 years ago. Today, scientists are pushing that date back thousands of years. Although some scientists have said that humans may have come to North America as much as 24,000 years ago, we do not know exactly when or by what route humans entered North America. it is likely that they moved around quite a bit to locate the resources they needed for food, water, clothing, tools, and shelter. In time, some People found places where they had all they needed and established villages in those places. Others continued to move, usually in accordance with the seasons.

Most of North Dakota’s People were nomadic or semi-nomadic until about 1200 A.D. Nomads might have moved 12 to 20 times a year. Because they migrated to find game and plant foods, they lived in housing that could be easily packed up and taken with them, or they built shelters whenever they settled down for a little while. They probably traveled more during summer and fall when it was important to find game and plants to preserve for winter. They probably moved a little less often in winter.

Archaeological evidence tells us that by 1200 A.D., some People lived in permanent homes in fortified villages. They became sedentary. Other People continued to move about, usually following bison herds. As the People made changes in their lives, they continued to remember their past and told the stories to their children. These stories came to be known as origin stories. Every group of People has a story about where they came from. Some groups have more than one origin story. These stories help us to reach back into the past to learn more about the earliest residents of North Dakota. We can learn a lot about the culture of the People and what qualities they thought were important by reading or listening to their origin stories.

Anthropologists (AN thro POL oh jists) use science to learn more about how People traveled to the place where they settled. Scientists use scientific tools to examine the evidence of travels. By scientifically examining the tools and pottery that the People made, anthropologists determine where the People lived at different times. Of course, anthropologists have not found all of the evidence they need, but they have helped us understand how people moved about trading ideas and goods and learning new ways to live.

Why is this important?  It is important to consider both origin stories and scientific evidence when studying the ancient People of North Dakota. Origin stories sometimes match up with scientific evidence. Together, both science and oral tradition help us understand a little more about how People lived, who they traded with, and how they adapted to new conditions.