Section 2: Migrations

Archaeologists gather information on the earliest Peoples of North Dakota through their studies of the tools and other goods that remain from their camps or villages. Recent investigations have revealed that the earliest (so far as we now know) People came from Wyoming or Montana about 13,500 years ago. They may have stayed for a few weeks if hunting was good. They worked on their tool supply while they were near the Knife River flint quarries.

If large game animals became scarce, the People went somewhere else to find better resources. When the weather was difficult, they left to find a better climate. Increasing temperatures might have caused a drought and forced the game to leave the area, too.

After the glaciers were gone, the eastern part of the state became warmer and drier. People walked hundreds of miles from lands to the southeast of North Dakota to live and hunt. Some People settled near the James River around 400 B.C., but there may have been People living or camping in that area for hundreds of years.

Much of this information is based on very little evidence. Scientists hypothesize (hi POTH eh size), or develop theories, about where People came from and where they finally settled. Archaeologists and anthropologists study the way tools were manufactured and the kinds of stones the tools are made from to learn more about migration patterns. If a type of stone is usually found in Wyoming, and it turns up as a tool in an archaeological site in North Dakota, then we can hypothesize that the journey of the People who made that tool took them through Wyoming.

The population of North Dakota did not increase steadily from 11,000 B.C. to 1200 A.D. People migrated to find game and other resources, so they traveled into the region and left again when they ran out of resources. The population might have dropped to less than 800 hunter-gatherers when the climate was too dry for plants and animals to thrive. When the climate was good, the population might have reached 15,000 people in the years before Europeans came to the region.

Climate was an important factor, but another important factor was the development of horticulture (raising crops). At the end of this time period (1200 A.D.), People were just beginning to raise crops and live in permanent villages. Crops and sedentary (settled) villages stabilized the population of North Dakota. There were still some nomadic peoples who came to hunt and moved on to other places, but more People found North Dakota had the food, the climate, and the space they needed to live well.

Why is this important?  People adapted as needed to changes in the climate which, of course, caused changes in the availability of plant and animal food sources. The ability of People to adapt was extremely important to their survival. Migration allowed them to find food and the materials they needed to make tools and clothing. Migration also encouraged People to meet, trade, and learn from other People.