Due to glaciation during the Ice Age, sea levels fell between 125 and 150 meters, causing the "land bridge" between Siberia and Alaska to be exposed and dry. But it did more than this: it left uncovered the huge land mass now called Beringia, a term coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hultén in 1937. This Ice Age land region was a huge steppe, or cold, dry grassland, stretching from the Kolyma River in Siberia to the MacKenzie River in Canada, and is notable because it remained non-glaciated during the Ice Age due to light snowfall from an arid climate. Beringia is of special interest to archeologists and paleontologists as it played a crucial role in the migrations of many animals and humans between Asia and the Americas.
It is believed that a small human population of at most a few thousand arrived in Beringia from eastern Siberia before expanding into the settlement of the Americas sometime after 16,500 years ago as the American glaciers blocking the way southward melted. This migration is assumed to have ended when the bridge was covered by the sea as glaciers melted about 11,000 years ago. Before European colonization, Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik peoples on both sides of the straits. These peoples and their culture remain in the region today.
We decided to visit the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre today. Little did we know how completely we would be transported back into the age of Beringia! As we got out of our truck, we were amazed to see a small family group of wooly mammoths striking through the picnic area and into the nearby woods:
We were curious where they were going, and followed the lumbering beasts. At one point, David got a little too close to the calf and was chastised by the angry cow:
No sooner did we escape that hair-raising encounter, then Kathy stumbled on a giant beaver who, being carniverous, decided to see what humans taste like:
Imagine rodents the size of bears! The giant beaver was a true ice age giant. Stretching up to two metres long and weighing up to 100 kilograms, the giant beaver is the largest rodent of all time. The giant beaver is known from fossil sites all across North America. In northern Yukon, fossil incisors the size of bananas and molar teeth of giant beavers are well known from the banks and bluffs along the Old Crow and Porcupine Rivers. Tales of the giant beaver feature prominently in the Vuntut Gwich'in of Old Crow's traditional stories of times long ago.
After wrestling her arm out of the giant beaver's incisors, Kathy caught up to me and we finally found our way to the Center:
We were first greeted by a giant globe showing the location of Beringia:
The Center is filled with fossils and models of animals that lived in Beringia during the Ice Age. Just a few of them are the wooly mammoth, the giant beaver, the giant short-faced bear, the Jefferson's ground sloth, the Yukon camel and the American scimitar cat. One of our favorite skeletons, however, was that of the steppe bison:
The Center shows two different videos, one on Beringia itself and one on the animals that inhabited it. Other exhibits in the Center describe what we know about humans that migrated into the region.
The visit was so inspiring that Kathy couldn't help visiting some of those lovable animals in a special corner of the Center set up especially for Junior Rangers: