One State-Many Nations

Western Reserve Public Media


Ohio’s Prehistoric People


It is theorized that humans first began crossing a land “bridge” between Asia and North America about 40,000 years ago. It is thought that so much water was contained in the glaciers of the period that the levels of the oceans were decreased by as much as 300 feet. Large areas of land were exposed. The connecting link between Alaska and Siberia was not really a bridge — implying a narrow strip of land — but an area made up of several hundreds of square miles. This area today is known as Beringia. As the glaciers melted, the water levels rose, covering the link of land that provided a passageway for North America’s first inhabitants.

It must be noted that some of America’s native peoples believe they originated on the continents of North and South America and did not migrate from Asia. There is evidence that may support these beliefs, as sites of human existence discovered in northeast Brazil have been tentatively dated to 48,500 years ago. Native Americans theorize that the migration of prehistoric people began, instead, in the Americas and spread into Asia, and that the journeying of people was aided by the use of floating vessels along the coasts.

In the latter stages of the Ice Age, herds of roaming animals such as bison, mastodons and mammoths and small horses wandered back and forth across the ice bridge. Bands of nomadic people who hunted these animals as a source of food followed their migration back and forth across the Bering Sea. People migrated for many centuries moving about the Americas. Archaeologists believe people reached what is now known as Ohio 15,000 years ago, while radiocarbon testing shows that humans reached the southernmost part of South America 8,000 years ago. Native people believe that they have always been here.


Video Synopsis:

Prehistoric Ohioans
They came to our state more than 12,000 years ago. Some believe they crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and migrated south. Prehistoric Ohioans looks at the Paleo, Archaic, Adena, Hopewell, Whittlesey and Fort Ancient peoples. See who lived, hunted, gathered, farmed and built mysterious mounds in Ohio.



Students will use globes to locate possible connections that exist or may have existed between continents.



Ohio Social Studies Content Standards

Grade 4 Benchmark: History

Indicator: Settlement

2. Describe the earliest settlements in Ohio including those of prehistoric peoples

Grade 4 Benchmark: Geography

Indicator: Human Environmental Interaction

8. Identify how environmental processes (i.e., glaciation and weathering) and characteristics (landforms, bodies of water, climate, vegetation) influence human settlement and activity in Ohio.



A globe for each team or group of students



  1. Form groups of three or four children.

  2. Give each group a globe. Ask children to locate and identify each continent. Ask them to find places where continents touch. Ask if there are any locations where continents nearly touch. Let students know that at one time, no people lived on the continents of North and South America, but starting around 40,000 years ago people began to appear on the North American land mass.

  3. Have students brainstorm about how people might have moved into North America.

  4. After children have presented their discussions, use the information from the overview of the lesson (above) to teach how the western hemisphere became populated.


This may be used as a means of formative or summative assessment:

  1. Which two continents did Beringia connect?

  2. Which body of water now covers the land that was crossed by wandering animals and people?

  3. When do scientists believe the first inhabitants of North America arrived?

  4. What caused early people to cross the land bridge into North America?

  5. What caused the strip of land known as Beringia to disappear?

  6. When do scientists believe people first reached the area known today as Ohio?

  7. Which prehistoric animals crossed Beringia?

  8. Where do Native people believe their ancestors came from?

This test form may be used. If it is preferred that students use a word bank, the following choices should be placed on the chalkboard or overhead:

15,000 yrs. ago Bering Sea mastodon mammoth bison
Asia following a source of food melting of the glaciers Europe Zebra
Africa 40,000 yrs.ago Lake Erie Horse America


  1. Asia and North America

  2. Bering Sea

  3. 40,000 years ago

  4. following a food source

  5. melting of the glaciers

  6. 15,000 years ago

  7. mastodon, bison, mammoth, horse

  8. America (always here)
Copyright©2008, Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio, Inc. All rights reserved.