Coming to America by Boat

by David B. Smith on March 1, 2018; last featured April 23, 2023
Featured in Answers Magazine
Audio Version

One of the great mysteries and wonders of human history is how settlers reached the New World across vast oceans. Columbus reached the West Indies with the aid of advanced sailing ships and sophisticated metal instruments. But the first settlers were too primitive, right?

Until recently, secular archaeologists assumed they must have moved slowly with their families over land. During the Ice Age, the oceans were lower and a land bridge appears to have connected Russia and Alaska. Evidence also indicates that an ice-free passageway opened—briefly—in the middle of Canada’s ice sheets. The discovery of the earliest-known human remains in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1932 bolstered this view. Artifacts from these settlers, fittingly named the Clovis people, later appeared in many other inland locations.

New findings at far-flung outposts of the Western Hemisphere, however, began to challenge this view. In the late 1970s, archaeologists proposed the radical idea that an earlier wave of immigrants had come to America by boat.

This view fits in well with creationists’ view of human history. Based on Genesis, we know that descendants of the great shipbuilder Noah must have settled in the Americas soon after the Flood. Since these people were intelligent and skilled, it would make sense for them to rely on well-stocked boats rather than dangerous overland exploration.

Research is now pointing to water travel as the method of choice.

Migration Map

First by Land

The traditional view is that America’s first settlers arrived during the Ice Age and traveled down an ice-free passage into North America’s interior.


The discovery of weapons and Ice Age animals at a New Mexico site in 1932 gave birth to the theory that America was settled by people traveling through the interior.

Actually, First by Sea

New discoveries of human artifacts all along the west coast have convinced most archaeologists that the first American immigrants came by boat.

Paisley Caves

At caves in Oregon, archaeologists have found what appeared to be the oldest human remains in North America, predating Clovis remains in the interior.

Cedros Island

Archaeologists have found artifacts on several coastal islands dated from the time of the Clovis remains. Even older sites may be underwater, covered by rising oceans at the end of the Ice Age.

Huaca Prieta

On Peru’s coast, researchers have found evidence of an early wave of settlers that came by sea.

Santa Elina

Archaeologists recently found evidence of humans hunting giant Ice Age sloths in western Brazil—earlier than any other places on this map! How did they get here, unless they came by boat and then trekked inland?

Monte Verde

The surprising discovery of a settlement so far south, older than the Clovis site, provides strong evidence that the first settlers moved rapidly by boat.

David Smith holds a master of divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a master of arts degree in Bible and cognate studies from Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, where he studied archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern history.

Answers Magazine

March–April 2018

The beach beckons us with its seashells. More than just ornate collectables, they testify to the Creator’s lavish provision for even the lowliest creatures. The Creator designed shells with mind-boggling features evolution can’t begin to explain.

Browse Issue Subscribe


Get the latest answers emailed to you.

I agree to the current Privacy Policy.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390