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How did Native American peoples get to North America after the Flood reduced mankind to eight people in the mountains of Ararat? Historically, the origin of all people groups begins at the Tower of Babel. Genesis 10:32 says:
These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.
All humans came through Noah and—prior to the Flood—ultimately Adam, which means we are all one family. However, this also means we are all sinners and in need of Jesus Christ. For a more detailed look at the Babel dispersion, see the Table of Nations (PDF). But after the Tower of Babel, it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain where everyone went. Generally, from the Middle East in the land of Shinar (modern day Iraq, where Babel was), Japheth’s descendants went toward Europe, Ham’s went toward Africa, and Shem’s remained in the Middle East, moving into the surrounding areas. Of course, there were exceptions to this. For example, Ham’s descendant through Cush (Nimrod) remained in the land of Shinar (Genesis 10:8–12). Also some of Japheth’s descendants remained in the Middle East (Madai's descendants became known as the Medes and were often associated with the Elamites—otherwise known as the Persians). For years, I’ve been trying to trace some the routes of Noah’s descendants who left Babel based on a number of factors.
First, names of places and people groups tend to be concentrated in various places, which is a strong indication that a people group occupied a particular area early on. For example, the region known as Ararat by the Hebrew tongue or Armenia by the Greek tongue also contains the Araxes/Aras River. The ancient Urartu people also dwell in a portion of this land area. This name goes back to a common people group with these variations.
There are some that are easy to place, such as Noah’s grandson Javan, which is still the Hebrew name for Greece, or Noah’s grandson Mizraim, which is still the Hebrew name for Egypt.
However, when it comes to North America and even portions of South America, European settlers have usurped many names and places and provided new names. Although some native names still exist [e.g., Nebraska (Sioux word for flat river, which they called the Platte River), Illinois (the French variant of the Illini tribe)], the bulk have been lost and forgotten. But this is still where correlations could help.
Another issue here is that many geographical names may be derived from various descendants well beyond the names given in Genesis 10. In other words, these places may be named for great-grandsons of Noah’s great-grandsons! If this is the case, there is no direct tie to a family unit leaving Babel without more information.
Logically, the farther away from Babel people traveled, the more likely the descendants were to “pick up the torch” and continue moving about and filling the earth as per Genesis 9:1. Certain descendants of Noah, perhaps those listed in Genesis 10, would travel only so far, but their descendants were the ones to pick up tent and keep moving. So some names that do not appear in the Babel account become harder to trace back unless they were written down and documented, which many American tribes did not do.
A second factor is based on language families. Of course, due to wars and migrations of people, languages often intermingle with other families. For example, because of Roman occupation, the Latin language infiltrated many areas, and so Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, French, and modern-day Italian all belong to the same language family (these are called Romance Languages)—even English has extensive Latin influence.
Nations well beyond Rome’s grasp offer a different story. In India, a whole host of languages and a number of language families exist, which is a strong indication that numerous descendants from Babel likely ended up in that area. This makes sense considering that the geography funnels people toward India on their way to Asia, Australia, or the Americas. It is simply an easier route than crossing mountains. Of course, a far northern route through Russia/Siberia could have been taken—which is possible, but the Ice Age may have made migration more difficult and dangerous.
A language family consists of a number of languages that are all similar and have a common origin—ultimately dating back to Babel.
With regards to Native North Americans, a handful of language families seem to dominate, and this can give us clues (see this off-site map of major North American language families). A language family consists of a number of languages that are all similar and have a common origin—ultimately dating back to Babel. Of course, languages are always changing.
One roadblock with determining Native Americans' heritage is the scarcity of a written language.1 Such languages were passed on orally, which allowed for many changes.
Even in written language, consider that the English of 1,000 years ago is hardly recognizable to the modern English speaker. Consider also that Australian English did not even exist 200 years ago! So, although the language family may help identify relationships of various tribes and nations, it still may not be enough to tie these language families directly back to an ancestor from Babel.
Some rare cases may have a connection to Babel, though. The Olmec, who may have been the precursors to the Mayans (or possibly conquered by them), did have an ancient written language that has not been entirely deciphered yet.2 And there is controversy at this stage as to whether this language is of African descent—specifically West African, as some linguists are claiming.3 If this claim is verified, then it has a Babel connection. Many in West Africa are descendants of Phut, Noah’s grandson through Ham, who settled along the northwest of the African continent and spread around the coast (for example, the Moors of old and modern Mauritania, Morocco, and so on came from Phut). Others of Ham’s descendants also inhabited Africa, such as Cush (Ethiopia) and Mitzraim (Egypt and Libya), and their descendants settled other parts of Africa too.
What we can learn is that there were several language families, which means that there were likely several family groups (or at least their descendants) that made it from Babel to North America. But without much written history over the past 4,000 years or so, although this is helpful, we need other angles.
From here, we need some discernment in evaluating the various oral histories of Native tribes and nations. Sometimes there is a nugget of truth waiting to be rediscovered behind the accounts—even in some of the mythologies.
For example, in Norse and Germanic mythologies, there is a person named Oden (Woden), and he happens to be found in post-Flood genealogies to lead to many royal houses throughout Europe.4 In Greek and Roman mythologies, there are a few correlations to the biblical Table of Nations, such as Chronos (or Saturn) being Kittim/Cethimus under Javan. So mythologies often have a remnant of truth in them, but the stories are embellished.
This would be an exciting area of study for Native Americans to evaluate their historical traditions and to pick out the nuggets of truth in them—especially looking for any connections back to Genesis 10. Keep in mind language variations and the possibility that some of these traditions are farther removed from Babel.
A number of Native American legends are posted on the Internet, but well-versed individuals may be familiar with others. Some of these legends obviously have ties as far back as creation, which we would expect. Naturally, the stories have deviated over several thousand years. This is where discernment is needed. And since God, the true Creator, was kind enough to provide a revelation to mankind as to what really happened when He created (the Bible, specifically Genesis), this invariably helps as the ultimate standard of truth and real history. And Genesis has not undergone changes—being written by Moses and ultimately the Holy Spirit. I encourage interested parties to study these legends and folklore in more detail in light of what Genesis says.
So, the short answer is that Native Americans originally came to North and South America as a result of the dispersion at the Tower of Babel. But to connect the migration route dots will require more diligent research, which, naturally, we encourage.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.