The Beasts of Beringia

How Could Earth’s Many Species Get to Where We Find Them?

Looking at a map of the world, we seem to see seven separate continents: Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. On closer examination, however, we see that Asia and Europe form one super-continent and are joined with Africa by the Sinai Peninsula. North America and South America are connected by Central America and the Isthmus of Panama. Australia is separated by a relatively narrow channel of deep ocean from the Malay Peninsula and the archipelago of islands comprising Indonesia that stretches down from Southeast Asia. If we could lower global sea levels by three or four hundred feet to the level they occupied during the last major glaciation, we would see that Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea are one continent, connected geologically by continental shelf. And the narrow Bering Straits separating the United States from Russia (and North America from Asia) are also continental shelf, along with a wide area to the north and south; paleontologists refer to this region as Beringia. Looked at this way, there are really only four continents: Eurasia/Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Antarctica. And, as noted above, Australia is not far from Asia.

We are assured by geologists that in the remote past all the continents, more than once, were even more obviously and tightly connected to form super-continents like Pangea. The continents have drifted about, joining and then separating over and over in various combinations, and this seems to explain why many of the same fossils are found on more than one continent. The current paradigm to explain all of this is plate tectonics, which tells us that Earth’s crust is divided into a number of sections, or “plates,” which move apart at seafloor spreading zones, slide under one another at subduction zones, or scrape against one another at such locations as the West Coast of North America. This theory, supported by overwhelming evidence, is almost certainly correct overall, although the exact mechanism for producing new seafloor crust is imperfectly understood.

It used to be believed that seafloor-spreading zones like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge were produced by magma in the mantle pushed up by convection currents, but these currents do not produce long sheets of rising magma (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is thousands of miles long) but relatively narrow columns. The latest modification of the basic theory suggests that plates are pulled as much as they are pushed, with lava at the spreading zones cooling and solidifying to form basalt, which slides down from the volcanic ridges, gradually becoming cooler and denser, weighed down by sediments, and finally subducting under the lighter granitic crust of a continent, pulling the plate behind it and keeping the spreading zone open. To this, we must add forces caused by tides and by the Earth’s axial rotation. The plate boundaries are not always obvious: someone standing at Pt. Reyes, California, is on the Pacific Plate, but eastern Siberia and even northern Japan are on the North American plate.

The Americas, it is believed, separated from Europe and Africa some 130 million years BP (before the present), giving birth to the Atlantic Ocean. So many of the same dinosaurs and other animals and plants lived in Africa and Europe, and in the Americas. But what of animals and plants that did not appear until long after the separation? Looking at just some of the animals, we can see that grey wolves and brown bears in Eurasia and North America—American grizzly bears, Alaskan brown bears, and the brown bears of Eurasia (including Japan)—are the same species. The Eurasian red deer is identical with the North American elk, and the Eurasian elk is identical with the North American moose (the nomenclature is just a bit confusing). We are assured that camels and horses first appeared in the Americas (South American llamas and guanacos are members of the camel family) and spread to Asia and Africa. Lions first appeared in Africa and spread to Eurasia and then the Americas. Horses spread from North America to Asia and then became extinct in the Americas. Prehistoric members of the elephant family, we are told, moved from Eurasia to the Americas.

Paleontologists explain all of this with the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America. During the recurrent glaciations of the last 2,580,000 years, sea levels have periodically lowered by as much as 400 feet, allowing animals to migrate from Siberia to Alaska and vice versa. Beringia was not glaciated because ice sheets are as much a result of heavy snow fall as low temperatures; and this region, even today, has less precipitation than, say, areas of Greenland that are further south yet buried under an ice cap. Of course, the animals would have to migrate into the frozen north when it was even colder than today, but numerous species are tolerant of cold, so this is believable enough. The problem is that before the Pleistocene, there is no evidence of any major glaciations after about 260 million BP, and sea levels from then until the Pleistocene are believed to have been as high as today, or even higher, so during all of that period the straits were, presumably, submerged. Also, the Bering Sea did not become as shallow as today until North America had drifted close to Siberia. No figures are available for when this happened, but it had to have been as recent as the last 10 or 20 million years, given the slow rate of drift. In addition, even with continental drift, this part of the North American landmass has been in the Arctic or subarctic region for some 200 million years—long before the Americas separated from Europe and Africa. So it would appear that only animals tolerant of cold could migrate across the straits, and only in the last 2,580,000 years. This poses some very serious problems, problems largely ignored or swept under the rug by conventional-minded scientists.

Lions are a minor problem. Like tigers, they live in temperate as well as tropical regions; and prehistoric cave lions, for example, lived in Europe just south of the glaciers. Yet lions are far less tolerant of cold than Siberian tigers…so why did lions migrate onto the frozen tundra and cross from Asia to North America, but not tigers? Perhaps it is because many lions live on open plains and tigers are primarily forest animals. But there are other problems, not so minor.

Prehistoric elephants supposedly migrated from Asia to the Americas by the mid-Pliocene, long before the Pleistocene ice ages, so Beringia was supposedly submerged when they arrived. So how did they reach America? Camels first appeared in America but were in Asia by 11 million BP. There was no ice age then, and the Bering Straits would have been at least somewhat wider and deeper than today.

Tapirs are large herbivores that live only in the tropical Americas and in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. No tapir fossils have ever been found in Beringia, and these shorthaired, tropical animals could never have survived the cold in that region. Furthermore, they reached South America by around three million BP, before the ice ages, and would have to have been in North America even earlier if they had somehow come that way. While they are strong swimmers, 50 miles of frigid ocean might be a bit too much for them. We can hypothesize that prehistoric men crossed the South Pacific to South America (and there is some evidence for this) and carried some tapirs across the ocean, but there is no evidence that tapirs have ever been domesticated; they have a vicious disposition and a deadly bite. In addition, conventional archaeologists believe that our human species did not even exist three million years ago and that, certainly, no one was building the sizable ships that would have been needed to transport tapirs and sufficient water and fodder to keep them alive. The same objections apply whether they originated in the Americas and went west, or in Asia and went east. And the oldest tapir fossils date back only to about 56 million BP, so it would seem that they could not have walked from Asia and across Africa (leaving no fossils) to South America; the continents were separated long before then.

And then there is the monkey problem. Based on DNA studies, many paleontologists believe that the first primitive primates (but not monkeys) may have appeared as far back as 85 million years ago, long after the Americas had separated from Europe and Africa, although the earliest fossil evidence (none of it from the Americas) is much younger. Monkeys first appeared about 40 million BP, when the Americas were a long way from the Old World. There are some five families of New World monkeys, differing from the ones in Eurasia and Africa by having prehensile tails—but they are still monkeys. No primate fossils have ever been found north of Mexico, and the only monkeys that presently live in fairly cold climates are found in the lower elevations of the Himalayas and the famous Japanese macaques or snow monkeys, which endure the coldest climate of any nonhuman primate. But even the snowy winters of Japan are a far cry from those in northern Siberia, let alone Beringia during the ice ages.

Paleontologists have always recognized this and have hypothesized that monkeys may have crossed from Africa to South America by floating on natural rafts of vegetation. I have sailed on ships across the Atlantic, all over the Caribbean, around Cape Horn, and up and down the west coasts of North and South America, and never once have I seen such a raft. But assuming some monkeys, enough of them to provide enough genetic diversity to prevent extinction due to inbreeding, somehow washed out to sea on a fallen tree when the Atlantic was presumably a bit narrower than today, how would they have avoided starvation or death by dehydration? And no current can move directly from one continent to another, violating the laws of physics; their route would have been very, very indirect. Other paleontologists have suggested that, as the continents separated, a magical land bridge was left behind for a time (there is absolutely no evidence for this, nor any theory to explain how it could even exist), or an equally magical chain of islands that prehistoric monkeys somehow used as “stepping stones.” Monkeys tend to be poor swimmers, which is why, for example, there are monkeys on the Yucatan mainland but not on Isla Cozumel.

So how did all of these animals (I have not even addressed the problem of plant distribution) move between continents? We can hypothesize all we want, but we simply don’t know. Did “ancient aliens” carry them here and there for no particular reason? There is no hard evidence that “ancient aliens” even existed, although the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out. Given the evidence for the extreme antiquity of Homo sapiens and even fairly advanced civilizations, perhaps our ancestors transported them on ships. Again, this is certainly possible. Or could the Bering land bridge have existed at times when the climate was warm and sea levels were as high as today, or higher? There are volcanoes in extreme western Alaska, and geologists are not sure why, so there may be imperfectly understood tectonic forces at work there. Perhaps the area moves up and down for no known reason. But such movements would be so cataclysmic that there should be some geological evidence—yet there is none. And this still would not explain the absence of tapir or monkey fossils in northern Siberia, Beringia, or northern North America.

There is yet another possibility. Some of us have been convinced by the evidence that intelligent design, not neo-Darwinism, explains the fossil record and the multitude of life forms on Earth today. New species appear quite suddenly; either the Designer modifies DNA and causes existing animals to give birth to related but different species or simply creates new species (presumably as adults able to survive on their own) similar to the old ones. If the latter is true, these new creatures might be placed anywhere on Earth, provided that the habitat is suitable for their survival.

All of these explanations—ancient aliens, seafaring people millions of years ago, and intelligent design—are anathema to the conventional-minded atheist materialists, the high priests of scientism. But there is no excuse for simply ignoring evidence that does not fit the existing paradigm, and Beringia and the out-of-place animals are merely part of a larger mystery.

By William B. Stoecker