What is Beringia?

The term Beringia comes from the name of Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer for the Russian czar in the 18th Century. Bering-Chirikov expedition explored the waters of the North Pacific between Asia and North America. The Bering Strait, which lies between Alaska and Northeast Russia, and Bering Island, in the Commander Islands, are named after him.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, P. Sushkin and E. Hulten began to use the word "Beringia" as a geographic description. Today, we use the term to describe a vast area between the Kolyma River in the Russian Far East to the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It is a region of worldwide significance for cultural and natural resources. This area also provides an unparalleled opportunity for a comprehensive study of the earth th--its unusually intact landforms and biological remains may reveal the character of past climates and the ebb and flow of earth forces at the continents’ edge. Biological research leads to the understanding of the natural history of the region and distribution of flora and fauna. As one of the world’s great ancient crossroads, Beringia may hold solutions to puzzles about who the first people were to come to North America, how and when they traveled and how they survived under such harsh climatic conditions.

It is currently believed that the ocean levels rose and fell several times in the past. During extended cold periods, tremendous volumes of water are deposited on land in the form of ice and snow, which can cause a corresponding drop in sea level. The last "ice age" occurred around 12-15,000 years ago. During this period the shallow seas now separating Asia from North America near the present day Bering Strait dropped about 300 feet and created a 1,000 mile wide grassland steppe, linking Asia and North America together with the "Bering Land Bridge". Across this vast steppe, plants and animals traveled in both directions, and humans entered the Americas.

The National Park Service administers the Shared Beringian Heritage Program and is actively working for the establishment of a Beringian Heritage International Park. Our area of primary focus for research and cultural development is Central Beringia, that area adjoining the Bering Strait between 64 and 70 degrees north latitude and 160 and 180 degrees west longitude. In addition to promoting the conservation and enjoyment of the natural and physical features of the region, the program supports the understanding and celebration of the common shared heritage between the United States and Russia in this part of the world.