Paleo-Indians were the first inhabitants of North America ("paleo means old in Greek). They were also known as Lithic Indians; the word "lithic" is derived from the Greek "lithos" meaning stone, a reference to the material from which they made their tools. They migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait, the waterway that separates Asia (Russia) from North America (Alaska). Scholars believe that during the Late Ice Age (known as the Pleistocene glacial epoch, which ended about 10,000 b.c.) land masses were exposed by a drop in sea level or that ice covered the strait, forming a natural bridge. As large game traveled across this bridge the Asian hunters followed in pursuit, arriving in North America as early as 50,000 b.c.. During the thousands of years that followed they continued their migration, spreading out across the Western Hemisphere. By 25,000 b.c. Paleo-Indians had begun crafting stone into spear points to be used as weapons. Archaeologists have therefore named Paleo-Indian groups for the different types of spear point they used such as Clovis or Folsom. When the number of large game, such as mammoth and mastodon, diminished and finally became extinct, the hunters turned to smaller prey such as deer and rabbits.
Paleo-Indians eventually settled in various post–Ice Age environments, including coastal regions, forests, mountains, and swamps. They adapted their lifestyles to their physical surroundings. Groups along the East Coast, for example, began to rely on the sea as a food source (in Virginia, ruins indicate that early peoples consumed a large amount of oysters). By about 2000 b.c. they began to cultivate plants, marking the transition to agricultural-based societies. Settlements became increasingly permanent. Between the years 500 and 1600 they developed ceramics, jewelry, and the bow and arrow, and began to focus on their spirituality.
When Europeans arrived in North and South America the native inhabitants they encountered were descendants of the Paleo-Indians. Ice Age nomads had settled as far east as Nova Scotia by 10,000 b.c.. There they were succeeded by the Micmac Indians, who in the early 1500s traded with French, Spanish, and Portuguese explorers.
See also: Beringia, Clovis Point