Kelp Highway Hypothesis

A Variation on the Pacific Coast Migration Model of Colonizing America

School of Anchovy in Kelp Forest Monterey Bay Aquarium
School of Anchovy in Kelp Forest Monterey Bay Aquarium. Stef Maruch

The Kelp Highway Hypothesis is a theory concerning the original colonization of the American continents. The theory builds on the Pacific Coast Migration Model, which proposes that the first Americans reached the New World by following the coastline along Beringia and into the American continents.

Archaeologist Jon Erlandson and colleagues published their variation on the PCM Model in 2007. They suggest that travelers along the Pacific coast relied on a specific route and diet: the kelp forests of the Pacific rim.

Kelp forests are extremely rich and diverse environments, supporting an abundance of shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and seaweeds. They are found along the entire Pacific Rim except for the tropics, and would have provided a substantial marine subsistence base for the putative colonists of the Americas. Recent reconstructions of the coastal range of Beringia suggest that its margins would have been highly convoluted and island-rich, hence supporting kelp forests.

Erlandson and colleagues postulate a virtual Kelp Highway, providing algae, seaweed, fish, birds, and other resources for migrating populations in a long linear pathway down the American coasts.


See the glossary entries for Pacific Coast Migration Model, the Solutrean Connection, and the Ice Free Corridor for additional information on the colonization of the Americas.

Erlandson, Jon M., et al. 2007 The Kelp Highway Hypothesis: Marine Ecology, the Coastal Migration Theory, and the Peopling of the Americas.

The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 2(2):161-174.

Graham, Michael H., Paul K. Dayton, and Jon M. Erlandson 2003 Ice ages and ecological transitions on temperate coasts. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18(1):33-40.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Kelp Highway Hypothesis." ThoughtCo, Apr. 9, 2016, Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, April 9). Kelp Highway Hypothesis. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Kelp Highway Hypothesis." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 21, 2018).