He found that the few remaining Ket speakers in Russia and the Dene, Gwich’in and other Athapaskan speakers in North America used almost identical words for canoe and such component parts as the prow and cross-piece.
“Finally, here was the beginning of a system that struck me as beyond the realm of chance,” Vajda wrote at the time. “At that moment, I think I realized how an archeologist must feel who peers inside a freshly opened Egyptian tomb and witnesses what no one has seen for thousands of years.”
Currently, only the Eskimo-Aleut family of aboriginal languages spoken by the Inuit of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia straddle the hemispheric divide between Asia and the Americas. Those connections aren’t surprising, given the relatively recent arrival of the Inuit to North America.
But linguists had never definitively linked any ancient, Old World language to those spoken by the Indian nations of North and South America. Their ancestors are believed to have migrated from Asia to the New World — across what was then a dried-up Bering Strait — at least 13,000 years ago.