Humans migrating across the Bering Strait have occupied the Aleutian Islands for over 8000 years. The first stage of occupation by the Aleuts began in 6000 BP. Much debate exists on whether the Aleut civilization developed in relative isolation, or in contact with communities from the larger Bering Sea region. The Aleuts, however, became a sophisticated marine civilization, creating the bidarka, a kayak-like vessel suited to long hunting trips. The numbers and distribution of these early Aleuts fluctuated in response to volcanic activity, which would periodically alter the local ecology upon which they depended. By the time Russian explorers began colonizing the region in the 18th century, the Aleut population, dispersed throughout the chain, reached approximately 16,000, with principal settlements on islands that included Umnak, Unalaska, Atka, and Attu in the far west.
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