What does 'draw a bead' mean in the following extract?

The fact of the matter for now is that the divergence and diversity among the languages is what we have to work with. When more is understood, perhaps with some luck we can draw a finer bead on the question of time depth. However, for now, whether shallower or deeper, the relatively unknown age of human occupation in the New World solves none of the outstanding linguistic issues before us.


Literally, it means to aim at with rifle. The bead is the small knob in the foresight of a rifle that shows where the bullet is going to hit. A finer bead would allow for more accurate shooting.

Here it is being used figuratively. It means "focus one's attention on a problem" and "completely understand or solve a problem".

When we understand more about how languages diverge we will be able to better understand when the native American languages diverged, and so learn when the Native American peoples came to the New World.

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