Anthropology

They came from Asia

Print edition : March 07, 2014

THE first genome sequencing of Ice Age skeletal remains has given scientists definitive proof that the first human settlers in North America were from Asia and not Europe and that these people were the direct ancestors of modern Native Americans. This work, led by the ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues, marked the first ancient North American genome to be fully sequenced. The work is published in Nature.

The Clovis people inhabited North America between 13,000 and 12,600 years ago. They originated south of the large ice sheets that covered Canada at that time and are the direct descendants of the earliest people who arrived in the New World around 15,000 years ago. In 1968, the skeletal remains of a Clovis child were found near a rock cliff in central Montana along with 125 burial artefacts such as spear points and antler tools. The male infant, “Anzick-1”, believed to have been between 12 to 18 months old when he died, was excavated from a burial site and is the oldest Clovis specimen unearthed in the continent. Genetic samples of ancient Americans more than 5,000 years old are rare, making it difficult for scientists to piece together the migration patterns of ancient humans in the New World. Willerslev’s team showed that the infant shared about one-third of his genome with ancient people from Malta in Siberia, who also provided genes to people of present-day Western Eurasia, and the rest of it seemed to be from ancient East Asian people. The finding is an unequivocal refutation of the so-called Solutrean hypothesis, which states that ancient Native Americans came from people who migrated across the Atlantic Ocean from western Europe before the last Ice Age.

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