Earliest American Genome Proves Siberian Origins of Native Peoples

By Gemma Tarlach | February 12, 2014 12:00 pm

siberia

The sequencing of DNA from the earliest known North American remains has provided the first genetic confirmation of Native American ancestry, quashed a controversial alternative theory and hinted at possible migration patterns that may revise our understanding of population dispersal from modern-day Alaska to the southern tip of Chile.

Whew. Pretty impressive achievements for a baby.

Researchers today announced the successful whole-genome sequencing of Anzick-1, the remains of an infant boy who lived roughly 12,600 years ago. The remains were discovered in central Montana in 1968 during a construction project. Anzick-1 was a crucial find for archaeologists even before scientists completed the DNA analysis — the child’s remains are the oldest known burial in North America and the only human remains ever found that are definitively associated with the Clovis people, the continent’s first known indigenous culture.

East Asian Origins Confirmed

Anzick-1’s DNA allowed researchers to confirm genetically, for the first time, that all native peoples of North and South America descended from ancestors who arrived via land bridges from East Asia, possibly in a single migration. While there has been ample archeological evidence of the East Asian origin of Native Americans, conclusive proof based on DNA had been absent until now. Even a recent study comparing the genes of ancient Siberian remains with those of modern Native Americans had not been as conclusive.

The sequencing of Anzick-1’s genome, however, revealed the child was part of a line that was directly ancestral to 80 percent of all American native peoples, and close cousins to the remaining 20 percent.

In addition, analysis of the child’s mitochondrial DNA indicated Anzick-1 belonged to what’s known as the D4h3a haplogroup, or lineage. The finding is important — and surprising, according to researchers — because the D4h3a line is considered to be a “founder” lineage, belonging to the first people to arrive in the Americas. Although rare in most Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada today, D4h3a genes are found more commonly in native people of South America, far from the Montana cliff beneath which Anzick-1 was laid to rest.

Native Migrations

Placing Anzick-1 in the D4h3a haplogroup suggests greater genetic complexity among Native Americans than previously believed, including an early divergence in genetic lineage 13,000 years ago or more. One theory had suggested that after crossing into North America from Siberia, one group of early Americans, with the D4h3a lineage, moved south along the Pacific coast and eventually, over thousands of years, to Central and South America. Other groups may have moved inland, east of the Rockies, as ice sheets retreated.

Finding Anzick-1’s D4h3a lineage in central Montana casts doubt on that theory, though researchers were quick to caution that we shouldn’t draw conclusions about migration patterns more than 10,000 years ago by comparing one ancient genome with that of modern people. Only the discovery and genetic sequencing of other remains as old as Anzick-1 will clarify how and when populations spread from the far northwest of the Americas.

Burial Clues

Anzick-1 was estimated to be 12-18 months old at the time of his death; a cause of death has not been identified. He was covered in red ochre, a natural pigment, and apparently buried with several tools made of bone or stone in the style of the Clovis people. The Clovis people are generally believed to be the first wholly indigenous culture of North America, though there is archaeological evidence — some of it contentious — of an earlier human presence in the Americas.

The Clovis culture evolved around 13,000 years ago, growing out of an earlier, as-yet-undefined culture that arrived on the continent with the people who migrated from East Asia, at least 15,000 years ago and possibly much earlier. The Clovis people are known from their tools, particularly fluted spear points.

In addition to these “Clovis point” projectiles and other tools, Anzick-1’s grave site contained a rare elk antler tool that was already centuries old at the time of his burial and apparently intentionally broken. Archaeologists believe this may indicate the tool was an heirloom and had great significance. Without other Clovis graves for comparison, however, it remains impossible to determine whether the method of Anzick-1’s burial was typical of the culture.

Settling Science, Settling Bones

Today’s paper, published in Nature, also shuts downs an alternative theory known as the Solutrean hypothesis, which held that the Clovis people arrived in North America in a transatlantic migration from Western Europe. Although the majority of archaeologists and other scientists had scoffed at the Solutrean hypothesis, the idea had been gaining interest in the public after a sensationalized TV docudrama in 2005. The Solutrean hypothesis had become well-known enough that the team reporting the sequencing of Anzick-1, as well as other researchers discussing its significance in a separate Nature News & Views story, felt compelled to point out the new data refutes the contentious theory once and for all.

As for Anzick-1, researchers discussing their findings during a press conference on Tuesday stressed that they had approached sequencing the remains with sensitivity towards Native American cultural practices regarding the dead. After consulting with tribal elders and others, researchers plan to rebury Anzick-1 later this year, honoring the traditions of the same people that the child’s bones have helped to demystify.

 

Image by Svend77 / Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • Rémi Allard

    They should verify the Ainu people ADN, they somehow looks a little bit Caucasian.

    • msbadger

      Agreed! I’ve always been very interested in their ancestry and history.

  • A.D.

    Well, there you have it – not a Hebrew in the bunch. The Book of Mormon is a Fraud.
    Any Semitic DNA found in the Americas arrived there after 1492.

    • James Carmichael

      The article doesn’t say anything about semitic DNA whatsoever. And the book of mormon doesn’t say people in the americas didn’t originate from Siberia…

      • The Oracle

        Yes it does.

        2 Nephi 1:8-9:

        “And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.

        Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.”

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

          huh?

      • smigman

        I think a more reasonable conclusion A.D. is that this study represents just one more nail in the coffin of Book of Mormon Historocity. Literally hundreds of studies (genetic and archaeological) contradict BOM and LDS claims regarding the peopling of the Americas. No evidence exists to support the LDS view and a plethora of evidence exists to refute it. Not a single secular archaeologist or historian supports LDS claims about the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon. Come on people, the jig is up.

        • kandy830

          My Uncle Harrison recently got Infiniti Q50 Sedan from only
          workin part time on a home computer… go to this website F­i­s­c­a­l­M­a­z­e­.­ℂ­o­m

      • Spicy_McHaggis

        It does and more importantly, every so-called “prophet” since Joseph Smith has claimed native Americans came from Jerusalem.
        Only recently has the church finally stopped claiming Hebrews populated the Americas.

    • Jeff Lindsay

      The LDS Church’s recent statement on “The Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” gets into the science in surprising detail–you might find that interesting. The Book of Mormon describes a migration of a small group who landed in the New World around 600 BC. The book does not claim the continent was a vacuum then and internally provides evidence of others (a topic discussed at FAIRLDS, Maxwell Institute, Mormanity, etc.). The easily measurable impact of their genes on the overall DNA of the Americas could be vanishingly small. Even if everyone on the continent has some western Eurasian DNA, the mtDNA or Y chromosomes of Lehi and his group would not be likely to have survived. There’s much more to this issue, for those who care, than dismissing the Book of Mormon because ancient specimens don’t have ancient Hebrew DNA – whatever that was.

    • lmanningok

      The entire Old Testament and all its derivatives (New Testament, Koran, Book of Mormon, etc.) are as fradulent as fairy tales because they’re based on a proven impossibility: a TALKING SNAKE.

      • adamweishaupt

        Talking Donkeys, too. Numbers 22:21-33.

  • Dr Sadasivan,US

    I stand surprised.How did these people migrate thousands of miles to the west?

    • adamweishaupt

      Stupid Guy, They were fooled by The Gold Rush like everybody else! Ha ha ha.

    • P. A. nichols

      The same way some claim Euros could have done so — sea travel along glacial bridges. Those ‘land bridges’ didn’t nec mean pedestrian traversal. Arctic waters are rife with food sources and could have sustained travelers… Even those headed West. No evidence to prove it, but the possibility of Euros headin west during Ice Age exists.

  • JonFrum

    So tell me again how one skeleton tells us that no Europeans ever migrated to North America before the Vikings…. What we have here is a failure of logic.

    • Kevin O’connor

      Um…no one said that ever…so…

    • lawrencewinkler

      There is no evidence anywhere that Europeans came to North America prior to the Vikings. Making stuff up is not evidence that needs refuting. There has been for decades evidence for the land bridge. Evidence of morphological connection between native Alaskan and Siberian populations, confirmation more recently using DNA.

      • Ryan

        The ancient European tools found on the US east coast don’t count as evidence?

    • K C

      what we have here is evidence that Ms. Tarlach’s mind is a closed, rusty steel trap. To her credit she notes in the article that researchers caution against drawing conclusions based on comparisons between a single ancient individual’s genome and modern populations, but then she goes ahead and draws all sorts of her own conclusions, going so far as to declare other hypotheses null and void “once and for all.” I seem to recall this same attitude when it came to the suggestion that Neanderthal genes might be present today in certain populations. Any researcher whose goal, whether intended or not, is to aggressively maintain the status quo does an enormous disservice to science.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

      uh, a walkable land bridge thousands of years before, uh, boats and sails and navigation skills…

  • dlord

    Hallelujah!

  • Tommy Kirchner

    It is my understanding that to claim something as fact and all other theories as wrong you should have more than one sample to base it on. This is a sample from the west. Just maybe it would hold more validity if there were more samples taken in various parts of the Americas, including the east coast. It appears that they are trying to prove one popular theory that they believe in. Before I accept this I would like to see more samples

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

      don’t hold your breath….

  • Addison

    How do we know the baby was here legally? Anyone find his birth certificate? If so, was it in English? Too many unanswered questions here, people, to accept this kid as “American.”

    • Bob Prager

      Shhhh! He was realy Kenyan! Don’t tell anyone!

    • adamweishaupt

      I knew it, Russia is The Mother of all Nations. MOTHER RUSSIA!!! Мать Россия !!!!!

  • Alexis Silvaggio

    Smigman and AD this is not conclusive evidence of what you are saying whatsoever. You should read what Jeff Lindsay had to say about this. Before you attack others you need to be educated in Genetic studies, and since your not, leave it to the scientists. Thanks

  • NancyR

    While the DNA study for this one individual seems spot-on, drawing sweeping conclusions from this single sample is a bit premature. I’ve been a scientist (geology and archaeology) for over 20 years – let’s apply the scientific method here, folks. A single sample from what is now Montana does not prove or disprove the origins of *all* of the people of North and South America. The only thing it demonstrates at this time is the genetic origin of this one child and likely his family/tribe. We need more genetic data to “prove” the far-reaching hypothesis presented here.

    Think of it another way…5,000 years or more into the future, if there are still technologically-proficient humans around and they find my skeleton buried somewhere here in Colorado, given no other evidence, what might they conclude (if they follow the logic presented in this report)? That all North Americans from this time came from a mix of peoples from the Mediterranean region (my ancestry).

    This study is a good start, but let’s continue on with the research, both genetic and cultural….

  • George Levanduski

    This finding is pushed out as a typical blanket application, just more academic dogma. There is a tribe on the west coast that has polynesian origins. The real picture is still a mixed bag. Some native American legends attest to tribes of tall, fair-skinned, (and if I recall the details correctly) blond and blue-eyed people.

    Notice the fallback on the Aleutian land bridge concept. Accepted science is a belief system mired in self-reinforcement. It’s more likely that humans did their continent-jumping via boats/ships, even if largely clinging to island chains and coastal zones.

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