First Americans “Leap-Frogged” Continents to Settle the Americas

By Roni Dengler | November 8, 2018 4:08 pm
human remains lagao santo

Skulls and other human remains from P.W. Lund’s Collection from Lagoa Santa, Brazil. Kept in the Natural History Museum of Denmark. (Credit: Natural History Museum of Denmark)

A new report finds people spread through the Americas in multiple independent, relatively quick migrations. The discovery contrasts the notion that the peopling of the continents took the form of a slow expansion from the northern regions of modern day Alaska into South America as populations grew.

“The findings imply that the first peoples were highly skilled at moving rapidly across an utterly unfamiliar and empty landscape,” David Meltzer, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, who co-led the new work, said in a statement. “They had a whole continent to themselves and they were traveling great distances at breath-taking speed.”

The work also confirms that Native Americans were descendants of these First Americans, a point that some researchers had contested.

A related paper details how early Americans spread into South America, and shows that it happened on more than one occasion. You can find our coverage of that paper here.

Ancient Ancestors

Previous studies indicate the first peoples arrived to the Americas around 25,000 years ago when populations from Siberia and East Asia crossed a land bridge now covered by the waters of the Bering Strait from present day Russia into Alaska. These first Native Americans later split from each other. One lineage likely stuck around in northern Alaska and became a genetically isolated group known as Ancient Beringians. Others moved south and branched into Northern and Southern Native American populations 17,000 to 14,000 years ago. These later groups eventually gave rise to all living Native Americans.

human burial

One the burial context sampled at Jiskairumoko. The image shows one of the individuals encountered during excavation. The human remains have been removed in this image. (Credit: Mark Aldenderfer)

But researchers understand less about how people moved through the Americas after the initial settlements around 10,000 years ago. Part of the difficulty is that genome sequences from the time period are rare.

In the new study, Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Cambridge, who co-led the research with Meltzer, worked with the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, a group of Native Americans in Nevada, to increase the number of samples for analysis. All together, the researchers analyzed genome sequences from 15 ancient human remains from across the Americas. A few sequences came from humans who once lived in modern day Alaska and British Columbia. Several others are from individuals from the Spirit and Lovelock Caves of Nevada. Still others came from sites in Brazil, Patagonia Chile and Argentina. The remains date from about 10,000 years ago to as recent as 600 years ago.

Multiple Migrations

The team’s analysis shows that once Native Americans had moved south of eastern Beringia, they radiated rapidly to different parts of the continents in a manner the researchers describe as “leap-frogging” across the landscape. Southern Native Americans split from Northern groups 14,000 to 6,000 years ago and moved rapidly from North into South America for example. Some of these native South Americans migrated east of the Andes Mountains, whereas others moved west.

Furthermore, some geographic expansions happened more than once, the team reports today in the journal Science. Around 8,000 years ago, people from Mesoamerica migrated north into the Great Basin, spanning Oregon, Utah and Nevada, which later resulted in a population turnover near the Lovelock Caves of Nevada. They also went south, where they intermixed with descendants of the earlier migration. This southern expansion contributed to the ancestry of most South American groups, the researchers conclude.

MORE ABOUT: archaeology, genetics
  • Uncle Al

    Native Americans fled their endemic social squalor, then recreated it in their new digs. Rinse, repeat. if you wish you and yours to live a better life, do not import squalor, stupidity, and failed management.

    • yetanotherbob

      Actually, they were mostly just running from the big guys where they came from. They lived practically the same once they got to America. The game animals were similar and they made the same sorts of stone tools.

      There were also three separate centers of civilization that happened over here, independent (apparently) of civilization in the Old World too. There were the Olmec in Central America, and two in South America. One in Peru and one in the Amazon basin.

      The Squalor thing was as true in Ireland or Italy in the late middle ages as it was in New England at the same time. Maybe worse.

      • linuxster

        yetanotherbob wrote

  • yetanotherbob

    The author has some ‘interesting’ notions of timing.

    At one point, he maintains that the settlement happened around ten thousand years ago. Then he maintains that humans have been on North America for 25,000 years. A bit of discrepancy there.

    From other reports, including some from scientific journals, the original human populations in America were the Solutrians from Iberia (Spain or Portugal) during the height of the last ice age, ca 14,000 Years Before Present (YBP). remains of Solutrians have been found from North Carolina to Texas. But around 13,000 YBP, during the Megafauna Extinction event they disappeared. Then, less than a thousand years later, the Berigin groups appeared, with less than a generation in time between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.j

    It is now believed that they spread by rafting down the pacific coast. That’s probably how they crossed the pacific as well. Following the ice line as the earlier Solutrians did, then continuing on down the coast.

    Genetic evidence indicates that the original group was comprised of fewer than seventy people. Maybe as few as thirty. The Soluitrians don’t seem to have been much larger, or spread as far.

    There have been of course other groups too. The last were the Europeans. Before that, there were the ancestors of the Shoshone, the Dene (Navajo and Apache tribes,) that was in the twelve hundreds. The Eskimos came from Siberia in the Eight hundreds and only arrived in Greenland in the late twelve hundreds, as recorded by the Vikings. who themselves only arrived a couple of hundred years earlier.

    There is also scattered evidence for earlier contact by the Chinese, the Phoenicians, the Egyptiands, the Minoans and possibly the Polynesians.

    Genetics and culture are messy things indeed.

    • Lynette J. Lew

      I basically gain almost $22,000-$23,000 on a monthly basis via the internet. I ended up losing my job after doing work for the same organisation for years. I wanted trusted income. I was not thinking about the “get rich overnight” home programs you notice online. Those all are kind of ponzi sort of mlm marketing plan in which you have to initially make interested customers thereafter sell something to friends or relatives or anyone to make sure they will be in your team. Working on the net has many benefits like I am always home with the children and also enjoy time with family on different beaches of the world. Here’s the proper way to start BEWTRACT.TUMBLR.COM

    • Normandie Kent

      The study DID NOT say the ancestral Native Americans got to the Americas 10,000 years ago, it says they were isolated in Eastern Beringia, which is Alaska and part of the American continent 25,000 years ago, and that al Native Americans then and now are descendants of these founders, and that one group stayed in Alaska (the ancient Beringians) and eventually died out 6 thousand years ago, while the other group split into the Northern and Southern Branches of native Americans and by 14,000 went on to populate the furthest reaches of South America, and that some groups didnt make it to pass on their genes, but that there were more migrations 8,000-10,000 years ago from North and Central America to South America, and from central America to the Great Basin Area. That there were migrations from within the Americas doesnt change the fact that they were already in the Americas and isolated from the rest of the world to become genetically, linguistically, and culturally unique and distinct people. Also, there is not one genetic study that shows the Solutreans were in North Anerica anywhere, so there is no solutrean evidence and The Clovis xulture was not Solutrean, and the Solutrean Hypothesis was built on tge most flimsiest evidence, it was never built on real genetic evidence, si there is NO evidence, and the two scientist have not come up with any new evidence for the past twenty years and have been quiet regarding the countless DNA studies completed on 13,000 yr old Anzick child who was buried with over a hundred Clovis points and deer antler shafts, or Kennewick Man, or Spirit Cave Man, Naia, Paisley Cave at 14,600 ybp, and Newer studies completed on the ancient Algonquin Speaking groups in the East Coast, and now We have whole genome studies on the Lovelock cave remains, Luzias relatives at Lagoa Santo Brazil. Were are all these mythological Solutreans myth nakers like you keep on bringing up, everytime a hugh study comes out!? Genetic studies aren’t messy, but your myth making is. Accept tge fact that Natives were the most brave explorers who were the only ones to find and populate two completely enpty continents, and create some of the largest and advanced civilizations in tge world in complete isolation, and that Europeans, Asians, and Africans had no part in it.

      • yetanotherbob

        Normandie Kent You started off with a statement that seems to say that Alaska is not part of North America. You also make the interesting statement that they were living in Alaska by 25,000 years ago, which would have put them living on a rather thick ice sheet with no game or vegetation.

        Um, wrong. If you check, I think you will find that Alaska is located in the North American Continent.

        Much of the rest of your response suffers from the same sort of errors.

        For example, you say they arrived here ten thousand years ago and then that by fourteen thousand years ago had reached all of North and South America Are we positing time travel here?

        Solutrians were not mythical. They are just almost unknown. Apparently whatever killed off the mammoths killed them too. The little archeological evidence for them (I’ve only seen reports of five sites, though I can’t claim to be an archeologist or even a close follower of the literature) shows that they are not related to the so called Berigngic peoples (that means peoples from around what is today the Bering straits) culturally or biologically, beyond being human.

        Once again, there is over a thousand year gap between the two groups in the areas where populations could be said to overlap.

        The names come from the typical spear points used by the two groups. The Solutrians started on the East Coast and have points most similar to those found in Ice Age Europe. Specifically Solutria in Spain.

        The Beringians started on the West Coast or up in Alaska and have spear points most similar to those found in Siberia such as around the Bering straits. Examples include the Folsom Point. Time-wise the later group that gave rise to most native Americans appeared within a very narrow window in Alaska, California, Mexico and Peru, leading some to the conclusion that they came by boat or raft. It took less than a thousand years to spread from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. At that age, a thousand years is close to the uncertainty in the dating.There have even been a few archeologists who have claimed that they arrived in Peru or Chile first and then spread North

        That could mean that all the migrations to America came by sea one way or the other. The Land Bridge is still a disputed thing. The ‘Ice free corridor’ is not supported by any strong geology that I’ve seen. I could be wrong there. I’d like to be in fact. Please direct me to authoritative sources if you can.

        There is a strong wish among many archeologists to deny that ‘primitive’ stone age peoples could travel the seas anciently, though more recent Polynesians, Melanesians, Eskimos, Maya and Peruvians certainly did, and for thousands of miles too.

        Really ancient history is still largely unknown, but the more we learn the more we find weird things.

  • Markm Mitchell



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar