First Ancient North American Genome Sequenced

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Sequencing DNA from the 12,600-year-old skeleton of an infant found in central Montana, scientists have confirmed that early Native Americans descended from ancient Asians, not from Western Europeans, according to a study published in Naturetoday (February 12). This work, led by ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues, marked the first ancient North American genome to have been fully sequenced.

The male infant, “Anzick-1,” who was thought to have been between 12 to 18 months old when he died, was excavated in 1968 from a burial site. His skeleton is the oldest known specimen unearthed in North America belonging to the Clovis people, who populated the continent between 13,000 and 12,600 years ago. The boy was buried alongside 125 ancient artifacts including, antler tools.  

Tool remains from the Clovis culture form the most widespread archaeological complex throughout North America. But 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. For the present study, Willerslev’s team has shown 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. The rest of Anzick-1’s DNA seems to have come from ancient East Asian people.

“This study provides direct evidence that modern Native Americas are directly descended from populations coming from eastern Asia, probably no more than a few thousand years before Clovis,” said archaeologistDavid Anderson from the University of Tennessee, who was not involved in the work.

Both genetic and archeological evidence previously pointed to this conclusion, but another theory, supported only by archaeological evidence, was that ancient Native Americans came from people who migrated across the Atlantic Ocean from Western Europe before the last Ice Age—the so-called Solutrean hypothesis. “This genetic study provides unequivocal evidence that this did not happen,” said coauthorMichael Waters, a geoarcheologist at the Texas A&M University.

Anzick-1’s genome also suggests that modern Native Americans are direct descendants of the Clovis population. The ancient genome is similar to those of peoples from both North and South America, suggesting that a single founding population migrated into the Americas close to the time of the last Ice Age.

“So there is a continuity of contemporary Native American populations with this Clovis individual dating back 12,600 years ago,” said Brian Kemp, a molecular anthropologist at the Washington State University, who was not involved in the study.

Comparisons of the ancient boy’s genome with genomic data from native North, Central, and South Americans further revealed that some native North American populations may have diverged early in the history of the first American people. Additional North American genomes will be needed to trace the evolution of the people that gave rise to the modern populations of the Americas.

Written By: Anna Azvolinsky
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11 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by wsayeth4:

      No way. Everyone knows that they are descended from the nephites.

      I believe it was the lamanites. The lamanites defeated the nephites. lol, I thought all scientifically minded people new that.

  1. Mal’ta (sometimes spelled Malta and not to be confused with the Mediterranean island) is an Upper Paleolithic site in Siberia.

    Interesting but I thought the Amerindian facial characteristics such as somewhat almond eyes and high cheekbones were thought to suggest East European descent?

  2. hmm, Actually, I thought it was common knowledge that Native Americans descended from East Asia. ?

    Interesting but I thought the Amerindian facial characteristics such as somewhat almond eyes and high cheekbones were thought to suggest East European descent?

    Perhaps the almond eyes and high cheekbones of East European descent originates from East Asia…

    • In reply to #3 by QuestioningKat:

      hmm, Actually, I thought it was common knowledge that Native Americans descended from East Asia. ?

      I believe there was a flint knaping technique that came into use 14k – 24k years ago simultaneously in both Eastern, North America and Western Europe. That may be the archeological controversy.

      • In reply to #4 by madengr:

        In reply to #3 by QuestioningKat:

        hmm, Actually, I thought it was common knowledge that Native Americans descended from East Asia. ?

        I believe there was a flint knaping technique that came into use 14k – 24k years ago simultaneously in both Eastern, North America and Western Europe. That may be t…

        It’s more than tool making techniques. The similarities are much more widespread. The blood type O+ is supposedly common to East European, Asian and Native American. Both Asian and Native Americans have “shovel” shaped teeth. I also think there have been DNA studies with modern Native Americans and Asians. There are plenty of articles on crossing the Bering Land Bridge about 15K years ago. The articles are mostly from last year to about 2004- 2000, yet I recall hearing this decades earlier. There have also been comparisons of certain design aspects between early Asian (especially Tibetan) and Native American art and ceremonial practices. I found this article which sums it up. I spoke to a gallery owner in Utah who sold Tibetan jewelry. He commented how Native Americans who visited the gallery frequently did a double take. I did too. I find it interesting that the Dalai Lama and pueblo leaders created a special resettlement community for Tibetan refugees in New Mexico.

  3. I remember reading books published in the past generation which explained that the earliest human inhabitants of North America were of Australian aboriginal physical type, and going back about 20,000 years. They have bones in the back rooms of the Smithsonian which will remain undisplayed as they don’t fit the trendy political narrative of the hour. Politics is hot in pursuit of scientific validation one day and religious validation the next. Perhaps the problem here is the headline.

    • In reply to #8 by Stephen:

      I remember reading books published in the past generation which explained that the earliest human inhabitants of North America were of Australian aboriginal physical type, and going back about 20,000 years. They have bones in the back rooms of the Smithsonian which will remain undisplayed as they do…

      I found several articles referring to Native Americans and Canada’s First Peoples as “Aboriginal” meaning original inhabitants but nothing mentioning Australia. Are you sure you didn’t just insert/assume “Australian” after the books used the word “aboriginal?” Australian doesn’t seem to make any sense. Besides there is plenty of DNA evidence supporting the view in this article.

      Edit: Ah, I see where you are going?Perhaps here too?

  4. “…the so-called Solutrean hypothesis. “This genetic study provides unequivocal evidence that this did not happen,” said coauthorMichael Waters”

    Doesn’t he mean, “This genetic study provides no evidence that this did not happen,” ?

  5. In reply to #10 by Geoff 21:

    “…the so-called Solutrean hypothesis. “This genetic study provides unequivocal evidence that this did not happen,” said coauthorMichael Waters”

    Doesn’t he mean, “This genetic study provides no evidence that this did not happen,” ?

    Yes I also thought that was a bit of a sweeping conclusion based on one set of DNA.

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