Ancient Infant’s DNA Reveals New Surprises About How North America Was Populated

DNA can reveal a lot about our past, but also about what awaits us in terms of potential illness and health threats. When it comes to our origins, DNA test kits that can determine our ancestors have been very popular in recent times.
But according to an article published in Nature magazine, researchers have made an exciting discovery about North American history and indigenous people. After analyzing the DNA of a six-week-old infant, they discovered a new ancient population which they named Ancient Beringians. The data discovered, can teach us a lot about the founding Native American population and their journey on the continent.

Ben Potter, who is an anthropology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks discovered the remains of the infant in 2013 and found a similar aspect in his DNA sequence with other ancient people. The breakthrough of the study came when the scientists realized that there is a single ancestor for every Native American group, and it originates in Siberia. The attached map is there to help you have a better understanding of the story and how Native American populations are connected.

Courtesy of Ben Potter

“We didn’t know this population existed,” said Ben Potter, professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a lead author of the new study, in a statement. “These data also provide the first direct evidence of the initial founding Native American population, which sheds new light on how these early populations were migrating and settling throughout North America.”

Archaeologists working at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska. (Image: Ben Potter)

“The Ancient Beringians diversified from other Native Americans before any ancient or living Native American population sequenced to date. It’s basically a relict population of an ancestral group which was common to all Native Americans, so the sequenced genetic data gave us enormous potential in terms of answering questions relating to the early peopling of the Americas,” said lead author Eske Willerslev, who holds positions at both the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen. “We were able to show that people probably entered Alaska before 20,000 years ago. It’s the first time that we have had direct genomic evidence that all Native Americans can be traced back to one source population, via a single, founding migration event.”

Discovery and excavation of the Upward Sun River infants. (Credit: Ben Potter)

The discovery suggests two possible scenarios for the peopling of the Americas. Either two distinct groups of people crossed over Beringia prior to 15,700 years ago, or one group of people crossed over the land bridge and then split in Beringia into two groups, namely the Ancient Beringians and the Native Americans (where the latter moved south of the ice sheets 15,700 years ago). The study also reaffirms a pre-existing theory known as the “Standstill Model”—the possibility that the descendents of this single-source population were living in Beringia until about 11,500 years ago.

“The conclusions are sound and it is clear that the results represent a significant new chapter in our understanding of the settlement of North America,” Lambert told Gizmodo. “The authors present evidence for a complex history of late Pleistocene genomic evolution that includes evidence for introversion [the spawning of new populations who keep to themselves], back migrations, and evidence of a single founding population that split from East Asians.”

Lambert is particularly stoked about the way ancient DNA is able to produce new and unexpected findings. “This study shows that even a single ancient genome sequenced to a good coverage can potentially make major contributions to our understanding of ancient complex histories,” he said.

source: Gizmodo

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