When we think about the origins of Native Americans in North America, we are taught that they came here via a land bridge known as the Bering Strait. And now, thanks to DNA, we know that a previously unknown group of humans in Siberia contributed to the Native American genome.
Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site is an archaeological site that is tens of thousands of years old.
Discovered in 2001, researchers have been hoping to find evidence proving or disproving that Native Americans originally came from there and crossed over into what is now modern-day Alaska and moved south to populate North America.
Not long ago, two milk teeth containing human DNA were found and analyzed.
— Popular Archaeology (@populararch) June 5, 2019
Studies suggest that Native Americans are the result of interbreeding between East Asians and descendants of Ancient Northern Siberians, who supplied the recently discovered DNA around 20,000 years ago.
Until now, Ancient Northern Siberians were an unknown group of humans to science.
“What we see here is a much more complex story than what we believed was the case,” St John’s College at Cambridge University professor Eske Willerslev, who also serves as director of the Lundbeck Foundation Centre for Geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen.
“Native Americans are not the first people in north-eastern Siberia as most people, if not everybody thought,” she said. “This is the first evidence we have, real evidence, of something very close genetically to Native Americans.
According to The Guardian:
The team add that one possibility is that the mixing involving the East Asians occurred in southern Beringia – one of the areas that could have offered respite from harshening conditions at the time.
They Ancient Paleo Siberians were themselves supplanted by another band of East Asians heading north about 10,000 years ago that gave rise to a group dubbed the “Neo-Siberians”.
A skull uncovered in Russia is a close DNA match to living Native Americans. Meet their ancestors: the Ancient Paleo-Siberians. https://t.co/72ZgBfLDAU
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 6, 2019
“The vast majority of the genetic makeup of present-day Siberians comes from this last push,” Willerslev said. “This is also the reason you don’t have any very close connection between contemporary Siberians and Native Americans.”
The findings, according to Willerslev’s colleague Dr. Martin Sikora, change the history of human migration.
“They adapted to extreme environments very quickly, and were highly mobile,” Sikora said of the Ancient Northern Siberians. “These findings have changed a lot of what we thought we knew about the population history of northeastern Siberia, but also what we know about the history of human migration as a whole.”
Indeed, it appears that a genetic blending occurred during the crossing of the Bering Strait, also known as Beringia.
Other scientists are also hailing the findings.
“That’s a pretty healthy population,” University of Colorado Boulder’s John Hoffecker said because the evidence strongly suggests as much. “We had no idea 30 years ago that we had this robust healthy hunter-gatherer population thriving up in the high Arctic 30,000 years ago – it is amazing.”
In fact, Willerslev says that the group likely hunted woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos to obtain the hides needed for warm clothing, bones for tools and meat to avoid starvation on their journey.
— Prof Jamie Woodward (@Jamie_Woodward_) December 28, 2017
Southern Methodist University anthropologist David Meltzer pointed out that it’s odd that Native Americans are related to the Ancient Northern Siberians because their tools, while similar, share no historical descent.
“The odd thing is, now as it turns out, they were related,” Meltzer told Smithsonian Magazine. “It’s kind of cool. It doesn’t change the fact that there’s no direct historical descent in terms of the artifacts, but it does tell us that there was this population floating around in far northern Russia 31,000 years ago whose descendants contributed a bit of DNA to Native Americans.”
“It’s making its way to Native Americans, but it’s doing so through various other populations that come and go on the Siberian landscape over the course of the Ice Age,” he continued. “Every genome that we get right now is telling us a lot of things that we didn’t know because ancient genomes in America and in Siberia from the Ice Age are rare.”
It’s simply astounding that we are still able to find and extract ancient DNA from archaeological sites to learn more about our human ancestors and more information will likely be forthcoming in years to come as technology improves. It’s the same level of cool as discovering that ancient humans were into recycling on a daily basis throughout their lives. Now we are learning about a brand new group of humans who contributed to Native American DNA.
“These people were a significant part of human history,” Willerslev concluded. “They diversified almost at the same time as the ancestors of modern-day Asians and Europeans and it’s likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere.”
Once again, scientists are rewriting the history books and now everyone will learn about this new group of ancient humans who contributed much to our world and history.
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