“Genetic analysis of ancient teeth and bones suggests Native Americans largely descend from a vanished group called the Ancient Paleo-Siberians.” C. Zimmer, The New York Times
A skeleton in Siberia nearly 10,000 years old has yielded DNA that reveals a striking kinship to living Native Americans, scientists reported on Wednesday.
The finding, published in the journal Nature, provides an important new clue to the migrations that first brought people to the Americas.
‘In terms of peopling of the Americas, we have found close to the missing link,’ said Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the new paper. ‘It’s not the direct ancestor, but it’s extremely close.’
Decades of research by archaeologists and linguists suggests that people first came to the Americas at the end of the last ice age, by 14,500 years ago. The route, most experts believe, was a land bridge that connected Alaska and Siberia across what is now the Bering Sea.
But Siberia is a vast land that has been home to many cultures over thousands of years. Researchers turned to DNA in hopes of clarifying which of these were the ancestors of Native Americans…The history of Siberia runs surprisingly deep.
After humans evolved in Africa, they started moving to other continents about 70,000 years ago. About 45,000 years ago, humans had reached the northern edge of Siberia, where they hunted mammoths and other big game.
Vladimir V. Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues provided Dr. Willerslev with two human baby teeth from a site in Siberia called Yana. His team extracted DNA from both teeth, which turned out to come from two boys. The teeth are 31,600 years old, making the DNA they contain the oldest human genetic material retrieved from Siberia.
When Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues compared genetic variants in the Yana DNA with living and ancient people, they found that the Siberian boys belonged to a previously unknown population. The scientists call them the Ancient North Siberians.
Most of their ancestry can be traced back to the early migration out of Africa — in particular, to people who would eventually spread into Europe.
Several thousand years before the Yana boys lived, the Ancient North Siberians encountered people more closely related to East Asians. People from the two populations interbred, and as a result, the Yana boys inherited a mix of the two ancestries…The migration that brought the ancestors of living Native Americans into the Americas might not have been the first.
It is possible, Dr. Willerslev speculated, that the Ancient North Siberians got to Alaska or Canada thousands of years earlier.
“It opens the question, ‘Should we dig deeper for older sites?’ said Dr. Willerslev. And now we know what to look for.”