Evidence for Asian Origins of the Prehistoric Peoples of the Americas

by Dave Schuler on February 13, 2014

There’s an interesting bit of archaeological news. As you might know, the Clovis people lived in most of what is now the continental United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico roughly 13,000 years ago. At one time they were believed to be the earliest settlers of the Americas and are believed to be the ancestors of all modern American Indians both in North and South America. The origins of these people has been a matter of some controversy. Although there’s been a long-time belief that the Clovis people entered the Americas by crossing the Bering Straits about 15 years ago an alternative theory, the “Solutrean hypothesis”, proposed a connection between the Clovis people and the prehistoric people of southern Europe, suggesting that the Clovis people entered the Americas via Greenland.

There’s only a single set of human remains that have been definitively identified as belonging to a member of the “Clovis culture”—the skeleton of an infant boy that’s about 12,600 years old. Genetic material has been extracted from those remains and its genome has been sequenced:

Now, an international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the Anzick boy and compared it with the select genetic information of modern Native Americans across the Americas, as well as with that of ancient Europeans, Asians and Greenlanders.

Their results show that approximately 80 percent of today’s Native Americans are direct descendants of the Clovis boy’s contemporaries, particularly the indigenous people who live today in Mexico and South America.

The remaining 20 percent are found among some of Canada’s First Nations, who, while not direct descendents of the Clovis, are still more closely related to them than any genetic group from any other continent.

He has been found to be a member of mitochondrial DNA haplogroup D4h3a, sort of an ancestral genetic lineage for all people descended from the people who lived in the Americas before historic Europeans arrived. Importantly, the closest relative identified to date for this boy is a Siberian child from about 24,000 years ago. This has provided the strongest evidence to date for the Asian origins of the prehistoric peoples of the Americas.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw February 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Wasn’t the Solutrean hypothesis based upon similarities of spear points w/ Europeans? If so, the mitochondrial DNA may not necessarily disprove the possibility of a European incursion of men with spears. (I also think there is some other thesis going around about how the DNA of the Indian groupings around the Great Lakes are very different from the four primary gene clusters; but there is some difficulty obtaining Native American DNA samples because of religious beliefs)

Dave Schuler February 13, 2014 at 5:35 pm

My guess it that the reality is a lot more complicated than anybody realizes now. There’ve probably been crossings both ways across the polar ice for the last 20,000 years, from the Asian side and the European side.

PD Shaw February 13, 2014 at 7:35 pm

That’s what I would assume too, particularly during favorable glacial times. But what good is to discover a new world without women?

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