DNA Analysis Of 24,000 Year Old Body Suggests Native Americans Were Originally From Europe

DNA analysis expands our understanding of human evolution.

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on November 21, 2013 11:06 AM EST

Lake Baikal
Sergey Gabdurakhmanov

Recent DNA analysis of the 24,000 year old remains of a 4-year old body uncovered at Mal'ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia  suggests that he was brown-haired, brown-eyed, had freckled skin, and was, in part, Native American. Although it's long been thought that first people to arrive in the Americas were descended from Siberians of East Asian descent, this discovery has upended that assumption.

Although the remains were originally unearthed by Russian archeologists over a 20-year period terminating in 1958, they lay mostly gathering dust until a research team led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen Researchers decided to conduct DNA analysis with the hope of finding an ancestral connection between East Asians and Native Americans. Preliminarily analysis of the mitochondrial DNA revealed European genetics which at first was attributed to researcher contamination. It was only when the nuclear genome also revealed European ancestry that the team realized the DNA was accurate.

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Even more surprising to the team was that although the DNA contained European and Native American DNA, it did not contain East Asian DNA. Why this is the case is still unknown. It may, as Willerlev posits, be due to mitochondrial drift or because Native American ancestors had already split off from their East Asian connections.

Although this kind of research is understandably compelling, it's important to note that the analyses are descriptive rather than prescriptive. It tells us that Europeans and Native Americans share a genetic connection but not how that link was forged. It is, however, an exciting contribution to our expanding knowledge of human evolution and migration.

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