Ancient DNA discovery reveals previously unknown population of native Americans

Excavations at the Upward Sun River archaeological site in Alaska

Closer genetic sequencing suggests the latter outcome is the most likely, but why and how this Ancient Beringian population remained so genetically isolated and distinct for so many subsequent years remains a mystery.

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In the new study, researchers sequenced the full genome of an infant - a girl named Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay (Sunrise Child-girl) by the local Native community - whose remains were found at the Upward Sun River site in 2013. "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." said Professor Willerslev. This founding group diverged into two lineages about 20,000 years ago.

"The study provides the first direct genomic evidence that all Native American ancestry can be traced back to the same source population during the last Ice Age", Ben Potter, archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said via Reuters. The researchers studied the baby's genome and genetic data covering other populations to unravel how and when the Americas were first populated.

In 2013, Potter and his students discovered the remains of two human infants, thought to be related, at the Upward Sun River (USR) in interior Alaska.


"There is very limited genetic information about modern Alaska Athabascan people", says Ben Potter, one of the lead authors on the study. "We cannot prove that those claims are not true, but what we are saying, is that if they are correct, they could not possibly have been the direct ancestors to contemporary Native Americans", added Willerslev.

The second was the newly identified population called Ancient Beringians who included the infant.

Decoding the infant's complete set of DNA let researchers estimate the timing of key events in the ancestral history of today's Native Americans and indigenous peoples of Canada and Central and South America. This cessation was probably caused by brutal changes in the climate, which isolated the Native American ancestors. Either two separate groups of people crossed the land bridge into the Americas over 15,000 years ago, or one group crossed, and then split into two entirely independent populations. That much has always been assumed, but what wasn't previously known is that the population split off into two groups either before or shortly after coming to present-day America.

A female infant who died about 11,500 years ago is shedding light on the Asian origins of Native Americans thanks to her DNA. It not only reveals a previously unrecorded indigenous population, but indicates that humans crossed the Beringia land bridge to reach the North American continent in a single, unified migratory wave from Siberia -a major contribution to the ongoing dialogue about how the first Native Americans got here.

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