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Sequencing Tells a New Story about Native American Origins

Linda Seaton
| Apr 01, 2014

It’s not the first time that new tools, such as next-generation sequencing (NGS), have been used to reanalyze old bones. In fact, a team of researchers at the Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics in the Natural History Museum of Denmark is making a habit of it. These experts in sequencing ancient DNA have uncovered an unknown migration into the New World, a 9,000 mile walkabout into Australia, and now the existence of a second founder population of Native Americans.

When the remains of Mal’ta boy were uncovered in south-central Siberia about 70 years ago, scientists performed radiocarbon dating and estimated the remains to be about 24,000 years old. That was the only thing they could agree upon. After analyzing the tooth and cranial morphology, some felt the boy’s features were East Asian-like, while others believed that they were more European in origin.

The correct answer lay in the genome. Maanasa Raghavan, Ph.D. and an international team of researchers set out to sequence the Mal’ta boy genome, uncovering that he was of Western Eurasian ancestry. He also was either a part of or related to a population that contributed genes to ancestral Native Americans.

The discovery explains the discrepancies in cranial morphology of several of the first Americans and the presence of a Western Eurasian-specific mitochondrial signature (haplogroup X) in modern Native Americans. It means that two peoples contributed to the founder populations of Native Americans, one with East Asian ancestry and one with western Eurasian roots.

Image: Don's Maps; Resources for the study of Palaeolithic / Paleolithic European, Russian and Australian Archaeology / Archeology