Reveals Ancient Ancestry of Native Americans
They lived in America, and here in Montana, about 13,000 years ago, where they hunted mammoth, mastodons and giant bison with big spears. The Clovis people were not the first humans in America, but they represent the first humans with a wide expansion on the North American continent—until the culture mysteriously disappear-ed only a few hundred years after its origin. Who the Clovis people were and which present day humans they are related to has been discussed intensely and the issue has a key role in the discussion about how the Americas were peopled. Today there exists only one human skeleton found in association with Clovis tools and at the same time it is among the oldest human skeletons in the Americas. It is a small boy between 12 and 18 months of age – found in a 12,600 old burial site, the only known Clovis site of its kind, called the Anzick Site, near Wilsall, Montana. Now an international team headed by Danish researcher Eske Willerslev has mapped the boy’s genome thereby reviving the scientific debate about the colonization of the Americas. Roughly, some 80 percent of all present-day Native American populations on the two American continents are direct descendants of the Clovis boy’s family. The remaining 20 percent are more closely related with the Clovis family than any other people on Earth, says Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen (although questions may be raised as to how such a conclusion can be drawn when little data exists pertaining to North American native tribes, raising the possibility that conformity to existing theories regarding prehistory has been imposed). This surprising result has now been published in the scientific journal Nature. The discovery was so decisive that Nature chose to send the article to the press at a later time than usual as they feared the media embargo would be broken. A comprehensive international telephone press conference has been arranged to be held in the Crow tribe’s reservation in Montana–the region where the boy was found. Behind the results are a group of researchers led by Prof. Willerslev. “It is almost like finding the ‘missing link’ to the common ancestor of the Native Americans,” Willerslev said, “[in that] the Clovis boy’s family is the direct ancestor to …80 percent of all present day Native Americans. Although the Clovis culture disappeared its people are living today. Put simply it is a sensation that we succeeded in finding an approximately 12,600 year-old boy whose closest relatives can be regarded as the direct ancestor to so many people.” “This also means,” Willerslev continued, “that [the] Clovis [culture and people] did not descend from Europeans, Asians or Melanesians, a theory that a number of scientists have advocated. They were Native Americans–and the Native American ancestors were the first people in America. This is now a fact.” Shane Doyle, a historian from the Apsaalooke (Crow) tribe, who helped the team with consultations to the Montana tribes agrees. “This discovery,” Doyle said, “proves something that tribal people have never doubted—we’ve been here since time immemorial and all the ancient artifacts located within our homelands are remnants from our direct ancestors. But the discovery is only part of the importance of this study. The other part being Eske and his team’s respectful commitment to interacting face to face with tribal communities and listening to Native American leaders, which has lead directly to the reburial of this little boy.” Sarah Anzick, a molecular biologist in the study and steward of the remains found on private land (the Anzick site) spoke to the significance of the boy’s legacy. “After 46 years since the discovery on my family land,” Anzick said, “we are finally hearing this child’s story through his genetic legacy. I find it remarkable that the descendants of the Clovis culture, which seemed to have vanished 12,600 years ago, are still alive and thriving today.” The teams found that Native American ancestors coming in from Siberia split into two groups. One group were ancestors to the Native Americans presently living in Canada, and the other, represented by the Clovis boy, were ancestors to virtually all Native Americans in South America and Mexico. The U.S. is still a white spot on the map when it comes to genome-wide data from Native Americans. The team members hope to be able to access data in the future to understand the full picture. “The study validates the concept of continuity in the history of Native Americans, and suggests that modern Native Americans are direct descendants of the first people occupying this land,” says Rasmus Nielsen, co-author on the study and a Professor at UC Berkeley, who developed the method used for determining that many modern native Americans are direct descendants of the Clovis boy’s family. Asian Homeland for First Americans The first humans in North America came from Siberia via the so-called Beringia Land Bridge that during the last ice age connected Siberia with North America but did not bring the Clovis culture with them. The Clovis culture arose after they arrived in America and the boy from the Anzick site would have been a descendant of the first immigrants, archaeologists believe. Michael Waters, the key archae-ologist connected to the study and who has worked on many Clovis and older sites in North America elaborates: “The genetic findings mesh well with the archaeological evidence to confirm the Asian homeland of the first Americans, more clearly define their genetic heritage, and is consistent with occupation of the Americas a few thousand years before Clovis.” Then who were the first immigrants? “We don’t know yet,” Willerslev said. “Maybe a Native American, maybe an ancestor related to the Malta boy from Siberia and another one who was East Asian. But our results eliminate all other theories about the origins of the first people in America. The first people in America were the direct ancestors of Native Americans.” “We can see,” Willerslev went on, “that the Clovis boy shares about one third of his genes with the 24,000 year-old child from Malta at the Siberian Lake Baikal who we have analyzed previously. The same goes for all present day Native Americans. Therefore, the encounter between East Asians and the Malta group happened before Clovis.” The human remains from the Anzick site will be reburied sometime this year in cooperation with Native American tribes in Montana. Source: University of Copenhagen.