Ancient DNA Links Native Americans

SCIENCE

The Clovis culture, which developed in North America about 13,000 years ago from populations originally from eastern Asia, appears to be the ancestor of all Native Americans. Geneticists sequenced DNA of the only known Clovis skeleton and found markers shared with indigenous people from North, Central, and South America. (Reuters)

Use our resources to better understand genetics and ancient human migration.

The blue arrows on this map show the icy land bridge spanning "Beringia," where populations from Asia migrated more than 14,000 years ago. Recent genetic analysis of the remains of a member of the 12,500-year-old Clovis culture revealed markers shared with Beringian populations in Siberia, as well as Native American populations such as the Maya. Map by National Geographic

The blue arrows on this map show the icy land bridge spanning “Beringia,” where populations from Asia migrated more than 14,000 years ago. Recent genetic analysis of the remains of a member of the 12,500-year-old Clovis culture revealed markers shared with Beringian populations in Siberia, as well as Native American populations such as the Maya.
Map by National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • Read the Reuters article, then look at our terrific map above. See if you can modify the map based on information found in the article. Use our 1-Page Map of North America or our MapMaker Interactive!
    • Where would you label Beringia on the map?
      • Asia, what is now Alaska, and the the Bering Land Bridge
    • What route would you associate with ancestors of the Clovis culture?
      • The blue “Overland route”
    • What route would you associate with the Solutrean culture?
      • The dotted “Possible route from Europe”
    • The Anzick-1 (Clovis) site is just outside Wilsall, a small town in southwestern Montana. Where would you put this on the map? (Our 1-Page Map of the U.S. might help put Montana in perspective.)
      • Pretty close to where the central blue arrow descends from the ice
  • If you were a geneticist studying the Anzick boy’s DNA, what populations would you compare it to? Ancient or modern? Asian or the American?
    • All of the above! The initial study of the Anzick boy’s genome was compared to several populations.
      • The Anzick boy’s DNA was compared to the 24,000 year-old Mal’ta boy from Lake Baikal, Russia. The two shared about a third of their genes.
      • The Anzick boy’s DNA was also compared to the 4,000 year-old Saqqaq Paleo-Eskimo from Greenland. (Fun fact: The ancient Eskimo genome had closer genetic ties to contemporary Han Chinese populations than it did to the Anzick boy. What?)
      • The Anzick boy’s DNA was compared with contemporary DNA from an individual from the Maya population, indigenous to Central America.
      • The Anzick boy’s DNA was compared with contemporary DNA from an individual from the Karitiana population, indigenous to the western Amazon basin in Brazil.
  • Take a look at the discussion questions from this earlier blog post about genetics. For example:
    • Geneticists are people who study genes and the way they mutate and vary over time. Geneticists studying ancient human migrations often compare and contrast their findings with the work of archaeologists and paleoanthropologists, who study physical artifacts left by ancient cultures. Watch this video of geneticist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells talking about “The Human Journey.” Skip to about 2:15, where Wells talks about the limitations of archaeology and paleoanthropology.
      • Why do you think archaeology and paleoanthropology are nicknamed “stones and bones” by Wells? Were there “stones and bones” studied by paleoanthropologists in the Anzick/Clovis site?
        • Archaeology is often associated with the study of ancient tools and pottery. Many of these artifacts are made of rock or clay—stones. Paleoanthropology is associated with fossils of ancient humans or human ancestors—bones.
        • Yes, the “stones and bones” of the Anzick site are extremely important. The Anzick boy’s skeleton was covered in red ochre, a type of mineral. He was buried with about 125 artifacts, including projectile points (arrowheads) and tools made from antlers. These literal “stones and bones” immediately identified the site as Clovis.

Read more about this fascinating topic at Nat Geo News!

5 responses to “Ancient DNA Links Native Americans

  1. Pingback: Comparing Clovis DNA with Modern and Pre-Clovis Sequences | Hearts in Ruin·

  2. Pingback: Full DNA Genome Sequence of a Clovis Skeleton | J. C. Conway·

  3. Pingback: Ancient DNA from Montana Skeleton Holds Clues to Native American Ancestry – News Watch·

  4. There is a story waiting to be read about our ancestors’ origins, struggles and achievements in all of us, and we have only been able to read it with more details than ever before through studies like this.

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