Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from westEurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.
The study authors believe the new study could also help resolve some long-standing puzzles on the peopling of the New World, which include genetic oddities and archaeological inconsistencies. (Explore an atlas of the human journey.)
So what’s new?
DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians. (Related: “Is This Russian Landscape the Birthplace of Native Americans?”)
A second individual genome sequenced from material found at the site and dated to 17,000 years ago revealed a similar genetic structure.
Why is it important?
“This study changes this idea because it shows that a significant minority of Native American ancestry actually derives not from East Asia but from a people related to present-day western Eurasians,” Willerslev said.
While the land bridge still formed the gateway to America, the study now portrays Native Americans as a group derived from the meeting of two different populations, one ancestral to East Asians and the other related to western Eurasians, explained Willerslev, whose research was published in the November 20 edition of the journal Nature.
What does this mean?
“Although we know that North Americans are related to East Asians, it’s striking that no contemporary East Asian populations really resemble Native Americans,” he said.
The findings could also allow reinterpretation of archaeological and anthropological evidence, like the famed Kennewick Man, whose remains don’t look much like modern-day Native American or East Asian populations, according to some interpretations.
Intriguing questions also exist about the nature of the advanced Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta society that now appears to figure in Native American genomes.
The Siberian child “was found buried with all kinds of cultural items, including Venus figurines, which have been found from Lake Baikal west all the way to Europe.
“So now we know that the individual represented with this culture is a western Eurasian, even though he was found very far east. It’s an interesting question how closely related this individual might have been to the individuals carving these figurines at the same time in Europe and elsewhere.”