The long-held belief that Native Americans share precisely the same ancestry as today’s East Asians is being challenged by a genetic analysis of DNA extracted from the bone of a child buried in Siberia 24,000 years ago, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature.
The ancestry of modern Native Americans can be traced to western Eurasia on the western boundaries of Asia as well as to East Asia, according to a DNA study of a sample taken from a child’s skeletal remains dubbed MA-1. The remains were found in the 1920s in Mal’ta in south-central Siberia and are currently stored at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Scientists examined a 0.15 gram sample of DNA taken from a cross-section of the bone from the upper arm and were surprised to find that the mitochondria and nucleus of the cells showed kinship with both today’s East Asians and West Eurasians.
The results were checked against an analysis of a DNA sample from another 17,000-year-old skeleton found in Siberia.
The study suggests that 14-38% of today’s Native American ancestry likely originated from western Eurasia.
The DNA study is further corroborated by several skulls of First Americans that have features different from those of East Asians and similar to West Asians or Eurasians. Those differences had baffled scientists until now.
“The result came as a complete surprise to us,” said the study’s lead scientist Eske Willerslev, a professor at Denmark’s Center for GeoGenetics.
“Who would have thought that present-day Native Americans, who we learned in school derive from East Asians, share recent evolutionary history with western Eurasians?” said Eske.
The findings add another layer to the Out of Africa theory which holds that early man spread out northward from east Africa to the Middle East, Europe and Asia beginning about 50,000 years ago.
Their descendants in East Asia are thought to have crossed from Siberia to Alaska across the frozen Bering Strait and into North America about 15,000 years ago.