First Americans arrived as 2 separate migrations, according to new genetic evidence

January 8, 2009

The first people to arrive in America traveled as at least two separate groups to arrive in their new home at about the same time, according to new genetic evidence published online on January 8th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

After the Last Glacial Maximum some 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, one group entered North America from Beringia following the ice-free Pacific coastline, while another traversed an open land corridor between two ice sheets to arrive directly into the region east of the Rocky Mountains. (Beringia is the landmass that connected northeast Siberia to Alaska during the last ice age.) Those first Americans later gave rise to almost all modern Native American groups of North, Central, and South America, with the important exceptions of the Na-Dene and the Eskimos-Aleuts of northern North America, the researchers said.

" Recent data based on archeological evidence and environmental records suggest that humans entered the Americas from Beringia as early as 15,000 years ago, and the dispersal occurred along the deglaciated Pacific coastline," said Antonio Torroni of Università di Pavia, Italy. "Our study now reveals a novel alternative scenario: Two almost concomitant paths of migration, both from Beringia about 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, led to the dispersal of Paleo-Indians—the first Americans."

Such a dual origin for Paleo-Indians has major implications for all disciplines involved in Native American studies, he said. For instance, it implies that there is no compelling reason to presume that a single language family was carried along with the first migrants.

When Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, Native American occupation stretched from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego, Torroni explained. Those native populations encompassed extraordinary linguistic and cultural diversity, which has fueled extensive debate among experts over their interrelationships and origins.

Recently, molecular genetics, together with archaeology and linguistics, has begun to provide some insights. In the new study, Ugo Perego and Alessandro Achilli of Torroni's team analyzed mitochondrial DNA from two rare haplogroups, meaning mitochondrial types that share a common maternal ancestor. Mitochondria are cellular components with their own DNA that allow scientists to trace ancestry and migration because they are passed on directly from mother to child over generations.

Their results show that the haplogroup called D4h3 spread from Beringia into the Americas along the Pacific coastal route, rapidly reaching Tierra del Fuego. The other haplogroup, X2a, spread at about the same time through the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide and Cordilleran Ice Sheets and remained restricted to North America.

"A dual origin for the first Americans is a striking novelty from the genetic point of view and makes plausible a scenario positing that within a rather short period of time, there may have been several entries into the Americas from a dynamically changing Beringian source," the researchers concluded.

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: Climate change drove population decline in New World before Europeans arrived

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4 comments

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bobwinners
5 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
So far so good. Now I'd like to see the influence of early European and Asian/Pacific Islanders factored in to the genetic makeup of pre-Colombian Americans.
Going
4 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
There is some mitochondrial DNA evidence of an even earlier migration from the Solutrean culture of ice age Europe coming in as hunters along the frozen North Atlantic pack ice.
docatomic
5 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
What of the peoples that did not journey overland but by sea instead, as the Haida maintain in their legends? Are they not the descendants of the Ainu who were driven out of Japan? I am inclined to wonder if the Haida were an entirely separate migration - and also if they did perhaps arrive somewhat earlier.
deatopmg
not rated yet Jan 09, 2009
All 3 comments above are VERY relevant. The discovery of 9300 yr old clearly occidental scull(s) several years ago clinches the fact that at some time Ainu or other (European?) occidentals made it to N America. Since none of their decedents have been located (yet) in the Americas it is reasonable to assume that they were out-competed by the orientals.

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