America's only Clovis skeleton genome offers clues to Native American ancestry (Update)

America's only Clovis skeleton genome offers clues to Native American ancestry
A large (approx. 255mm x 122mm) tabular core/ late-interval biface made of brown chert along with the beveled end of an osseous rod. Credit: Sarah L. Anzick

Nearly 13,000 years ago, a baby boy died in what is Montana today.

Mourners stained his tiny body with red ochre and entombed him with artefacts that had likely been in his family for generations.

After lying undisturbed for millennia, the infant's body was dug up by accident at a construction site in 1968—the oldest skeleton ever found in the Americas.

Now, scientists say the remains have helped them settle a long-standing debate about the lineage of indigenous Americans, and shed light on the settlement of the last continent to be populated by modern humans.

After decoding the child's genome, an international team of experts said they can confirm that modern Native Americans are direct descendents of the first people to have settled the continent from Asia some 15,000 years ago, and not migrants from Europe.

"The genetic data... confirms that the ancestors of this boy originated from Asia," said Michael Waters of the Texas-based Center for the Study of the First Americans, who co-authored the report in the journal Nature.

The child's family, in turn, were "directly ancestral to present-day Native Americans".

The boy had been a member of the so-called Clovis culture which lived in North America between 13,000 and 12,600 years ago and is known for its distinctive hand axes, blades and bone and ivory tools.

There has long been a dispute as to where the group's ancestors came from.

Some believed Clovis forefathers came from east Asia, crossing the Bering Strait, which about 15,000 years ago formed an ice bridge.

Others claimed to have found evidence that Native Americans derived from a cross-Atlantic migration of southwestern Europeans during the Last Glacial Maximum some 21,000 to 17,000 yeas ago, when vast ice sheets covered much of North America, northern Europe and Asia.


Genetic analysis showed the boy, who was 12-18 months old when he died about 12,600 years ago, was more similar to Siberians than other Eurasians or any other people in the world, the scientists reported.

"The study does not support the idea that the first Americans originated from Europe," said Waters.

"A single migration of humans introduced the majority of the founding population of the Americas south of the ice sheet at the close of the last Ice Age."

According to co-author Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the child's family was "directly ancestral to so many peoples in the Americas.

America's only Clovis skeleton genome offers clues to Native American ancestry
A nearly complete projectile point of dendritic chert, a mid-interval biface of translucent cryptocrystalline quartz, a mid to late-interval biface of dendritic chert, and a "dual,end-beveled" osseous rod, all of which exhibit various amounts of red ochre residue. Credit: Sarah L. Anzick

"It is astonishing. We don't have of course genetic information from all tribes, but you could say that just a very, very rough estimate would be about 80 percent deriving from that group. It's almost like a missing link."

Examination of the remains have also yielded new insight into the cultural practices of the first inhabitants of the Americas.

The child's remains had been found buried under 125 artefacts that included spear points and tools made of elk antler.

The skeleton as well as the relics, which were dated to about 13,000 years ago, had been covered in powdered ochre, a type of mineral.

"The difference in age between the skeleton and the... tools as well as the fact that this (elk) was a rare animal, suggest that the artefacts were very special ritual objects or heirlooms passed down over generations," said Waters.

Researchers on the team said they were eager to build closer ties with Native American groups in their future scientific pursuits.

"We want to bring American Indians to the table with this research so they can help guide the most respectful and appropriate way to do this kind of research," said Shane Doyle of Montana State University.

The child's remains are to be reburied later this year.

Explore further

Ancient Siberian genome reveals genetic origins of Native Americans

More information: Paper:

Press release

Journal information: Nature

© 2014 AFP

Citation: America's only Clovis skeleton genome offers clues to Native American ancestry (Update) (2014, February 12) retrieved 16 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 12, 2014
This proves nothing. Many peoples might have reached the shores of NA at various times in the past. They might, even, have comingeled.

Feb 12, 2014
Here's a little more about the whole context of the debate, with further information about why it still remains far from settled:


Feb 12, 2014
This is not a contest. It is exploration at a distance. Frankly, I don't care who got 'here' first. I do enjoy honest information.

Feb 12, 2014
Well a guy just drifted from Mexico to the Solomons' in a small day boat so I guess anything's possble...

That said sailing from Europe to the Americas seems a pretty big ask considering we (in Europe) have no evidence of significant boat building in that Epoch. It's pre-Iron Age and stone tools just didn't cut it (pun intended :-).

Rwinners: with easy large scale DNA sampling of native populations, these guys would absolutely be able to trace lineage including comingling. The bottom line is if we can't find salient European genetic traits in any present Indians, it is statistically extremely unlikely for any number of them to have come from there.

Feb 12, 2014
Wow. Research, groveling PC, and multiculturalism. An academic threefer. And then the bosus DSCC mimimum wage petition featuring Elizabeth 'Cherokee' Warren. you're exceeded only by yourselves.

Feb 13, 2014
Archaeologists working on humans and human ancestors seem to have a habit of rewriting history based on each new finding without taking into consideration all of the things possible that they haven't found yet, or never will find.

Paleontologists generally say "this fossil helps us figure out part of this thing that we don't know much about but we would like more fossils of these kinds of things before we understand what happened."

The fact is that the vast majority of Native American groups died in the 16th century. How many? No one knows. We also know that much of the area of the Americas, especially the coastal areas where the majority of humans have always lived, are now underwater.

But hey, we have one sample from one location near the route people from Asia maybe took, so it represents the entire population of two continents. Trust us, we're sure. Until we find another skeleton. Then we'll rewrite things so they account for those two samples.

Feb 13, 2014
animah, one of the theories for Asian origin is based on use of boats to float along the ice shelf from Asia to America. The European theory is based on use of boats to float along the ice shelf from Europe to America.

Pre-Iron Age Inuit are known to have made the voyage from Asia to Greenland with boats and sleds. What makes the other direction impossible?

There is also no evidence of boats in Oceania. But there are people in New Guinea, Australia, the Andaman and Nicobar Is. who got there as much as 60,000 years ago.

How long did researchers insist that there was no intermingling of modern humans and Neandertals based on genetics, until they found some. The Denisovans escaped scrutiny for decades as well. Genetic studies can't tell you about links that you have no comparison for. They can only tell you when you have a match with known samples.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Unless you're studying human migrations apparently.

Feb 13, 2014
Hi bowl, I agree the other direction is very possible. Also we know we have consistently underestimated population mobility in antiquity.

The question is though: Do any native Americans alive today have European ancestry in their DNA? We haven't tested everyone obviously so as you suggest, the best we can say is that we haven't found any yet.

This could change. Maybe we'll find evidence. Maybe it will come from DNA in the remains of an extinct Indian tribe even though none can be found in present-day natives. Who knows?

I would suggest however that *at this point* there is no reason to believe Indians have European ancestry because no evidence in extant Indian DNA, languages or artefacts has ever been found. Occam's razor.

If you have reliable contrary sources please do post them though.

Feb 14, 2014
I wonder how they explain then, evidence of humans in SA as early as 13000 years ago? An interesting discussion on the subject is here: http://www.smiths...4209273/

Feb 14, 2014
I wonder how they explain then, evidence of humans in SA as early as 13000 years ago? An interesting discussion on the subject is here: http://www.smiths...4209273/

Dennis Stanford is an anthropologist at the Smithsonian although the article does not admit it instead they say he is "a curator of North American archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History" which is the Smithsonian. Although the Smithsonian sees fit to still quote Stanford, he, Bradley & Owsley and their unsubstantiated and silly claims of early European migrations and Solutrean connections to the Clovis artifacts need to be put to bed. If they continue to promote their claims in face of all the evidence to the contrary it will only prove they are not serious researchers, but laughing stocks and media hogs.
Clovis is a distinct form of lithic artifact, not a specific people; no more than Colt 45's are a specific people but instead a form of weapon preferred by some people and not others. This means different groups of people from the same ancestors (or migration) could choose to use or not use Clovis points there for a specific people cannot be traced by Clovis points and tool kits, any more than the Irish can be traced by finding Colt 45's.
And finally, what IS to explain on humans in SA 13,000 years ago????

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more