The oldest genetic link between Asians and Native Americans was found in Siberia

DNA from a 14,000-year-old tooth sheds new light on the first Americans’ ancestry

Siberia’s Selenga River

Siberia’s Selenga River runs through an area near where researchers found a roughly 14,000-year-old human tooth that revealed a DNA link between people who lived in Siberia long ago and initial American settlers.

G. Pavlenok

DNA gleaned from a roughly 14,000-year-old fragment of a human tooth suggests that people inhabiting a surprisingly large swath of Asia were the ancestors of the first Americans.

This tooth, unearthed at a site just south of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, provides the oldest known genetic link between Stone Age Asians and ancient American settlers, scientists report May 20 in Cell. Present-day Native Americans in North and South America are partly related to those early arrivals, the team says.

Like a previously studied, nearly 10,000-year-old man in northeastern Siberia (SN: 6/7/19), the southern Siberian individual inherited genes from two Asian populations that contributed to the genetic makeup of Native Americans (SN: 2/10/10).

DNA from a partial tooth (shown from different angles) found in Siberia represents the oldest known genetic connection between Stone Age Asians and the first Americans.G. Pavlenok, H. Yu et al/Cell 2020
DNA from a partial tooth (shown from different angles) found in Siberia represents the oldest known genetic connection between Stone Age Asians and the first Americans.G. Pavlenok, H. Yu et al/Cell 2020

Using DNA already extracted from human remains at several ancient Siberian sites, archaeogeneticist He Yu of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and her colleagues conclude that one of those ancestral populations originated in northeastern Asia, east of Lake Baikal. The other hailed from north-central Asia, west of the lake.

It’s unclear where and when members of those two populations met up and mingled. But mating between them produced a mix of DNA that characterized people who crossed a land bridge to what’s now Alaska perhaps 16,000 years ago or more, the researchers say (SN: 8/8/18).

Until now, many researchers have assumed that Native Americans’ genetic roots lay only in northeastern Asia.

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