Year in review: Genes, bones tell new Clovis stories

Studies reveal range, legacy of early North Americans

crystal quartz spear point

POINTING SOUTH  New finds, including this crystal quartz spear point, indicate that North America’s Clovis people hunted in what’s now northwestern Mexico around 13,390 years ago.

Courtesy of INAH Sonora


A long-dead but undeniably colorful cast of characters provided new insights this year into the genetic legacy, geographic range and hunting habits of ancient North America’s Clovis people.

ClovisFest 2014 began with an analysis of DNA from a 1-year-old Clovis baby who died over 12,500 years ago (SN: 3/22/14, p. 6). The child’s DNA indicates that Clovis people, whose culture peaked roughly 13,000 to 12,600 years ago, were ancestors of today’s Native Americans.

An ancient teenager named Naia then surfaced in Mexico with a genetic profile that also points to links between Clovis-era Americans and modern Native Americans. Her DNA included Asian-derived gene variants previously found only among people now living in North and South America (SN: 6/14/14, p. 6). Studies of Naia’s bones suggested that she lived between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Naia can’t conclusively be tied to Clovis culture. But Clovis people — best known as hunters of North America’s Great Plains — also lived in parts of Mexico around Naia’s time. There they killed elephant-like creatures called gomphotheres, Clovis spearpoints (one shown above) found with bones indicate (SN: 8/9/14, p. 7).

Clovis people weren’t the only ancient Americans. Two successive Siberian populations, the Dorset and Thule cultures, settled North America’s Arctic regions starting around 5,000 years ago (SN: 10/4/14, p. 12). Neither group was related to Clovis folk or to modern Native Americans, new genetic evidence suggests.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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