Ancient Bone of 24,000-Year-Old Siberian Youth Shows Native Americans had West Eurasian Origins

First Posted: Nov 21, 2013 08:07 AM EST

Based on the examination of the arm bone of a 24,000-year-old Siberian youth, scientists believe that new origins for Americas indigenous peoples may carry a west Eurasian background that's linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought.

"These results were a great surprise to us," study co-author and ancient-DNA specialist Eske Willerslev, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark said, via National Geographic. "I hadn't expected anything like this. A genome related to present-day western Eurasian populations and modern Native Americans as well was really puzzling in the beginning. How could this happen?"

Researchers also examined a second individual genome sequenced from material found at the site and dated 17,000 years ago that revealed similar structure, and also provided evidence that humans occupied regions of Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum, some 13,000 years ago.

Dr. Willerslev's interpretation is that the ancestors of Native American's may have already separated from the East Asian population when they interbred with the people of the Mal'ta culture, which caused them to admix their population that crossed over into the Beringian land bridge that's located between Sibera and Alaska--otherwise known as a founding population of Native Americans.

"We estimate that 14 to 38 percent of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this population," he and colleagues wrote, according to the journal Nature.

Willerslev also makes the point that contemporary East Asian populations do not typically resemble Native Americans as they discovered that one-third of their genome is derived from another population, based on study findings.

However, even with these exciting conclusions, many questions still remain unanswered.

As the Siberian child was found buried near many cultural items, including figurines that are typically found from Lake Baikal all the way to western parts of Europe, researchers note that the individual represented is typically presented as a western Eurasian that was found very far east.

"It's an interesting question how closely related this individual might have been to the individuals carving these figurines at the same time in Europe and elsewhere." 

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