Native Americans are descended from Clovis man and may have originally travelled from Asia by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago, it has been revealed.
The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has given scientists new insights into the ancient roots of today’s American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.
It is the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World, and artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture, which existed in North America from about 13,000 years ago to about 12,600 years ago and is named for an archaeological site near Clovis, N.M.
The boy’s genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said.
The so-called Anzick skeleton was found with about 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from antlers, and covered in red ochre, a type of mineral.
‘It is almost like finding the ‘missing link’ to the common ancestor of the Native Americans,’ said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who led the study.
The Clovis boy’s family is the direct ancestor to roughly estimated 80% of all present day Native Americans.
‘Although the Clovis culture disappeared its people are living today.
‘Put simply it is a sensation that we succeeded in finding an approximately 12,600 year old boy whose closest relatives can be regarded as the direct ancestor to so many people.’
‘This also means that Clovis did not descend from Europeans, Asians or Melanesians, a theory that a number of scientists have advocated.
‘They were Native Americans—and the Native American ancestors were the first people in America. This is now a fact.’
The boy was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada.
The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said.
The researchers said they had no Native American DNA from the United States available for comparison, but that they assume the results would be same, with some Native Americans being direct descendants and others also closely related.
The DNA also indicates the boy’s ancestors came from Asia, supporting the standard idea of ancient migration to the Americas by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago.
The burial site, northeast of Livingston, Mont., is the only burial known from the Clovis culture.
The boy was between 1 year and 18 months old when he died of an unknown cause.
He was buried with 125 artifacts, including spear points and elk antler tools.
Some were evidently ritual objects or heirlooms.
The artifacts and the skeleton were covered with powdered red ochre, a natural pigment, indicating a burial ceremony.
The skeleton was discovered in 1968 next to a rock cliff, but it is only in recent years that scientists have been able to recover and analyze complete genomes from such ancient samples.
The DNA analysis was reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature by scientists including Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark , Michael Waters of Texas A&M University and Shane Doyle of Montana State University in Bozeman.
The burial site lies on the property of the parents of another author, Sarah Anzick of Livingston. It is known as the Anzick site.
Doyle, a member of the Crow tribe, said the indication of such ancient roots for American Indians fits with what many tribal people already believed.
He also said the boy’s remains may be reburied at the site by late spring or early summer.
‘This discovery by Eske and his team proves something that tribal people have never doubted—we’ve been here since time immemorial and all the ancient artifacts located within our homelands are remnants from our direct ancestors.
‘But the discovery is only part of the importance of this study.
‘The other part being Eske and his team’s respectful commitment to interacting face to face with tribal communities and listening to Native American leaders, which has lead directly to the reburial of this little boy.’
In a telephone conference with reporters, the researchers said that once they discovered the link between the boy and today’s Native Americans, they sought out American Indian groups to discuss the results.
Now an international team headed by Danish researcher Eske Willerslev has mapped his genome thereby reviving the scientific debate about the colonization of the Americas.
Roughly estimated some 80% of all present-day Native American populations on the two American continents are direct descendants of the Clovis boy’s family.
The remaining 20% are more closely related with the Clovis family than any other people on Earth, says Lundbeck Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen.
Willerslev, an expert in deciphering ancient DNA, called for scientists to work closely with native peoples on such research.
‘Then who were the first immigrants?
‘We don’t know. Yet.
‘Maybe a Native American, maybe an ancestor related to the Mal’ta boy from Siberia and another one who was East Asian.
‘We don’t know. But our results eliminate all other theories about the origins of the first people in America.
‘The first people in America were the direct ancestors of Native Americans,” says Professor Willerslev
The results are ‘going to raise a whole host of new ideas and hypotheses’ about the early colonization of the Americas, said Dennis O’Rourke, an ancient DNA expert at the University of Utah who wasn’t involved in the work.