Baby teeth reveal previously unknown ancient Siberians

James Marshall
June 7, 2019

It's the first time close genetic associations to Native Americans have been found outside of the United States.

"These people were a significant part of human history, they diversified nearly at the same time as the ancestors of modern-day Asians and Europeans and it's likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere", Eske Willerslev, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release.

As part of the same wider study, researchers also revealed that another site in Siberia yielded 10,000-year-old human remains found to be genetically related to the Native Americans.

The researchers estimated that about 40 people lived at the Yana River site where the teeth were found, belonging to a larger population of 500 that hunted bison, woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.

They identified the lost group of people from DNA extracted from two tiny teeth belonging to two unrelated boys, found near the Yana River in Russian Federation. The site, known as Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site (RHS), was found in 2001 and features more than 2,500 artefacts of animal bones and ivory along with stone tools and evidence of human habitation.

"These people were a significant part of human history, they diversified nearly at the same time as the ancestors of modern day Asians and Europeans and it's likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere", Professor Willerslev said in a statement.

"We investigated this region as the early population history was still poorly understood", Martin Sikora, an author of the study from the Lundbeck Foundation Centre for GeoGenetics, told Newsweek. There were no evidence found of inbreeding in the DNA, which were quite common at the time when Neanderthal populations were dropping. According to the study, these ancient people are the ancestors of a collection of Native American tribes dotting Alaska, Canada, and the Southwest who all speak a family of languages called NaDene. Though both studies leverage the power of ancient DNA to enrich the human family tree, both also raise further questions about the complex migrations that ultimately yielded modern populations.

It is widely thought that the first people to settle in the Americas crossed over the land bridge that once connected Siberia and Alaska-called Beringia-around 15,000 years ago. Rather, the analysis suggests that this group of people died off more than 20,000 years ago, leaving no modern descendants. According to the analysis, Native Americans' ancestors likely split from Kolyma1's group about 24,000 years ago, aligning with previous work on when the initial migrations to North America took place.

While it is commonly believed the ancestors of native North Americans arrived from Eurasia via a now submerged land bridge called Beringia, exactly which groups crossed and gave rise to native North American populations has been hard to unpick.

Crucially, this population is not a direct ancestor of the Native Americans, being genetically distinct to them. It contained what the paper says is a "genetic resemblance to Native Americans, more so than any other remains found outside of the Americas". It is an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the ancestry of Native Americans as you can see the Kolyma signature in the Native Americans and Paleo-Siberians.

This article has been republished from the following materials.

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