THE VERGE – RACHEL BECKER
An Alaskan baby buried 11,500 years ago has clued scientists in to a forgotten branch of the Native American family tree. This child’s DNA is more genetically ancient than the ancestors of modern Native Americans — so it must have come from a previously unknown, even earlier population, the study says.
By analyzing the infant’s genome, researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Copenhagen found that while all ancient Native Americans originated in East Asia, the family tree branched roughly 20,000 years ago. One group — the infant’s group, now named the Ancient Beringians — lived in the frozen north and eventually disappeared. The other moved south, splitting yet again roughly 15,000 years ago into two distinct populations that peopled North and South America.
We already knew the broad strokes of this story: ancient humans from Siberia probably crossed the Bering land bridge into Alaska sometime before 15,000 years ago. These ancient humans then spread, giving rise to most of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Today’s study, published in the journal Nature, helps fill in more details about the genetic origins of Native Americans — and reveals a newly discovered group of ancient people.