Genes of a Lost South American People Point to an Unexpected History


In spite of its location midway down the eastern seaboard of the continent of South America, Uruguay’s brief history is a blur of European conflict, shaped by the colonial interests of Spanish, British, and Portuguese powers.

What is starkly missing are voices from prehistory, of indigenous cultures that called the land’s rolling hills and temperate plains home for thousands of years.

Echoes of that lost past are finally being heard thanks to the efforts of researchers from the University of the Republic, Montevideo, in Uruguay, and Emory University and Florida Atlantic University in the US.

Their investigation of the remains of two individuals who lived long before Christopher Columbus’s famous trans-Atlantic voyage has revealed surprising connections between populations across the Americas. What’s more, the findings challenge theories that suggest South America’s indigenous people all trace from a single migration.

“This contributes to the idea of South America being a place where multi-regional diversity existed, instead of the monolithic idea of a single Native American race across North and South America,” says Emory University anthropologist, John Lindo.

Both sets of remains were uncovered in a 2,000-year-old archeological dig site in Rocha, a coastal city in southeastern Uruguay. One, with two X chromosomes, was estimated to be around 1,400 years old. The other’s sex was harder to pin down but appeared to have lived around 650 years ago.


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