A Russian Ancestor to Native Americans

Russian archaeologists in 1976 excavating the Ust’-Kyakhta-3 site on the banks of the Selenga River A. P. Okladnikov

During the 1970’s, a site called Ust-Kyakhta found between the Mongolian borders and the southern banks of the Lake Baikal, was excavated. The Russian team unearthed many stone and bone tools as well as ceramics, and reindeer and fish bones. Among these findings were the remains of a prehistoric human, a tiny fragment of a tooth. Radiocarbon dating of adjacent organic material yielded an estimated age of about 14,000 years old.

A fragmented tooth belonging to a close cousin of today’s Native Americans G. Pavlenok

This tooth sat in a drawer for decades. It was not until archaeologist Svetlana Shnaider of the Russian Academy of Sciences decided to bring this tooth to MPI for ancient DNA analysis. The cold Siberian environment helped preserve this ancient DNA.

The team at MPI were able to extract the genome from the dental pulp. The genome showed the individual was a man. He had a distinctive mixture of East Asian and Eurasian ancestry similar to that of today’s Native Americans. A similar study came out last year which corroborates this current evidence, which his makes this individual the closest known relative of Native Americans outside of the Americas. The teams findings were published in Cell.

This individual lived 4,500 km from Beringia and like the study that came out last year, this means Native Americans came from populations spreading from vast regions of northeastern Eurasia. This also supports a bottleneck hypothesis, that considers Native Americans’ ancestors were isolated from their Asian forebears on land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska.

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