The genome sequence of a 24,000-year-old young Siberian individual found in Russia shows that 14 to 38 percent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia.
The Paleolithic skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as the Mal’ta child because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male,” said Dr Kelly Graf from Texas A&M University, a co-author of the paper published in Nature.
Dr Graf with colleagues used material from the boy’s upper arm to sequence his mitochondrial and nuclear genomes.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, Czech Republic and even Germany.”
“We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe,” Dr Graf said.
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Dr Graf said.
The DNA study performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
Bibliographic information: Maanasa Raghavan et al. Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans. Nature, published online November 20, 2013; doi: 10.1038/nature12736