National Geographic Daily News
Photo of a Native American mounted on his horse.

Native Americans may have a more complicated heritage than previously believed.

Photograph by Roland W. Reed, National Geographic

Brian Handwerk

National Geographic

Published November 20, 2013

Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.

Based on the arm bone of a 24,000-year-old Siberian youth, the research could uncover new origins for America's indigenous peoples, as well as stir up fresh debate on Native American identities, experts say.

The study authors believe the new study could also help resolve some long-standing puzzles on the peopling of the New World, which include genetic oddities and archaeological inconsistencies. (Explore an atlas of the human journey.)

"These results were a great surprise to us," said study co-author and ancient-DNA specialist Eske Willerslev, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

"I hadn't expected anything like this. A genome related to present-day western Eurasian populations and modern Native Americans as well was really puzzling in the beginning. How could this happen?"

So what's new?

The arm bone of a three-year-old boy from the Mal'ta site near the shores of Lake Baikal in south-central Siberia (map) yielded what may be the oldest genome of modern humans ever sequenced.

DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians. (Related: "Is This Russian Landscape the Birthplace of Native Americans?")

A second individual genome sequenced from material found at the site and dated to 17,000 years ago revealed a similar genetic structure.

It also provided evidence that humans occupied this region of Siberia throughout the entire brutally cold period of the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended about 13,000 years ago.

Why is it important?

Prevailing theories suggest that Native Americans are descended from a group of East Asians who crossed the Bering Sea via a land bridge perhaps 16,500 years ago, though some sites may evidence an earlier arrival. (See "Siberian, Native American Languages Linked—A First [2008].")

"This study changes this idea because it shows that a significant minority of Native American ancestry actually derives not from East Asia but from a people related to present-day western Eurasians," Willerslev said.

"It's approximately one-third of the genome, and that is a lot," he added. "So in that regard I think it's changing quite a bit of the history."

While the land bridge still formed the gateway to America, the study now portrays Native Americans as a group derived from the meeting of two different populations, one ancestral to East Asians and the other related to western Eurasians, explained Willerslev, whose research was published in the November 20 edition of the journal Nature.

"The meeting of those two groups is what formed Native Americans as we know them." (Learn more about National Geographic's Genographic Project.)

What does this mean?

Willerslev believes the discovery provides simpler and more likely explanations to long-standing controversies related to the peopling of the Americas.

"Although we know that North Americans are related to East Asians, it's striking that no contemporary East Asian populations really resemble Native Americans," he said.

"It's not like you can say that they are really closely related to Japanese, Chinese, or Koreans, so there seems to be something missing. But this result makes a lot of sense regarding why they don't fit so well genetically with contemporary East Asians—because one-third of their genome is derived from another population."

The findings could also allow reinterpretation of archaeological and anthropological evidence, like the famed Kennewick Man, whose remains don't look much like modern-day Native American or East Asian populations, according to some interpretations.

"Maybe, if he looks like something else, it's because a third of his ancestry isn't coming from East Asia but from something like the western Eurasians." (Read about history's great migration mysteries.)

What's next?

Many questions remain unanswered, including where and when the mixing of west Eurasian and East Asian populations occurred.

"It could have been somewhere in Siberia or potentially in the New World," Willerslev said.

"I think it's much more likely that it occurred in the Old World. But the only way to address that question would be to sequence more ancient skeletons of Native Americans and also Siberians."

Intriguing questions also exist about the nature of the advanced Upper Paleolithic Mal'ta society that now appears to figure in Native American genomes.

The Siberian child "was found buried with all kinds of cultural items, including Venus figurines, which have been found from Lake Baikal west all the way to Europe.

"So now we know that the individual represented with this culture is a western Eurasian, even though he was found very far east. It's an interesting question how closely related this individual might have been to the individuals carving these figurines at the same time in Europe and elsewhere."

153 comments
Rose Westwood-Merrick
Rose Westwood-Merrick

This may be of interest to any of you who have Native American ancestry.  The deep DNA is more complex than we thought.

Rose Westwood-Merrick
Rose Westwood-Merrick

This is truly a seminal investigation of Native American DNA, but it looks as if the "Middle Eastern" gene admixture happened long before the wandering Bedouin tribes Western Asia became Hebrews.  One finds other populations in Eastern Asia with some characteristics of Western Asians, such as the Mongolians and the Ainu people, so folks have been traveling from one part of the Eurasian continent to the other for quite some time.  One has to consider all the possibilities of how middle eastern DNA got mixed with a population who used to live in Siberia and eventually migrated to the New World.  This current evidence does not support the Book of Mormon which says a lost tribe of Hebrews traveled by boat across the Atlantic to Mezo-America and built the pyramids there.  There are so many details in the BofM that do not fit the evidence.

ashby Manson
ashby Manson

I've long thought that the Ainu were some of the first inhabitants of the new world. The Ainu are a sea going people, the original inhabitants of Japan. They could have followed the kelp beds and seals around the Northern Pacific to the new world. 


They look quite different from the modern Japanese. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2746187012/


DNA evidence (from 2001) appears to support the link between the Ainu and native Americans. 


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11543902


"Interestingly, an indigenous population in North Japan, Ainu, was placed relatively close to Native Americans in the correspondence analysis. Distribution of particular HLA-A, -B, -DRB1 alleles and haplotypes was also analyzed in relation to migration and dispersal routes of ancestral populations. A number of alleles and haplotypes showed characteristic patterns of regional distribution. For example, B39-HR5-DQ7 (B*3901-DRB1*1406-DQB1*0301) was shared by Ainu and Native Americans. A24-Cw8-B48 was commonly observed in Taiwan indigenous populations, Maori in New Zealand, Orochon in Northeast China, Inuit, and Tlingit. These findings further support the genetic link between East Asians and Native Americans."


While this "Great Surprise" article argues that native Americans don't bear a strong resemblance to modern asians, neither do the Ainu who appear to be significantly more siberian/caucasoid or proto-mongolian than the general asian populations. 


The genetic history of the family of man is getting more and more interesting the more we learn! Great stuff.

Anthony Johnson
Anthony Johnson

I can see you guys are not understanding enough...We all came from africa is a theory,and that native american came from asia they are both theory...

No native american came from asia,how they got here?From a landbridge/icebridge.They cross the icebridge by following the wolly mamoths,they were called eskimos...Wolly mamoths originally came from asia also,then the population migrated to north america. The fact that native americans don't have afros,but squenty eyes..

Asian people don't only have white skin but all(Tan,white,brown) Their eyes/ asian features just give away where they originates. 

Thai/Cambodians people have many kind of skin colors but most likely tan or brown.These people have squenty eyes. 

Chinese people most likely have White pale skin color and squenty eyes.And these are full blooded asians with many different kind of skin color. 

You will generally see more chinese people.Than cambodians/that or laos.

And eskimos are not black obviously...Eskimos are asians with squenty eyes

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Polynesians are asians...Remember signing a form that says Asian/Pacific islanders...

black,white,ect

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Native americans dont have afro's,blonde hair or even orange...They have black or brown

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What im trying to say 2 same race makes a baby that looks like another

race.?

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Phillipines are most likely have squenty eyes that can identify them as asians,dont mistake them because of their name sounds like another race...But still Spanish blood is closely related to asian blood,but now alot of spanish people getting mixed with other race,its hard to tell full blooded ones that a few used to have squenty eyes or something that makes them look asian for a reason..

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

But if you don't think all that is not true and would like to seperate races between mexicans and asians,then why would there be mexicans in the phillipines if its located near asia.It's clearly that phillipines founded by asians/mongoloids.Do understand what im saying?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Example:See the asian that looks mexican in this video.that is how alot of my asian friends look like but they are full blooded asians,Not mixed!!!?

...What gives away where he decendant from are his eyes and something that makes you think he's asian or mixed...

Please understand this

Blu Scarab
Blu Scarab

No surprise to me. I never ever believed that East Asians would be the only ones to hunt the mammoths across Siberia and the land bridge. Its not like they had any formalized property rights back then.

Mary Christensen
Mary Christensen

You're right.  This does not prove the Book of Mormon - YET!


Perhaps you should do some research on the meaning of the word  "CULT".

Omar Curi
Omar Curi

Why mention the Mormon cult and use this article to fish for souls? Don't you people have a better place to troll scientific fact instead of using it as a tool for your recruiting convenience? Stop using your cult as one which "could" be prophetic of DNA found in some skeletons remains.

Sage Wheeler
Sage Wheeler

To My Fellow Mormons,

I can appreciate your expressions of faith and testimony, but please think critically AND READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE before claiming this validates the BOM.  If anything, it supports an alternate conclusion. Most likely there is no connection.  The dates don't match (at all!) and the region of this finding is quite far from the Americas.  What this finding indicates is that any Middle Eastern genes in the American pool likely migrated from western europe, not overseas. Additionally, it is but one finding, a long way from home.  Grabbing at straws makes us appear desperate to defend our faith. It needs no defense but our good works.  Some of the debates going on here do not paint us in a good light. Some comments are frankly ignorant and others, at best, display a disappointing lack of understanding of basic scientific theory.  Please stop! 

aaron lucila
aaron lucila

a book called the book of mormon have the answers to the questions you are looking for. it gives a detailed genealogy of the native americans running back 600 - 2000 bc. you will learn of the first people to set foot in the americas,va why they went and what their purpose was. just letting you guys know. thanks!

aaron lucila
aaron lucila

a book called the book of mormon have the answers to the questions you are looking for. it gives a detailed genealogy of the native americans running back 600 - 2000 bc. you will learn of the first people to set foot in the americas,va why they went and what their purpose was. just letting you guys know. thanks!

Steven Wilden
Steven Wilden

While presently the date given for this arm bone from Russia does not conform to The Book of Mormon chronology at 24,000 years old, the finding that west Eurasians or middle Eastern peoples have the same DNA background as Native Americans does.

Many of us do not support the much to old dating results of carbon-14 testing. 


Regarding the DNA findings, it is now no long unpopular or unscientific to say that Native Americans have a very strong relationship to Hebrews, Russians and other middle eastern or west Eurasian groups. Formerly, there was only a 4% (haplo group X) DNA relationship between these groups; today we see there is at least a 33% DNA relationship. 


Science again takes a giant leap toward the revealed words found in the Biblical and The Book of Mormon scriptures. National Geographic and Nature do not endorse the Bible or The Book of Mormon, yet this article in part takes a giant leap toward seeing eye to eye with them regarding the history and origins of Native Americans. The rest is yet to be seen. 


Congratulations to Nature and National Geographic for publishing this article.

Steven Wilden
Steven Wilden

While the given date of this arm bone does not fit The Book of Mormon chronology, the West Eurasian or Middle Eastern origin of one-third of Native American genes does. Many of us don't accept the far too old results or dating produced from carbon-14 testing that archaeologists are using today. Previously, there were only 4% Middle Eastern (haplo group X) genes found in Native American DNA; today that has increased to 33% As it has partially in this article, we must wait and see for science to again take a giant leap toward divinely revealed knowledge! It should be no longer unpopular or unscientific to speak of Hebrews, Russians and Native Americans as of the same DNA backgrounds! This article does in part support the message of The Book of Mormon. The rest it yet to be seen.

Dave Card
Dave Card

This data is consistent with two different sets of records of Native Americans, one dating from 600 b.c. and another from around 2300 b.c. For more information, visit lds.org and search "Book of Mormon". There are videos, articles of archaeology, and the records themselves. What have you got to lose?

James Marshall
James Marshall

@Terry Vas,


American Indians and Turkic People Share Deep Ancestry


http://dnaconsultants.com/_blog/DNA_Consultants_Blog/post/American_Indians_and_Turkic_People_Share_Deep_Ancestry/



Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the CherokeeTuesday, October 13, 2009

Original Post:  

Egyptian, Greek, Phoenician and Hebrew Origins of Cherokee?


http://dnaconsultants.com/_blog/DNA_Consultants_Blog/post/Anomalous_Mitochondrial_DNA_Lineages_in_the_Cherokee/



Israeli researchers: Group of Colorado Indians have genetic Jewish roots

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/israeli-researchers-group-of-colorado-indians-have-genetic-jewish-roots.premium-1.433227


Point being you're either believe in evolution time lines, or you believe in the Biblical historical time lines. The Bible in 1st Kings speaks of Jews leaving Jerusalem before it's invasion. These people crossed the sea, according Isaiah. 

James Pecka
James Pecka

The descendants of the Eurasians are no more native than those of the Europeans, their ancestors just arrived here first.  What more obvious politically correct lie can there be than to continually refer to them as "native,"  Better we refer to them as "First Nations" as the Canadians do.

James Pecka
James Pecka

They are no more native than Europeans, they just got here first.  What more obvious politically correct lie can there be?

Ketil Berstad
Ketil Berstad

"autosohmnal" - do you mean autosomal? 

You might also enjoy reading "The Discovery of America - The Deception of the Millennium" by Hans Olav Lien ISBN 9781409210566 (available at Lulu).

bob k.
bob k.

this could be why in autosohmnal dna testing of indigenous american decendants/claimants ; why they show alot of indigenous european or western eurasian in contrast to the east asian/siberian markers; their native ancestors may have been more of the west asiatic branch of the indigenous american genomes; most of the colonial era europeans came from western europe; often with western eurasian genes; and settled ; the region; as well as provided a majority poppulace contribution ;while fighting native peoples sometimes; whom may have actually been their eastward biological brethren; just a thought 

James Wilmons
James Wilmons

Mormons can spike the football over this article all they want. What I want them to really do is start digging at the hill Cumorah. There was an epic battle here where millions of people died, right? Lets' get the shovels and find the bones, the swords, the arrows etc. 


Older ruins from the ancient Greeks and Romans exist, so where are the millions of bones from the Book of Mormon battlefield? Also, Brigham Young once quoted Joseph Smith saying there were 'wagon loads of plates buried in Cumorah." Once again, let's get the shovel and dig them up!


Mormons want to call this evidence. Fine. Let's find some more evidence. Dig up the Hill Cumorah and let's see what's buried there. My guess: nothing. 

Ryon Brown
Ryon Brown

Ya'll chill. 

—a mormon who loves science, non-mormons, civil discourse/friendly conversation.

craig hill
craig hill

The first North American natives did NOT cross over on a land bridge. The movements of prey would not account for it, recent findings have concluded. Not everyone at Neo Geo is up to snuff about that. They came more likely by boat, down the coast of Alaska, down the coast of North America, then down Central and South America. 

Glen Cruikshank
Glen Cruikshank

@Rose Westwood-Merrick  How many will accept or get consider getting educated to this knowledge seeing as other beliefs are so engrained? And they may not want to think outside the box?

Leslie Weinberg
Leslie Weinberg

@Rose Westwood-Merrick  Extremely interesting, since my genealogical research traces my ancestry back to the 1830s ( have not managed to get farther back) in Eastern Europe, and yet my DNA is Native American.

Chris Gray
Chris Gray

@Anthony Johnson Negritos are the ones who founded the Philippines. They do have afros and dark skin, Fijians , Papua New Guineau , Australian Aboriginals(and in N.America), Melanesians. and a few more. Not saying they are African, but they do have the phenotype 

Eric Davis
Eric Davis

@Kurt Lippmann this article mentions that the population groups still came through East Asia (by land, NOT the seafaring passages described in the BoM), and it happened more than 10,000 years ago, during the ice age. Please feel free to explain how a 10,000-15,000 year old population group, walking across the Bering land bridge to North America, fits into your Book of Mormon story line.

James Marshall
James Marshall

@Kurt Lippmann  


Fellow Book of Mormon believer as you. However, one thing that irritates me about the LDS Church, is they constantly say the Book of Mormon is "true", but never take the time to show it. 


Don't make statements to people, unless you're going to back them with good reasoned facts. Just because you know and can see the truth for yourself, does not help those who cannot.


Remember like doubting Thomas with Christ, Thomas himself a skeptic, many are skeptical of the Book of Mormon. Show them they don't have to worry. Show them why it's claims are true.

Every objection the skeptics have actually is a question as to why they should believe what you believe. 


God Bless 

Terry Vas
Terry Vas

@Kurt Lippmann The Book of Mormon and the Mormon church claim that native americans are direct descendants from jews who left Jerusalen 600 years before Christ. No DNA finding corroborates that; on the contrary, this finding highlights the fact that whatever "middle-eastern" or "jew" gene composition native americans have come from more than 10.000 years ago, not 600 BC. This makes the  claims of the BoM and the Mormon church false.

Lara Perry
Lara Perry

@James Pecka  If 10,000 years doesn't make a difference, then please tell me what you consider "native"? Because with your logic there is also no such thing as native Europeans, native Siberians, etc. Considering the human species and first civilizations were recorded in Mesopotamia. And any other cultures in the beginning were ENTIRELY nomadic. By your logic, the word "native" itself has been rendered COMPLETELY inapplicable to any situation or culture. I like to think that thousands of years of settlement in the Americas is enough to qualify a culture as "native". Particularly considering they had already lost their "mother tongue", "mother culture", and any history from the time of their nomadic ancestors. They had developed an entirely separate set of cultures that had known no other land than the Americas. That's about as native as it gets, my friend.

Daniel Keyes
Daniel Keyes

@James Wilmons  Let's try doing what the Book of Mormon says...don't take my word for it, don't take your friends word for it, don't take some missionary's word for it. Read the Book, Ponder it in your heart, then pray and ask God, the Eternal Father if it is true. And the promise from a Book of Mormon prophet is that if you follow that protocol, asking with a sincere heart, with real intent and faith, that God will answer your prayer. Then, if God tells you it is true, stop the arguing. If God tells you it  is false, then by all means, please correct all of our wrongs.

Dale Wight
Dale Wight

@James Wilmons Read some more LDS history.  The hill in New York popularly called "Cumorah" not is not the hill Cumorah in The Book of Mormon.

Marshall Seal
Marshall Seal

@James Wilmons Answer by a DNA expert to the Mormon spiking: The 2013 study in question was on nuclear DNA (not mitochondrial or Y-chromosome) isolated from 24,000-year-old remains recovered in Siberia. It was observed that about one-third of the individuals DNA originated in Europe or West Asia. That is not very surprising for someone living 24,000 years ago in Siberia and it certainly does not challenge any of the conclusions derived from mitochondrial or Y-chromosome DNA. Simon Sutherland

H Jones
H Jones

@craig hill I am a diffusionist and I believe that men and women have been building boats and sailing the ocean ever since Noah built one.

Randy Wright
Randy Wright

I'm sorry, but you need to review the weather reports from the Aleutians and the North Pacific on down the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. Those are, quite simply, among the coldest and inhospitable places in the Northern Hemisphere. It's absurd to suggest humans migrated here along that route, although possibly reasonable from areas a little north of Puget Sound southward. Maritime seafaring requires many generations for the technology to evolve, and the Eskimo/Aleut culture was among the last to appear on the human cultural timeline. One claim was made that since the pre-Holocene coastlines could support bears, it could surely support humans as well. That one fails to take into account that bears hibernate, and people don't.


For those of us who've followed the research on N/A origins, there's nothing remarkable in these findings. It's been apparent for a long time now that the Altai region was home to Old World populations most closely related to Native Americans. Within original populations in Canada and the northern Rockies on down to the American Southwest is the "X haplogroup" of mitchondrial DNA. This was seen as proof of European/North American "connections," but what it shows instead--because of the age of "X" in this hemisphere--is simply they had a common ancestor after all of our progenitors left Africa and headed to points north, east, and west.


Finally, for those who doubt the connection between Mongolia and North America, I recommend looking closely at this picture.


http://www.wunderground.com/wximage/viewsingleimage.html?mode=singleimage&orig_handle=habataku&orig_number=916&handle=habataku&number=916&album_id=291#slideanchor

Tashina Osman
Tashina Osman

@Eric Davis


We believe that when the Book of Mormon was translated, a large portion of it was sealed. This portion was in large part a history of the people. It is my personal belief that much of what we know through science today still goes along with our doctrine. God has said upon multiple occasions through his prophet that not everything has been revealed. The time issue as well as the implication that they came by land rather than sea is interesting. It may have been that they sailed the Pacific rather than the Atlantic and traversing all of Asia would actually fit the time line of 1 Nephi, the first book within the Book of Mormon.


Here, however, is another question to ponder: how accurate is carbon dating? Is it possible that there was a human error somewhere? If it is correct, is there a possibility that the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon which has yet to be translated will answer these questions and solve these disputes?


To the latter question, my answer is a firm yes. I do believe in this church. I understand doubts people might have. I had them too. But doubts don't invalidate. I believe in doubting my doubts BEFORE I doubt my faith.


The questions that have been brought up are valid. They are things that need to be thought about. Whatever anyone else believes is their own choice. I'm just here as a kind advocate for the Book of Mormon as well as the LDS church.

Daniel Keyes
Daniel Keyes

@Terry Vas  On the assumption that Carbon dating is 100% accurate we would all have to agree with your statement that the specific claim made by the Book of Mormon was false, however, if carbon dating isn't 100% accurate then it would not discredit the claim made by the Book of Mormon, but would possibly add another potential piece of archaeological evidence in support of the claims made in the Book of Mormon.

Lara Perry
Lara Perry

@Randy Wright  By your logic, the land pass would be equally inhospitable and impossible due to the freezing climate. Just food for thought.

Robert Keller
Robert Keller

@Daniel Keyes @Terry Vas Except that carbon dating agrees with other methods of dating that are not related. It is that consilience between different dating methods that proves it is accurate. Carbon dating was used to date the Siloam tunnel constructed during the reign of king Hezekiah. How convenient that it is spot on in this instance and not to be trusted when it comes to the BOM eh?

Richard Hasler
Richard Hasler

@Eric Davis @Skyler Baird Jaredite dates are highly speculative anyway, as you say, (roughly) and this is a first pass, at best. Nothing precludes previous immigrations in any of this. Pretty cool study. You cannot prove non-existence just what is there...

Daniel Keyes
Daniel Keyes

@Eric Davis @Skyler Baird  It would also be quite a leap of Faith to believe that Heavenly Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, down to the earth to live a perfect life and atone for our sins. Then, after He was crucified He was resurrected 3 days later

Eric Davis
Eric Davis

@Skyler Baird According to the BoM, the Jaredites came to the Americas following the Tower of Babel (roughly 2200 BC). The population groups described in this article arrived in America sometime between 10,000-15,000 years ago. That's quite a leap of faith one must take, in order to make that connection. About an 8,000 year leap (for those keeping score at home).

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