National Geographic Daily News
Photo of artifacts from the Clovis complex.

DNA analysis revealed that the people who made Clovis tools (examples shown above) are likely related to all Native Americans living today.

PHOTOGRAPH BY SARAH L. ANZICK

Ker Than

for National Geographic

Published February 12, 2014

DNA harvested from the remains of an infant buried 13,000 years ago confirms that the earliest widespread culture in North America was descended from humans who crossed over to the New World from Asia, scientists say.

The research, detailed in this week's issue of the journal Nature, also suggests that many contemporary Native Americans are direct descendants of the so-called Clovis people, whose distinctive stone tools have been found scattered across North America and Mexico.

The origins and genetic legacy of the people who made Clovis tools have been topics of debate among scientists. While most archaeologists think that the Clovis people were descended from Asians, an alternative theory suggests that the Clovis ancestors emigrated from southwestern Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum more than 15,000 years ago.

The new findings strongly refute that idea, known as the Solutrean hypothesis, said study co-author Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. "This shows very clearly that the ancestry of the very first Americans can be traced back to Asia," Waters said.

David Anderson, an anthropologist at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, agreed. "There's been a standard model for a long time that modern Native Americans are descended from populations coming from East Asia a few thousand years before Clovis, and that's what this finding reinforces," said Anderson, who was not involved in the study.

Anthropologist Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon said the new study was a "really important and really well done piece of research" that opens the door for new kinds of genetic comparisons among ancient Native American remains.

"The importance of this cannot be overemphasized," said Jenkins, who also did not participate in the research.

"People have often asked me what's the relationship of the Paisley Caves"—a site in Oregon where human feces and artifacts up to 13,200 years old have been found—"to Clovis, and I've always said that would be really nice to know, but there hasn't been any Clovis DNA until now," he said.

Oldest Burial in North America

The skeleton of the Clovis child—which experts determined belonged to a young boy about one to one-and-a-half years old—was discovered in 1968 in the Anzick burial site in western Montana. Dozens of ochre-covered stone tools found at the site were consistent with Clovis technology, and radiocarbon dating revealed that the skeleton was approximately 12,600 years old.

The Anzick skeleton "is the oldest burial in North America, and the only known human burial associated with the Clovis culture," Waters said.

Photo of the site where the artifacts were found.” width=
PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE WATERS
The earliest known North American burial was found here in western Montana.

Using bone shavings collected from the skull, the scientists painstakingly reconstructed the full genome of the young Clovis child. "It was actually quite a big challenge," said study leader Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who led the sequencing effort. "Only 1 to 2 percent of the collected DNA was human," Willerslev said. "The rest of it came from bacteria that invaded the skeleton after death."

Comparison studies of the ancient DNA showed that it was similar to the genomes of ancient people living in Siberia and the ancestors of East Asians. The team also discovered a deep genetic affinity between the boy's genetic material and those of 52 Native American populations living in South America and Canada.

"The Anzick remains share a common ancestry with almost every modern Native American group that we looked at," Waters said.

This is an incredible result, Willerslev said, because it suggests that the relatives of the Anzick child were the direct ancestors of most Native American groups living today. This would be possible, he added, if the population of humans living in the New World about 13,000 years ago was very small and every member was closely related to the others.

The scientists say they strongly suspect, but cannot yet prove, that Native Americans in the United States are also closely related to the Clovis people. Native American groups in the U.S. have been reluctant to share their DNA, or the DNA of their ancestors, with scientists.

"Unfortunately, we don't have much genetic material for native people living in the United States," Waters said. "If you look at the genetic map [of humans around the world], the U.S. is a big [blank] spot."

Jenkins of the University of Oregon said he hopes the new study will lead to further collaborations between scientists and U.S. Native American groups.

"That trust has got to be developed, and that's where Willerslev's group really excelled," Jenkins said. "We'll be better anthropologists and scientists if we view these remains more as the remains of people rather than just artifacts."

Follow Ker Than on Twitter.

21 comments
Norm Prenger
Norm Prenger

It's not an "emotional need" to insist that the first Americans came through Siberia.... it's where all the genetic evidence points.  You have to be a raving conspiracist to think otherwise. Kennewick man is thousands of years AFTER the earliest DNA samples we have ever found.  Give it up already.  It's your emotional need that is preventing yourself from accepting the evidence.

Charlie Craig
Charlie Craig

Allow DNA testing on Kenniqick man, the Arch Lake woman, the florida bog mummies NOW!!!! these people are liars, an osteologist can look at bones alone and tell you what race it is. whenever they find European bones they say "dna testing would disturb the spirits bury their remains to honour them." but when they find Siberian remains they test it and hold it high and say "look white man, we were here first, now give us more money and rights" 

Diane O'Farrell
Diane O'Farrell

I wonder if they approached any Native Americans on the East coast ? That is where the Solutreans first appeared.But then if they find out that they were here and that some Tribes are related to them that will make a lot of people look foolish and they will have to rewrite a lot of books.Better just to sweep it under the rug. 

Elizabeth Gray
Elizabeth Gray

Don't you find it ironic that the very people they have tried so hard to annihalate are now the object of all this scientific study. Well there still here and must wonder at all this interest in where they came from. I would like an opinion from any native americans who read this and how you feel about it all. Thank you.

Elizabeth Gray
Elizabeth Gray

If researchers want DNA from native americans why don't they dig up the bones of all those who were slaughtered in massacres and murdered under the pretext of proposing peace, or killed merely because they were considered pagans by so-called christian people. How dare they dig up bones anyway, how would they like their relatives bones to be dug up, pulled apart and filed away under some title or other. What does it all matter anyway where who came from where, there are more important issues to deal with in our modern day world. Leave the bones alone and just worry about where yours will lay one day,and if future generations might dig them up in the name of science.

Richard Veloso
Richard Veloso

All of the previous comments are well taken. 

I'm wondering what percentage of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA was found in this latest sample. These two ancient Hominids would also help us understand the time line of migration(s). I also believe there were migrations into pre-columbian South America from Polynesia.

Seamus MacNicol
Seamus MacNicol

In the initial synopsis it states: "DNA harvested from the remains of an infant buried 13,000 years ago confirms that the earliest widespread culture in North America was descended from humans who crossed over to the New World from Asia, scientists say"

But at the end of the article it states: "The scientists say they strongly suspect, but cannot yet prove, that Native Americans in the United States are also closely related to the Clovis people."  

Funny, I don't see how one questionable sample of 1%-2% is sufficient to draw any general conclusions one way or another let alone to say it "confirms that the earliest widespread culture....".  One sample does not confirm anything. All it says is this one individual and his ancestors had some Asian connection which could have come via Siberia-Alaska or from Siberia-Europe migration.

This does not prove anything, especially, it does not prove that Eastern North American "Indians" were not originally of European origin.  Over 20,000 years there was a lot of mixing of the genetics in North America especially with the practice of breeding with adopted extra-tribal captures. Also, there was not just one migration from one source. Later groups came from Asia as well as Europe.

Has there been DNA testing of the Eskimo populations across Northern Alaska and Canada? How about Early Humans in Greenland and Iceland pre-Vikings? 

I have always wondered why there seems to such an emotional need to prove Early Americans came only from Siberia-Asia via Siberia-Alaska.

Rosemary Castanza
Rosemary Castanza

    PRECOLUMBIAN VOYAGES AND SETTLEMENTS  5500-5000B.C.-225A.D.   Earliest of the inferred trans-Atlantic crossings,achieved by Maritime  Archaic Red-Paint cultures of western Scandinavia  and   northwest Europe      The archeological remains of these   ,carbon dated in Norway to 5500B.C. are very similar to those of Maritime  Archaic Red - Paint people  of   Labrador  and   New England,carbon dated back to 5000 B.C. On both sides  of  the  North Atlantic   these peoples  operated  sea-going   "wooden  vessels"  and used   similar  fishing devices  for hunting swordfish and maritime mammals......

Rosemary Castanza
Rosemary Castanza

    PRECOLUMBIAN VOYAGES AND SETTLEMENTS  5500-5000B.C.-225A.D.   Earliest of the inferred trans-Atlantic crossings,achieved by Maritime  Archaic Red-Paint cultures of western Scandinavia  and   northwest Europe      The archeological remains of these   ,carbon dated in Norway to 5500B.C. are very similar to those of Maritime  Archaic Red - Paint people  of   Labrador  and   New England,carbon dated back to 5000 B.C. On both sides  of  the  North Atlantic   these peoples  operated  sea-going   "wooden  vessels"  and used   similar  fishing devices  for hunting swordfish and maritime mammals

Barbara Gebo
Barbara Gebo

I don't know that much about the Clovis people but I found the article very interesting. We had my father's DNA done and he was 3% Native American Indian and then I did my DNA and showed 5% Eastern Asian. We also did my mother's DNA and it showed 5% Sub-Saharan.


The best to my knowledge both my parents lines came from France but that was a far as I could trace the lineage.  DNA is a very interesting tool and my father would have been very interested in this article.

Jessica Smith-Thirasawat
Jessica Smith-Thirasawat

So what's this going to do to the NAGPRA act, I wonder? If they re-write the act, wouldn't that just take away the scientists ability to study Clovis sites, because they can now be linked to Native American culture? While I think, most, have suspected that the Clovis came over from East Asia/Siberia via the land bridge, I felt that NAGPRA couldn't touch those sites, but now? I worry that we won't be able to continue to study Early American History if the NAGPRA gets a hold of it...

Martin Green
Martin Green

How can there not be available DNA from North American indigenous people? Do the study authors mean that DNA has not been voluntarily surrendered? There must be DNA of First Nation people that has been collected in other ways, by blood banks, through military enlistment, medical experiments, arrest records where provenance (if that is the right term for human samples) can be trusted. Can't they steal a used coffee cup from the cafe in Hopiland? (j/k) I don't understand.

Mark Stuber
Mark Stuber

I don't see how this discredits the Solutrean hypothesis at all.  That hypothesis never contended that there was a mass migration or that Solutrean populations ever came close to matching the populations that came accross the Bering land bridge.  The idea is that they're were very few of them and they probably interbred.  Heck, their genetic line may have even died off.  That does not mean that Clovis technoligy did not derive from Solutrean.

mike patterson
mike patterson

My buddy Don Smithana wrote a book in 1990 "America... land of the rising sun" shows all the similarities in the Japanese language and cultures with Native Indians here. Absolutely an interesting comparison in a book written 24 years ago.

Jonathan Sreekumar
Jonathan Sreekumar

@Elizabeth Gray  You should read Corinne Sombrun. Sur les traces de Geronimo. A french essay, she met geronimo's grandson and his people have a story that they are coming from mongolians.

Blake Reimer
Blake Reimer

@Elizabeth Gray I suppose there are cultural reasons that support American Indian desires not to disturb the dead and, as for me, you have my permission to exume my ancestor's DNA without bothering me in the least.  

Phillip Lewallen
Phillip Lewallen

If you did a little bit of research, you would know that the reason it was found in the first place was via a construction worker.  No one was actively seeking a burial site to rummage through.  With that being said, why wouldn't they want to take advantage of such an amazing artifact that holds information to the origins of people in America?  Also, in response to your inquiry of Native American input, one of the lead researchers, Shane Doyle (Montana State Univeristy) is part of the Crow tribe from the area where the skull was found, and from the statements he has given, he seems to be more excited about it than most.  People are treating this find with great respect and they will be reburying the skull soon exactly where is was found and left to rest in peace. 

Rosemary Castanza
Rosemary Castanza

@mike patterson America B.C.      By Barry Fell       Europeans living in America ....AT least   4500 years before COLUMBUS    and Christopher knew it !!!!!!!

Barbara Piper
Barbara Piper

@mike patterson  

No doubt. But remember that it was the Jesup Expedition in 1897 that first documented the relationships between Asian peoples and North American indigenous groups.

Share

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

Latest News Video

See more videos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »