I am a scientist specialized in genetics and I currently study the peopling of the Americas.
The first humans migrated into the Americas around 15,000 years ago. Or so we thought.
In 10 seconds? According to the current model for the peopling of the Americas, the first humans to colonize the New World migrated from Siberia through the Bering isthmus at the end of the last glaciation, around 15,000 years ago. But a recent study suggests that there was human presence in the Americas as early as 130,000 years ago.
Don’t believe it? Researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum studied an archaeological site from the early late Pleistocene epoch, where they found hammerstones and stone anvils believed to have been made by humans, in association with remains of a mastodon, dead 130,000 years ago, in today’s California. Their results suggest that the mastodon was killed by humans with manual dexterity and the knowledge to use these tools, implying the existence of humans in the Americas much earlier than previously believed.
These humans, were they Homo sapiens? Since Homo sapiens are believed to have left Africa only about 60,000 years ago this seems unlikely. If these findings are confirmed they would indicate, for the first time, that other Homo species colonized the Americas before Homo sapiens.
Is this the only archaeological site this old in the Americas? Yes, and that is why it is so surprising. Until now the earliest sites were 13,000 years old, for the Clovis culture in North America, although some genetic evidence indicates the presence of humans 14,000 years ago in South America. So, this is the first and only evidence suggesting humans lived in America before that (way before), reason why it has raised a few eyebrows among competing scientists.
Abstract: The earliest dispersal of humans into North America is a contentious subject, and proposed early sites are required to meet the following criteria for acceptance: (1) archaeological evidence is found in a clearly defined and undisturbed geologic context; (2) age is determined by reliable radiometric dating; (3) multiple lines of evidence from interdisciplinary studies provide consistent results; and (4) unquestionable artefacts are found in primary context. Here we describe the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site, an archaeological site from the early late Pleistocene epoch, where in situ hammerstones and stone anvils occur in spatio-temporal association with fragmentary remains of a single mastodon (Mammut americanum). The CM site contains spiral-fractured bone and molar fragments, indicating that breakage occured while fresh. Several of these fragments also preserve evidence of percussion. The occurrence and distribution of bone, molar and stone refits suggest that breakage occurred at the site of burial. Five large cobbles (hammerstones and anvils) in the CM bone bed display use-wear and impact marks, and are hydraulically anomalous relative to the low-energy context of the enclosing sandy silt stratum. (230)Th/U radiometric analysis of multiple bone specimens using diffusion-adsorption-decay dating models indicates a burial date of 130.7 ± 9.4 thousand years ago. These findings confirm the presence of an unidentified species of Homo at the CM site during the last interglacial period (MIS 5e; early late Pleistocene), indicating that humans with manual dexterity and the experiential knowledge to use hammerstones and anvils processed mastodon limb bones for marrow extraction and/or raw material for tool production. Systematic proboscidean bone reduction, evident at the CM site, fits within a broader pattern of Palaeolithic bone percussion technology in Africa, Eurasia and North America. The CM site is, to our knowledge, the oldest in situ, well-documented archaeological site in North America and, as such, substantially revises the timing of arrival of Homo into the Americas.
Pub.: 28 Apr '17, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Recent genomic studies of both ancient and modern indigenous people of the Americas have shed light on the demographic processes involved during the first peopling. The Pacific Northwest Coast proves an intriguing focus for these studies because of its association with coastal migration models and genetic ancestral patterns that are difficult to reconcile with modern DNA alone. Here, we report the low-coverage genome sequence of an ancient individual known as “Shuká Káa” (“Man Ahead of Us”) recovered from the On Your Knees Cave (OYKC) in southeastern Alaska (archaeological site 49-PET-408). The human remains date to ∼10,300 calendar (cal) y B.P. We also analyze low-coverage genomes of three more recent individuals from the nearby coast of British Columbia dating from ∼6,075 to 1,750 cal y B.P. From the resulting time series of genetic data, we show that the Pacific Northwest Coast exhibits genetic continuity for at least the past 10,300 cal y B.P. We also infer that population structure existed in the late Pleistocene of North America with Shuká Káa on a different ancestral line compared with other North American individuals from the late Pleistocene or early Holocene (i.e., Anzick-1 and Kennewick Man). Despite regional shifts in mtDNA haplogroups, we conclude from individuals sampled through time that people of the northern Northwest Coast belong to an early genetic lineage that may stem from a late Pleistocene coastal migration into the Americas.
Pub.: 04 Apr '17, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: The current model for peopling of the Americas involves divergence from an ancestral Asian population followed by a period of population isolation and genetic diversification in Beringia, and finally, a rapid expansion into and throughout the Americas. Studies in the 1970s sought to characterize the biological relationships between different indigenous populations and first proposed an occupation of Beringia. More recent studies using molecular genetic markers often neglect to reference early works that laid the groundwork for current colonization models. We address this matter, and briefly summarize the literature and technological advances that contributed to our current understanding of the peopling of the Americas. Furthermore, we argue that describing the process of peopling of the Americas as "migrations from Asia" minimizes the significant genetic diversification that occurred outside of Asia, and offends indigenous Americans by discounting their origin narratives and land rights. Rather than referring to the indigenous peoples of the Americas as "migrants" or "immigrants," we recommend consistency in the language used to describe all post-glacial expansions of people into Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Pub.: 20 Jan '17, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: On the basis of fossil and archaeological data it has been hypothesized that the exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Eurasia between ~50–120 thousand years ago occurred in several orbitally paced migration episodes1, 2, 3, 4. Crossing vegetated pluvial corridors from northeastern Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant and expanding further into Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, early H. sapiens experienced massive time-varying climate and sea level conditions on a variety of timescales. Hitherto it has remained difficult to quantify the effect of glacial- and millennial-scale climate variability on early human dispersal and evolution. Here we present results from a numerical human dispersal model, which is forced by spatiotemporal estimates of climate and sea level changes over the past 125 thousand years. The model simulates the overall dispersal of H. sapiens in close agreement with archaeological and fossil data and features prominent glacial migration waves across the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant region around 106–94, 89–73, 59–47 and 45–29 thousand years ago. The findings document that orbital-scale global climate swings played a key role in shaping Late Pleistocene global population distributions, whereas millennial-scale abrupt climate changes, associated with Dansgaard–Oeschger events, had a more limited regional effect.
Pub.: 21 Sep '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: During the Last Glacial Maximum, continental ice sheets isolated Beringia (northeast Siberia and northwest North America) from unglaciated North America. By around 15 to 14 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. kyr bp), glacial retreat opened an approximately 1,500-km-long corridor between the ice sheets. It remains unclear when plants and animals colonized this corridor and it became biologically viable for human migration. We obtained radiocarbon dates, pollen, macrofossils and metagenomic DNA from lake sediment cores in a bottleneck portion of the corridor. We find evidence of steppe vegetation, bison and mammoth by approximately 12.6 cal. kyr bp, followed by open forest, with evidence of moose and elk at about 11.5 cal. kyr bp, and boreal forest approximately 10 cal. kyr bp. Our findings reveal that the first Americans, whether Clovis or earlier groups in unglaciated North America before 12.6 cal. kyr bp, are unlikely to have travelled by this route into the Americas. However, later groups may have used this north-south passageway.
Pub.: 12 Aug '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Whole-genome studies have documented that most Native American ancestry stems from a single population that diversified within the continent more than twelve thousand years ago. However, this shared ancestry hides a more complex history whereby at least four distinct streams of Eurasian migration have contributed to present-day and prehistoric Native American populations. Whole genome studies enhanced by technological breakthroughs in ancient DNA now provide evidence of a sequence of events involving initial migrations from a structured Northeast Asian source population with differential relatedness to present-day Australasian populations, followed by a divergence into northern and southern Native American lineages. During the Holocene, new migrations from Asia introduced the Saqqaq/Dorset Paleoeskimo population to the North American Arctic ∼4500 years ago, ancestry that is potentially connected with ancestry found in Athabaskan-speakers today. This was then followed by a major new population turnover in the high Arctic involving Thule-related peoples who are the ancestors of present-day Inuit. We highlight several open questions that could be addressed through future genomic research.
Pub.: 11 Aug '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Stone tools and mastodon bones occur in an undisturbed geological context at the Page-Ladson site, Florida. Seventy-one radiocarbon ages show that ~14,550 calendar years ago (cal yr B.P.), people butchered or scavenged a mastodon next to a pond in a bedrock sinkhole within the Aucilla River. This occupation surface was buried by ~4 m of sediment during the late Pleistocene marine transgression, which also left the site submerged. Sporormiella and other proxy evidence from the sediments indicate that hunter-gatherers along the Gulf Coastal Plain coexisted with and utilized megafauna for ~2000 years before these animals became extinct at ~12,600 cal yr B.P. Page-Ladson expands our understanding of the earliest colonizers of the Americas and human-megafauna interaction before extinction.
Pub.: 08 Jul '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: The exact timing, route, and process of the initial peopling of the Americas remains uncertain despite much research. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of humans as far as southern Chile by 14.6 thousand years ago (ka), shortly after the Pleistocene ice sheets blocking access from eastern Beringia began to retreat. Genetic estimates of the timing and route of entry have been constrained by the lack of suitable calibration points and low genetic diversity of Native Americans. We sequenced 92 whole mitochondrial genomes from pre-Columbian South American skeletons dating from 8.6 to 0.5 ka, allowing a detailed, temporally calibrated reconstruction of the peopling of the Americas in a Bayesian coalescent analysis. The data suggest that a small population entered the Americas via a coastal route around 16.0 ka, following previous isolation in eastern Beringia for ~2.4 to 9 thousand years after separation from eastern Siberian populations. Following a rapid movement throughout the Americas, limited gene flow in South America resulted in a marked phylogeographic structure of populations, which persisted through time. All of the ancient mitochondrial lineages detected in this study were absent from modern data sets, suggesting a high extinction rate. To investigate this further, we applied a novel principal components multiple logistic regression test to Bayesian serial coalescent simulations. The analysis supported a scenario in which European colonization caused a substantial loss of pre-Columbian lineages.
Pub.: 07 Apr '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: As the last habitable continent colonized by humans, the site of multiple domestication hotspots, and the location of the largest Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, South America is central to human prehistory1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Yet remarkably little is known about human population dynamics during colonization, subsequent expansions, and domestication2, 3, 4, 5. Here we reconstruct the spatiotemporal patterns of human population growth in South America using a newly aggregated database of 1,147 archaeological sites and 5,464 calibrated radiocarbon dates spanning fourteen thousand to two thousand years ago (ka). We demonstrate that, rather than a steady exponential expansion, the demographic history of South Americans is characterized by two distinct phases. First, humans spread rapidly throughout the continent, but remained at low population sizes for 8,000 years, including a 4,000-year period of ‘boom-and-bust’ oscillations with no net growth. Supplementation of hunting with domesticated crops and animals4, 8 had a minimal impact on population carrying capacity. Only with widespread sedentism, beginning ~5 ka4, 8, did a second demographic phase begin, with evidence for exponential population growth in cultural hotspots, characteristic of the Neolithic transition worldwide9. The unique extent of humanity’s ability to modify its environment to markedly increase carrying capacity in South America is therefore an unexpectedly recent phenomenon.
Pub.: 06 Apr '16, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Human colonization of the New World is generally believed to have entailed migrations from Siberia across the Bering isthmus. However, the limited archaeological record of these migrations means that details of the timing, cause and rate remain cryptic. Here, we have used a combination of ancient DNA, 14C dating, hydrogen and oxygen isotopes, and collagen sequencing to explore the colonization history of one of the few other large mammals to have successfully migrated into the Americas at this time: the North American elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis), also known as wapiti. We identify a long-term occupation of northeast Siberia, far beyond the species's current Old World distribution. Migration into North America occurred at the end of the last glaciation, while the northeast Siberian source population became extinct only within the last 500 years. This finding is congruent with a similar proposed delay in human colonization, inferred from modern human mitochondrial DNA, and suggestions that the Bering isthmus was not traversable during parts of the Late Pleistocene. Our data imply a fundamental constraint in crossing Beringia, placing limits on the age and mode of human settlement in the Americas, and further establish the utility of ancient DNA in palaeontological investigations of species histories.
Pub.: 18 Dec '13, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Global patterns of ethnolinguistic diversity vary tremendously. Some regions show very little variation even across vast expanses, whereas others exhibit dense mosaics of different languages spoken alongside one another. Compared with the rest of Native North America, prehistoric California exemplified the latter. Decades of linguistic, genetic, and archaeological research have produced detailed accounts of the migrations that aggregated to build California's diverse ethnolinguistic mosaic, but there have been few have attempts to explain the process underpinning these migrations and why such a mosaic did not develop elsewhere. Here we show that environmental productivity predicts both the order of migration events and the population density recorded at contact. The earliest colonizers occupied the most suitable habitats along the coast, whereas subsequent Mid-Late Holocene migrants settled in more marginal habitats. Other Late Holocene patterns diverge from this trend, reflecting altered dynamics linked to food storage and increased sedentism. Through repeated migration events, incoming populations replaced resident populations occurring at lower densities in lower-productivity habitats, thereby resulting in the fragmentation of earlier groups and the development of one of the most diverse ethnolinguistic patterns in the Americas. Such a process may account for the distribution of ethnolinguistic diversity worldwide.
Pub.: 21 Aug '13, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: Although it is widely recognised that America was the last continent to be populated by our species, researchers' views on various aspects of this process (e.g. the period in which it occurred, the area from which the colonizing populations came, the number of dispersal waves and the routes taken by these migrations) differ significantly. In this paper, we review both classical data and more recent findings from various research fields - including geology, paleoecology, archaeology, skeletal biology, and genetics - that may shed light on the dynamics of the colonization of the American continent, according to a critical reappraisal of the various hypotheses and models that have been advanced over time to explain this process.
Pub.: 13 Apr '13, Pinned: 04 May '17
Abstract: The genetic characterization of Native Mexicans is important to understand multiethnic based features influencing the medical genetics of present Mexican populations, as well as to the reconstruct the peopling of the Americas. We describe the Y-chromosome genetic diversity of 197 Native Mexicans from 11 populations and 1,044 individuals from 44 Native American populations after combining with publicly available data. We found extensive heterogeneity among Native Mexican populations and ample segregation of Q-M242* (46%) and Q-M3 (54%) haplogroups within Mexico. The northernmost sampled populations falling outside Mesoamerica (Pima and Tarahumara) showed a clear differentiation with respect to the other populations, which is in agreement with previous results from mtDNA lineages. However, our results point toward a complex genetic makeup of Native Mexicans whose maternal and paternal lineages reveal different narratives of their population history, with sex-biased continental contributions and different admixture proportions. At a continental scale, we found that Arctic populations and the northernmost groups from North America cluster together, but we did not find a clear differentiation within Mesoamerica and the rest of the continent, which coupled with the fact that the majority of individuals from Central and South American samples are restricted to the Q-M3 branch, supports the notion that most Native Americans from Mesoamerica southwards are descendants from a single wave of migration. This observation is compatible with the idea that present day Mexico might have constituted an area of transition in the diversification of paternal lineages during the colonization of the Americas.
Pub.: 12 May '12, Pinned: 04 May '17
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