Scientists claim that a genetic evaluation of the 11,500-year-old remains of an infant girl from Alaska has shed fresh light onto the populating of the Americas. The newest finds suggest that the"Last Frontier" was occupied way sooner than what we've believed until now.
Oldest Human Remains Ever Found in Alaska
What could be among the greatest discoveries in Alaska's history, an international group of researchers led by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen claims to have discovered the first direct genetic evidence of the first Native Americans. The genetic evaluation of the ancient remains of an infant girl from Alaska not only reveals a previously unknown native inhabitants, but additionally indicates that people traveled across the Beringia land bridge to make it to the North American continent in a single migratory tide from Siberia over 20,000 years back. As BBC News reports, Dr. Eske Willerslev and his colleagues suggest that the pioneering settlers became the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans.
A family of Iñupiat from Noatak, Alaska, 1929 - by Edward S. Curtis. (Public Domain)
The scientists sequenced the genome of a six-week-old female baby unearthed at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska and found that she had lived around 11,500 years ago. Based on The New York Times, the remains of the girl signify the second-oldest human genome ever found in North America.
"Sunrise Child-Girl" Will Provide Accurate Picture of Native American Prehistory
The local Native American community called Xach'itee'aanenh t'eede gay, which translates to the"Sunrise Child-girl." The science group refers to her just as USR1. Her genetic code did not match with any of the two native populations known to exist throughout this period.
"These are the oldest human remains ever found in Alaska, but what is particularly interesting here is that this individual belonged to a population of humans that we have never seen before," Dr. Willerslev informed BBC News.
The genetic analysis of this girl's remains pinpoints towards a separation of ancient Native Americans from a single east Asian source population somewhere between 36,000 to 25,000 years back, far before individuals crossed into Beringia, an area which includes the land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age. "You can say she comes from the earliest, or most original, Native American group - the first Native American group that diversified. And that means she can tell us about the ancestors of all Native Americans," Dr. Willerslev informs BBC News.
The baby's remains were found in excavations at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska (Image: Ben Potter)
Two Potential Scenarios
What's more, the new study suggests two possible scenarios concerning how the separation probably happened. The first concept suggests that the two groups became isolated while still in East Asia, and that they crossed the land bridge separately, maybe at different times or using different routes. The second scenario suggests a single group moved from Asia, then divide into Beringians and ancient Native Americans once in Beringia. The Beringians stayed far longer than they had to in the West and interior of Alaska, while the ancestors of modern Native Americans proceeded on South sometime around 15,700 years past as the National Geographic reports.
Dr. Ben Potter, an anthropologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a few of the lead authors of this analysis, hesitates to come to some safe conclusions for now,"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas," he explained as The Independent reported. And added, "These findings create opportunities for Alaska native people to gain new knowledge about their own connections to both the northern Native American and Ancient Beringian people. the new information will allow us a more accurate picture of Native American prehistory. It is markedly more complex than we thought."
Dr. Willerslev informs BBC News,"Before this girl's genome, we only had more recent Native Americans and ancient Siberians to try to work out the relationships and times of divergence. But now we have an individual from a population between the two; and that really opens the door to address these fundamental questions." He believes more conclusive answers will only come with the discovery of additional remains in north-east Siberia and Alaska, and adds that just "time will tell."