A recent study by a team of scientists from Europe and the US on the skeleton of a boy unearthed in Siberia in the 1920’s has yielded a DNA signature found both in modern Europeans as well as in the aboriginal people of the New World, i.e. the native people of North, Central and South America. The study is published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Nature.
The boy was buried along with numerous artefacts including a Venus figurine near the village of Mal’ta on the Belaya River in south eastern Siberia. The skeleton is dated to approx. 24,000 years BP.
The researchers managed to extract DNA from the boy’s arm bone. This represents the oldest modern human DNA extracted to date. When the DNA signature was analysed it transpired that part of his genome is found in modern Europeans, while the remainder is unique to modern Native Americans.
The genome of Native Americans living today is partly European in origin. Some of this may be due to mixing of populations over the past 500 years or so. However, the new study indicates that a significant proportion (14-38%) of the DNA of Native Americans can be traced back to a population like that living at Mal’ta. The remainder is derived from East Asian populations.
The authors of the study propose that around 24,000 years ago a group of people from western Europe migrated eastwards, mixing with populations in Siberia and East Asia. Eventually they crossed from Siberia into North America some 13,000 years ago across a land bridge which existed at the Bering Straits when sea levels were lower during the last Ice Age.