Ancient DNA gives glimpse of ancestors of Native Americans

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A few years ago the fossilized remains of a baby girl were uncovered in a harsh and isolated part of central Alaska.

Scientists said on Wednesday a study of her genome indicated there was just a single wave of migration into the Americas across a land bridge, now submerged, that spanned the Bering Strait and connected Siberia to Alaska during the Ice Age. So her DNA allows a direct glimpse of the ancient population that led to today's native peoples, said Jennifer Raff of the University of Kansas, who didn't participate in the study.

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The infant - named "sunrise girl-child" (Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay) using the local indigenous language - belonged to a previously unknown Native American population that descended from those intrepid migrants, the researchers added. "It's the first time that we have had direct genomic evidence that all Native Americans can be traced back to one source population, via a single, founding migration event." said Professor Willerslev. The two groups are related, but a link between them and an ancient Siberian population was missing, until now. "These data also provide the first direct evidence of the initial founding Native American population, which sheds new light on how these early populations were migrating and settling throughout North America". Potter's team had been working at the site for over a decade and expected the DNA to match that of the other northern Native American populations, but they were in for a surprise.

"The Ancient Beringians diversified from other Native Americans before any ancient or living Native American population sequenced to date".

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An global team led by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen successfully sequenced the genome of a six-week-old infant girl discovered at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska.

The infant girl was buried about 50 miles southeast of Fairbanks, and her remains are the earliest known in the far north of North America, said anthropologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "This new information will allow us a more accurate picture of Native American prehistory".

Scientists aren't sure whether the two native groups split before or after they crossed the Beringian land bridge, which disappeared some 15,700 years ago.

Previous research has shown that a relatively specific, localized level of contact between this group, and East Asians, led to the emergence of a distinctive ancestral Native American population. Scientists say the child lived 11,500 years ago, long after the first wave of migration occurred, but her genome was consistently different from the two types of ancient Native Americans.