DNA analysis reveals hardy group genetically distinct from Eurasians and East Asians
It was cold, remote and involved picking fights with woolly mammoths – but it seems ancient Siberia 30,000 years ago was home to a hardy and previously unknown group of humans. Scientists say the discovery could help solve longstanding mysteries about the ancestors of native North Americans.
While it is commonly believed the ancestors of native North Americans arrived from Eurasia via a now submerged land bridge called Beringia, exactly which groups crossed and gave rise to native North American populations has been difficult to unpick.
Now scientists say they might have found some answers to the conundrums.
Writing in the journal Nature, Eske Willerslev and colleagues reveal how they drew on existing data from modern populations as well as analysing ancient DNA from the remains of 34 individuals obtained from sites around north-eastern Siberia, dating from more than 31,000 years ago up to 600 years ago.
The key remains were fragments of two tiny human milk teeth, shed by males, found at a place in Russia called Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site. First excavated in 2001, the site offers the earliest direct evidence of humans in north-eastern Siberia, with finds also including bone items and stone tools. Indirect evidence of human populations in north-eastern Siberia goes back to more than 40,000 years ago.