Human Genome News -  page 20
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-- Humans Lived in North America 130,000 Years Ago, Study Claims - 4/26/17
-- Ancient DNA suggests the first Americans sidestepped the glaciers - 8/10/16
-- Prehistoric Boy May Be Native American Missing Link - 2/12/14
-- Genetic Gaps in History and Prehistory - 9/15/09

 Humans Lived in North America 130,000 Years Ago, Study Claims

APRIL 26, 2017 Carl Zimmer

Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago a team of scientists reported.

The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet.

The earliest widely accepted evidence of people in the Americas is less than 15,000 years old. Genetic studies strongly support the idea that those people were the ancestors of living Native Americans, arriving in North America from Asia.

If humans actually were in North America over 100,000 years earlier, they may not be related to any living group of people. Modern humans probably did not expand out of Africa until 50,000 to 80,000 years ago, recent genetic studies have shown. [note 1]

If California’s first settlers weren’t modern, then they would have to have been Neanderthals or perhaps members of another extinct human lineage.

“It poses all sorts of questions,” said Thomas A. Deméré, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum and a co-author of the new study. “Who were these people? What species were they?”

Some experts were intrigued by the research, but many archaeologists strongly criticized it, saying the evidence didn’t come close to supporting such a profound conclusion.

“I was astonished, not because it is so good but because it is so bad,” said Donald K. Grayson, an archaeologist at the University of Washington, who faulted the new study for failing to rule out more mundane explanations for markings on the bones.

In 1992, construction workers dug up the mastodon bones while clearing earth to build a sound barrier along Route 54 in San Diego County. A team of paleontologists from the museum spent the next five months excavating the layer of sediment in which they were found.

The team discovered more scattered bone fragments, all of which seemed to have come from a single mastodon. From the start, the remains seemed unusual.

The thick bones were broken and smashed, and near the animal were five large rounded stones. Dr. Deméré and his colleagues invited other experts to help determine how the bones were broken apart.

In an effort to reproduce the markings, the researchers used similar rocks to break apart fresh elephant bones in Tanzania. The bones fractured at the same angles as the ones in San Diego, they found, and the fragments scattered onto the ground in a similar pattern.

Dr. Deméré and his colleagues rejected the idea that all these changes could be the work of predators attacking the mastodon. “It’s kind of hard to envision a carnivore strong enough to break a mastodon leg bone,” he said.

When he and his colleagues closely examined the rocks found near the mastodon fossils, they also found scratch marks. Similar marks appeared on the rocks used to smash elephant bones. Small chips at the site fit neatly into the rocks, suggesting that they had broken off while people used them as hammers.

The bones and rocks rested on a sandy flood plain by a meandering stream. The researchers argued that these couldn’t have been brought together by a violent current, and that people must have carried the rocks to the mastodon.

Dr. Deméré speculated that the humans might have been trying to get marrow out of the mastodon bones to eat, while using fragments of the bones to fashion tools. There’s a great deal of evidence for that kind of activity at older sites in other parts of the world, he noted.

Rolfe D. Mandel, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Kansas who was not involved in the study, found it hard to see how the rocks and bones could come together without the help of people. “It could not happen naturally,” he said.

But other archaeologists said the bone fractures and rock scratches were unconvincing.

“They present evidence that the broken stones and bones could have been broken by humans,” said Vance T. Holliday, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona. “But they don’t demonstrate that they could only be broken by humans.”

Gary Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the researchers should have ruled out more alternatives. Some of the bone fractures could have been caused by pressure from overlying sediment, he suggested.

For years, Dr. Deméré and his colleagues struggled to figure out how long ago the mastodon died. The scientists finally contacted James B. Paces, a research geologist at the United States Geological Survey, who determined how much uranium in the bones had broken down into another element, thorium.

That test revealed, to their surprise, that the bones were 130,000 years old. Yet the fractures suggested the bones were still fresh when they were broken with the rocks.

Note 1: Until now no one has questioned the claim that humanity was at the brink of extinction soon after the Toba eruption.  Current knowledge placed all the survivors back in Africa and from there humans repopulated earth.   Science may now be finding that there were groups of humans (perhaps Neanderthal or others) that lived in safe zones elsewhere on earth than in the destruction zone of toba and not just in the safe zones in Africa.   My thoughts are that when humans arrived in the Americas they found many herds of large fauna, where were these animals that they survived the Toba extinction?   This new report provides more questions that must be answered before it can be rejected outright.

 Ancient DNA suggests the first Americans sidestepped the glaciers

By Carolyn Gramling    Aug. 10, 2016

Ask any schoolkid how the first people came to the Americas, and you might get some version of the following: They crossed a spit of land connecting Alaska and Siberia and made their way south between melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Until recently, science agreed.

But mounting evidence has shown that the dry land exposed by the melted route—known as the ice-free corridor—may not have been passable until long after humans had already settled the Americas.   So when did it become a viable route for people?   Using ancient DNA, along with the remains of pollen, plants, and animals collected from lake sediments, a new study has an answer: about 12,600 years ago.   This suggests that the earliest humans to make their homes in the New World, including people from the Clovis civilization, must have taken a very different route.

“This is a really neat and pioneering study,” says Stephen Jackson, a paleoecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Climate Science Center in Tucson, Arizona, who was not involved in the work. Because this is the first study to take into account both so-called environmental DNA (eDNA) as well as more traditional types of data, he says, “we stand to learn a good deal more about how to interpret our records.”

Scientists have long thought that humans traveled across a region knowns as Beringia, a now-submerged area in the Bering Sea that was dry land during the lower sea levels of the last ice age. What humans did next has always been a big question. Until recently, most researchers thought that the ice-free corridor was the most likely route south, once the glaciers began melting 14,000–15,000 years ago.   For years, those dates fit the timing of the Clovis people, big game hunters thought to have inhabited the lower 48 about 13,000 years ago.   But in the past decade, scientists have discovered even earlier settlements, revealing that humans made the journey to the Americas as early as about 15,000 years ago.   The key question, says Eske Willerslev, a paleoecologist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study, is when the ice-free corridor really became viable for humans to cross it.   At about 1500 kilometers long, large animal game would be essential to making the journey, he says.

Before 12,600 years ago, the researchers say, the more interior route into the Americas was blocked. Instead, early settlers may have taken a coastal route as early as 14,700 years ago.

To see into the corridor’s past, the new study looked at pollen, plant, and animal fossils from nine sediment cores taken from two lakes near what was thought to have been the narrowest bottleneck in the corridor—the last part to open. The modern lakes are the remnants of a giant prehistoric lake, known as glacial Lake Peace, which covered much of the area between the retreating glaciers. From the cores, the scientists also extracted eDNA—DNA lingering in the soil from, for example, plant leaves, rootlets, animal feces, urine, or even skin cells. Because DNA is electrically charged, it can bind to sediment particles, helping to preserve it from degradation over time.

Taken together, these data paint a detailed picture of the ecology of the corridor as it transitioned from icy wasteland to fertile forest. For about 700 years after the ice retreated, there was scant evidence of any life, Willerslev says. Then, about 12,600 years ago, steppe plants like aromatic sagebrush appeared, followed soon after by animals such as woolly mammoth, bison, and jackrabbits. By about 12,400 years ago, forests of Populus trees—such as aspen and poplar—began to dominate, after which elk and moose arrived. About 11,600 years ago, the region transformed again into a boreal forest of spruce and pine trees.

But this opening and flourishing occurred too late for the migrating humans who arrived in the Americas about 15,000 years ago, the authors report online today in Nature. It was even too late for the Clovis people, who arrived about 13,000 years ago, they say.

Instead, Willerslev says, both pre-Clovis and Clovis peoples may have taken the so-called coastal route, which would have taken them down along the western coast of North America, a much-discussed path with scant hard data to support it. He says he hopes to use eDNA to hunt for evidence of their passage. “The idea is that there was a land bridge a few thousand years earlier than the formation of the ice-free corridor,” he says. “That land is now covered by ocean, but there are some islands believed to be part of that route. It would be interesting to go and look for cores and try to do the same exercise there.”

Other recent evidence supports the idea that the earliest human migrants to the Americas—the pre-Clovis people—didn’t enter through the Canadian corridor. For example, a recent study of mitochondrial DNA in northern and southern populations of bison separated by the corridor suggest the passage opened up slightly earlier than the present study posits—13,000 years ago instead of 12,600 years ago. In terms of that timing, “it’s a pretty subtle difference,” says Duane Froese, a geoscientist from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, in Canada, and a co-author of that study.

But when it comes to estimating the opening of the ice-free corridor, the devil may be in those details—in part because the slightly earlier opening suggested by the bison mitochondrial DNA would have allowed the Clovis people to take it. Willerslev questions the reliability of using just one organism to record environmental history. But Froese points to several other fragments of data from the region that suggest the corridor was habitable earlier: a 13,700-year-old fragment of a poplar tree and a 13,100-year-old bison found near the bottleneck.

Jackson notes that the eDNA evidence is powerful and fills in many gaps left by conventional paleoecological data. For example, certain trees—Populus is a particularly well-known example—are poorly represented in the pollen record, even when they were certainly present. eDNA offers a detailed snapshot of local flora and fauna that passed through a particular location, from bison stepping into the lake to pikefish swimming in it. But, Jackson adds, eDNA paleoecological research is still new, and there remain lingering questions about how eDNA is represented in sediments and what exactly the data mean.

Froese is optimistic. “It’s great from a science point of view that we don’t completely agree,” he says of his team’s work and Willerslev’s. “I hope this will be good impetus for future research.”
Posted in:

EarthPaleontologyHuman Evolution

Carolyn Gramling

Carolyn is a staff writer for Science, covering polar and ocean science, and is the editor of the In Brief section.

 Genetic Gaps in History and Prehistory

In a recent research article published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, a team headed by Silvia Guimaraes of the University of Florence documents how the Tuscans of the Middle Ages preserved Etruscan bloodlines while the contemporary inhabitants of the Italian state of Tuscany seem to have little or no connection with those mysterious antecedents from the Bronze Age. It is an example of discontinuity in the mitochondrial DNA record. The paper is titled “Genealogical Discontinuities among Etruscan, Medieval and Contemporary Tuscans” (published online on July 1, 2009: you must have a subscription or pay to read the full text). The authors are on sure ground with their findings since they had access to ancient, medieval and modern DNA for comparisons. It is often assumed that whoever lives in a place belongs to a population whose ancestors settled there thousands of years ago, and who created a sort of genetic bedrock beneath the present-day DNA landscape. The Italian study, however, disproves the applicability of this theory in a country famous for suffering many invasions by outsiders but enduring and retaining its native population structure and composition. It was to be expected that the same mitochondrial lineages would be present today that were common in Italy thousands of years ago. Instead, some of them, selectively, just died out over time.

A similar situation was revealed in 2005 with the classification of mitochondrial DNA in 24 Neolithic skeletons from Germany, Austria and Hungary. One-fourth belonged to haplogroup G, a rather rare type today. In fact, today’s Central Europeans have a 150-times lower frequency (0.2%) of this mtDNA lineage. The inference is that sometime between 7,500 years ago and the present day, large-scale population replacement or genetic influx took place in Europe. Today, it is haplogroup H that enjoys dominance. (The study is “Ancient DNA from the First European Farmers in 7500-Year-Old Neolithic Sites,” by Wolfgang Haak et al., Science 11 310/5750: 1016-18.)

Cases of such discontinuities could be multiplied tenfold or more, especially in the New World. Haplogroup M, a common East Asian lineage, was found in the skeletal remains of two Paleo-Indians about 5,000 years old at the aptly named China Lake in British Columbia, although the message was lost on its discoverers (see R. S. Malhi et al. inJournal of Archaeological Science 20:1-7). A study by Pääbo et al. in 1988 proposed the existence of a previously unknown founding lineage on the basis of mitochondrial DNA extracted from a rare specimen of 7,000-year-old human brain matter in Florida. This discovery was almost immediately dismissed as “of no importance.” An analysis of the bone remains of 25 pre-Columbian Mayas by Gonzalez-Oliver’s group produced one type of mitochondrial DNA that could not even be classified. The Brazilian geneticist Salzano has remarked that of the 338 ancient cases investigated to date over two-thirds could not be assigned to the conventional six “Amerindian” haplogroups. Researchers found that among the remote Cayapa Indians of Ecuador, one-fifth of genetic variation was “other.”

The Etruscan study shows that a whole population can turn over in a few centuries. It doesn’t take thousands of years. If this is true, as it seems to be, then the story of the peopling of the Americas has many unwritten chapters. The revised standard version propagated in textbooks and anthropology departments is simplistic and reductive.

Egyptian, Greek, Phoenician and Hebrew Origins of Cherokee?

Donald N. Yates

submitted August 31, 2009

ABSTRACT. A sample of 52 individuals who purchased mitochondrial DNA testing to determine their female lineage was assembled after the fact from the customer files of DNA Consultants. All claim matrilineal descent from a Native American woman, usually named as Cherokee. The main criterion for inclusion in the study is that test subjects must have obtained results not placing them in the standard Native American haplogroups A, B, C or D. Hence the use of the word “anomalous” in the title of a paper prepared by chief investigator Donald N. Yates, “Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee.”

Most subjects reveal haplotypes that are unmatched anywhere else except among other participants, and there proves to be a high degree of interrelatedness and common ancestral lines. Haplogroup T emerges as the largest lineage, followed by U, X, J and H. Similar proportions of these haplogroups are noted in the populations of Egypt, Israel and other parts of the East Mediterranean (see below).

The Cherokee and Admixture. According to a 2007 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Cherokee are the largest tribal group today, with a population of 331,000 or 15% of all American Indians. Despite their numbers, though, the Cherokee have had few DNA studies conducted on them. I know of only three reports on Cherokee mitochondrial DNA. A total of 60 subjects are involved, all from Oklahoma. Possibly the reason the Cherokee are not recruited for more studies, I would suggest, stems from their being perceived as admixed in comparison with other Indians. Accordingly, they are deemed less worthy of study.

In the past, whenever a geneticist or anthropologist conducting a study of Native Americans has encountered an anomalous haplogroup, that is, a lineage that does not belong to one of the five generally accepted American Indian mitochondrial DNA haplogroups A, B, C, D and X, it has been rejected as an example of admixture and not included in the survey results. This is true of the two examples of H and one of J reported by Cherokee descendants by Schurr (2000:253). Schurr takes these exceptions to prove the rule and regards them as instances of European admixture. The governing logic of population geneticists seems to go as follows:

Lineage A, B, C, D and X are American Indian.
Therefore, all American Indians are lineage A, B, C, D and X.

The fallacy in such reasoning is apparent. It could be restated as: “All men are two-legged creatures; therefore since the skeleton we dug up has two legs, it is human.” It might be a kangaroo.

“The geneticists always seem to cry ‘post-Columbian admixture,'” says Stephen C. Jett, a geographer at the University of California at Davis, “but fail to take into account that there are no plausible post-Columbian sources for the particular genetic mix encountered.”

“Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee” concentrates on the “kangaroos”- documented or self-identifying Cherokee descendants whose haplotypes do not fit the current orthodoxy in American Indian population genetics. Here are some highlights, organized by haplogroup.

Haplogroup H. Although this quintessentially European haplogroup would seem to be the most likely suspect if admixture were responsible for the anomalous haplogroups, there are but four cases of it.

Haplogroup X. Haplogroup X is a latecomer to the “pantheon” of Native American haplogroups. Its relative absence in Mongolia and Siberia and a recently proven center of diffusion in Lebanon and Israel (Brown et al. 1998, Malhi and Smith 2002; Smith et al. 1999; Reidla 2003; Shlush et al. 2009) pose problems for the standard account of the peopling of the Americas. DNA Consultants Cherokee-descended customers include seven instances of haplogroup X. David E. Lewis (whose Cherokee name is Wayauwetsi) traces his unmatched X haplotype back to Seyinus, a Cherokee woman of the Wolf Clan born on or near the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina in 1862. Two cases represent descendants (unknown to each other, incidentally) of the Cherokee woman called Polly who was the namesake for the Qualla reservation (the sound p lacking in the Cherokee language and being rendered with qu).

Haplogroup J. Two other cases, both J’s, are related to Polly, tracing their lines back to Betsy Walker, a Cherokee woman born about 1720 in Soco (One-Town). A descendant was the wife or paramour of Col. Will Thomas, the first chief and founder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located today on the Qualla Boundary. Views about J are still evolving, but it seems to have originated in present-day Lebanon approximately 10,000 years before present. It is a major Jewish female lineage (Thomas 2002).

Haplogroup U has never been reported in American Indians to my knowledge. In our sample it covers 13 cases or 25% of the total, second in frequency only to haplogroup T. One of the U’s is Mary M. Garrabrant-Brower. She belongs to U5a1a* (all U5a1a not matched or assigned) but has no close matches anywhere. Her great-grandmother was Clarissa Green of the Cherokee Wolf Clan, born 1846. Mary’s mother Mary M. Lounsbury maintained the Cherokee language and rituals. One of the cases of U2e* is my own. This line evidently arose from a Jewish Indian trader and a Cherokee woman. My fifth-great-grandmother was born about 1790 on the northern Georgia and southwestern North Carolina frontier and had a relationship with a trader named Enoch Jordan. The trader’s male line descendants from his white family in North Carolina possess Y chromosomal J, a common Jewish type. Some Jordans, in fact, bear the Cohen Modal Haplotype that has been suggested to be the genetic signature of Old Testament priests (Thomas et al. 1998). Enoch Jordan was born about 1768 in Scotland of forbears from Russia or the Ukraine. My mother, Bessie Cooper, was a double descendant of Cherokee chief Black Fox and was born on Sand Mountain in northeastern Alabama near Black Fox’s former seat at Creek Path (and who was Paint Clan). All U2e* cases appear to have in common the fact that there are underlying Melungeon, Cherokee and Jewish connections.

Haplogroup T. “Tara,” as she was named by Brian Sykes, is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and to have moved northwards through the Caucasus and westwards from Anatolia into Europe. The closer one goes to its origin in the Fertile Crescent the more likely T is to be found in higher frequencies. The haplogroup includes slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans, but accounts for 28% of people in the DNA Consultants study. The great-great-grandmother of Linda Burckhalter was Sully Firebush, the daughter of a Cherokee chief who married Solomon Sutton, the stowaway son of a London merchant, in what would seem to be another variation of the “Jewish trader marries chief’s daughter” pattern. Three T1*’s are perfectly matching individuals completely unknown to one another before testing who are clearly descended from the same woman. Two of them claim Melungeon ancestry.

The many interrelationships noted above reinforce the conclusion that this is a faithful cross-section of a population. No such mix could have resulted from post-1492 European gene flow into the Cherokee Nation. So where do our non-European, non-Indian-appearing elements come from? The level of haplogroup T in the Cherokee (26.9%) approximates the percentage for Egypt (25%), one of the only lands where T attains a major position among the various mitochondrial lineages. In Egypt, T is three times what it is in Europe. Haplogroup U in our sample is about the same as the Middle East in general. Its frequency is similar to that of Turkey and Greece. J has a frequency not unlike Europe (a little less than 10%). The only other place on earth where X is found at an elevated level apart from other American Indian groups like the Ojibwe is among the Druze in the Hills of Galilee in northern Israel and Lebanon. The work of Shlush et al. (2009) demonstrates that this region was in fact the center of the worldwide diffusion of haplogroup X.

Phoenicians. On the Y chromosome side of Shlush et al.’s study, male haplogroup K was found to have a relatively high frequency of 11% in the Galilee region (2008:2). K (renamed T in the revised YCC nomenclature) has long been suspected to be the genetic signature of the Phoenicians. A TV show by National Geographic appeared about a year ago titled Who Were the Phoenicians?, in which Spencer Wells of the National Genographic Project, unveiled this theory. Without a doubt it was the Phoenicians, whose name among themselves was Cana’ni or KHNAI ‘Canaanites’, not Phoenikoi ‘red paint people’ (Aubet 2001:9-12; cf. Oxford Classical Dictionary s.v. “Phoenicians” ), who are referenced by James Adair when he observes that “several old American towns are called Kan?ai,” and suggests that the Conoy Indians of Pennsylvania and Maryland were Canaanites and their tribal name a corruption of the word Canaan. The Conoy Indians are the same Indians William Penn around 1700 described as resembling Italians, Jews and Greeks. By about 1735 they had dwindled to a “remnant of a nation, or subdivided tribe, of Indians,” according to Adair (1930:56, 67, 68). One of the oldest Cherokee clans is called Red Paint Clan (Ani-wodi).

So do the two subclades of X and other haplogroups represent Old World and New World branches diverging from each other as long ago as 30,000 years, or do the Native American “anomalous” haplotypes come more recently (but not as late as Columbus) from the same source in the East Mediterranean? The answer probably depends on how open one is to new evidence and revisionary thinking. According to Jett, “The splits may have taken place well before transfer, with one only or both being transferred to a new place and then one dying out in the home area (and the other in the new area, if both were transferred).” The distinction, at any rate, is irrelevant to the Cherokee who exhibit these not-so-rare haplogroups, although to those denied authenticity on the basis of anthropologists’ hardened ideas about the genetic composition of American Indians it is welcome vindication either way.

1. Adair, James (1930). Adair’s History of the American Indians, ed. by Samuel Cole Williams, originally published London, 1775. Johnson City: Watauga.
2. Richards, Martin et al. (2000). “Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool.” American Journal of Human Genetics 67:1251-76.
3. Schurr, Theodore G. (2000). “Mitochondrial DNA and the Peopling of the New World,”American Scientist 88:246-53.
4. Shlush, L. I. et al. (2009) “The Druze: A Population Genetic Refugium of the Near East.” PLoS ONE 3(5): e2105. URL:

When Objects Become Subjects
(and Talk Back to Researchers)

Paul Brodwin, “‘Bioethics in Action’ and Human Population Genetics Research”

Population genetics experts who lecture in the groves of academe or trudge through the jungles of the Amazon are not immune to racist bombshells and political dynamite. In 1991, Stanford geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza announced a project to study human genetic diversity. The ponderous monograph that issued forth in 1994 became as revered as it was unreadable. His History and Geography of Human Genes posited two main limbs in the human DNA tree, the African and non-African, with the latter branching off into Europeans (Caucasians) and Northeast Asians. Included in Northeast Asians were the so-called Amerindians. Amerinds were closest in genetic distance to Northern Turkic, Chukchi and other Arctic and Mongolian peoples.

Little did Cavalli-Sforza and his team expect to encounter any opposition to their benign project, much less withdrawal of funding by the U.S. government and United Nations, but this is exactly what happened. The genial professor was surprised one day by a letter from a Canadian human rights group called the Rural Advancement Foundation International. The group demanded he stop his work immediately. It accused the Human Genome Diversity Project of biopiracy, stealing DNA from unsuspecting indigenous people and mining it for valuable information pharmaceutical companies could use to make drugs Third World people could not afford.

Paul Brodwin’s article published in 2005 in the journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry(29:145-78) reviewed this controversy, which had some positive repercussions in forcing researchers to rethink colonialist attitudes toward their subjects. But in the second case of “bioethics in action,” Brodwin painted a much more ambiguous picture. It concerned the use of genetics by the ethnic group called Melungeons of Tennessee and Virginia to prove identity claims and press their ideas of special entitlements.

In the section of the article titled “The Reinvention of Melungeon Ethnicity,” Brodwin chronicles the conflict between scientific genetics and the Melungeons’ demand for collective recognition. Complicating this issue is that the academics were by no means certain among themselves about who or what Melungeons were from an anthropological perspective. A rancorous standoff between Virginia DeMarce and N. Brent Kennedy was matched by the tendentious nature of the Melungeons’ own theories and assertions about themselves. Was there even such a thing as Melungeons or were they simply genealogical ghosts and lurid creations of popular journalism? Did they truly have some black and American Indian ancestry? Was the title only to apply to people in and around Newmans Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee, or be extended to a wide range of persons of mixed ancestry like the Carolina Turks and Lumbee Indians? If the Melungeons went back before the arrival of Europeans, could they seek legal recognition as an indigenous American Indian tribe?

Questions abounded and it seemed all of them were murky, emotionally charged and political. Unlike the Human Genome Diversity battle, neither party seemed to gain any advantages in the free-for-all. There were apparently no lessons to be learned on either side. At the end of the day, everyone just gave up and went home, exhausted.

Brodwin obviously sympathizes with the forces of the Academy in all this. He throws his lot in with the geneticist Kevin Jones, who found “he did not control the goals of research or the interpretation of findings.” The Melungeon fracas illustrated “the political and conceptual vulnerabilities of human population genetics.” In my opinion, however, Brodwin missed the point. Whom do university professors and academic researchers serve, if not the public? They should rejoice that so many of the great unwashed (even in the hills and hollers of Tennessee) are engaged by and even interested in their research. And if they cannot achieve a satisfactory dialogue with their lay critics, whose fault is that? The debate should continue, not be swept under the rug of philosophical reflection. Whatever else they might be, Melungeons are people. As such, they should not be dismissed when they become intractable.

Introducing the DNA Fingerprint Plus

Since the disappearance of DNAPrint and AncestryByDNA from the market in February the demand for an autosomal test that would tell you whether you had Native American or other admixture and estimate what mix you had, has been unmet. While it is doubtful, for many reasons, there will ever be a test that can assign percentages to ethnicities, DNA Consultants has developed a panel of 18 markers potentially evident in a person’s CODIS profile that have high probabilities for signaling different ethnic contributions. The Ethnic Panel has been added to the company’s DNA Fingerprint Test in the DNA Fingerprint Plus.

As with all genetic markers, the fact that you do not have a marker does not mean that you lack that type of heredity, but its presence is a strong indicator of likelihood that you do possess certain genes. Because we receive one allele or unit of variation from one parent and one from another, and each parent possesses two themselves, one person can fail to inherit, say, a Native American marker but a sibling can have it.

DNA Consultants’ chief investigator Dr. Donald Yates made the discoveries in July that laid the foundation for the new product, which was rolled out in early September. Like the CODIS test it is based on, the DNA Fingerprint Plus reflects your total ancestry, not just a male or female line. The 18 Marker Ethnic Panel costs $50.00 and there is no need to repeat any testing. It uses the results of your DNA Fingerprint Test.

The markers include checks for Native American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Northern European, Mediterranean, Sub-Saharan African, Asian and other types of probable contributions to your overall genetic legacy. They do not tell you how much of a given ancestry you may have or what line in your genealogy it might come from.

The way the Panel works is this: Depending on your ethnic mix, your score on a certain allele may fall near one end or the other on a probability scale. All these polarizations in the data correspond to major forks in the road of prehistoric human migrations. They support the conclusions of Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer and others that early humans left Africa in one or two migrations that gave birth to all the ethnic types in the rest of the world, from Australian Aborigines to Europeans. Native Americans and Europeans are closer, genetically speaking, than Native Americans are to Asians. One of the markers apparently reflects a divide between Asian ancestry on the one hand and European/Native American on the other. It is useful in distinguishing between Asian and Native American, two ethnicities that have a high degree of shared deep ancestry and are often otherwise mistaken for each other. Some ethnic markers can be shown by certain control measures to be a “false positive” and not indicative of that ancestry at all. They are also listed in the DNA Fingerprint Plus report.

Question or comment? Email me.

 Prehistoric Boy May Be Native American Missing Link

By Charles Q. Choi    Live Science Contributor   February 12, 2014

The genome sequence of a male infant who lived 12,600 years ago from a Clovis burial site in Wilsall, Mont., suggests many contemporary Native Americans are direct descendants of the people who made and used Clovis tools.
Credit: Mike Waters

A prehistoric boy's DNA now suggests that ancient toolmakers long thought of as the first Americans may serve as a kind of "missing link" between Native Americans and the rest of the world, researchers say.

The findings reveal these prehistoric toolmakers are the direct ancestors of many contemporary Native Americans, and are closely related to all Native Americans.

Scientists investigated a prehistoric culture known as the Clovis, named after sites discovered near Clovis, N.M. Centuries of cold, nicknamed the "Big Freeze," helped wipe out the Clovis, as well as most of the large mammals in North America. The artifacts of the Clovis are found south of the giant ice sheets that once covered Canada, in most of North America, though not in South America.

The stone tools of the Clovis, such as distinctive fluted or grooved spear points, date to about 12,600 to 13,000 years ago, making them the oldest widespread set of artifacts in North America. For most of the past 50 years, archaeologists thought the Clovis were the first Americans, but investigators recently uncovered evidence that humans were in the New World before Clovis, at least more than 14,000 years ago.
A nearly complete projectile point of dendritic chert, a mid-interval biface of translucent quartz, displaying relatively heavy red ochre residue and an "end-beveled" osseous rod, also exhibiting red ochre residue. These artifacts are technologically consistent with artifacts of the Clovis complex.
A nearly complete projectile point of dendritic chert, a mid-interval biface of translucent quartz, displaying relatively heavy red ochre residue and an "end-beveled" osseous rod, also exhibiting red ochre residue. These artifacts are technologically consistent with artifacts of the Clovis complex.
Credit: Sarah L. Anzick

Researchers focused on bones unearthed by construction next to a rock cliff on the land of the Anzick family in central Montana. [See Images of Clovis Culture Artifacts]

"I was just a small child in 1968 when the only Clovis burial site was identified accidentally on my parents' property in Wilsall, Montana,"study co-author Sarah Anzick at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont., told Live Science.

Anzick boy

The so-called Anzick skeleton was found with about 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from antlers, and covered in red ochre, a type of mineral.

"This is the oldest burial in North America, and the only known Clovis burial,"study co-author Michael Waters at Texas A&M University in College Station told Live Science.

"Genetic studies tell us these were the remains of a boy," Waters said. "Physical anthropological studies tell us he was 1 to 1.5 years old, and radiocarbon dating tells us this burial took place about 12,600 years ago, at the end of the Clovis era." It remains uncertain how this child died.

The scientists analyzed DNA from the bones. They managed to recover the first complete genome sequence of an ancient North American, despite how badly preserved the DNA in the remains were. [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]

"We found the genome of this boy is closely related to all Native Americans of today than to any other peoples around the world," study co-author Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark told Live Science. "We can also see from the genome study that this Anzick population is the direct ancestor to many Native Americans to date. As such, our study is in agreement with the view that present-day Native Americans are direct descendants of the first peoples in the Americas."

Shane Doyle, study co-author at Montana State University, said, "I feel like this discovery confirms what tribes never really doubted — that we've been here since time immemorial and that all of the artifacts in the ground are remnants of our direct ancestors."

It was surprising that the Anzick lineage "is directly ancestral to so many peoples in the Americas," Willerslev said. "We don't have genetic information by any means from all tribes, but a very, very broad estimate suggests 80 percent derives from the Anzick group, which is an amazing result — almost like a missing link, if you want."

The first Clovis

The origin of the Clovis was uncertain. Although it was generally believed the Clovis ultimately derived from Asia, others suggested the ancestors of the Clovis actually may have come from southwestern Europe between 21,000 and 17,000 years ago, the so-called "Solutrean hypothesis."

This new research "has settled the long-standing debate about the origins of the Clovis," Willerslev said. "We can say the Solutrean theory suggesting Clovis originated from people in Europe doesn't fit our results."

These genetic findings "seem to fit quite nicely with an early occupation of the Americas about 2,000 years before the onset of Clovis," Waters said. "If you look at credible evidence for the peopling of the Americas, most date from a period 15,000 to 14,500 years ago," although "there are claims of occupation 20,000 to 30,000 years ago."

The scientists also discovered evidence of a deep genetic divergence that occurred between northern Native American groups and those from Central and South America that happened before the Clovis era. Specifically, although most South Americans and Mexicans are part of the Anzick lineage and therefore Clovis, northern Canadian groups belong to another lineage.

Intriguingly, while the Anzick skeleton dates back 12,600 years to the twilight of the Clovis era, the antler tools date back about 13,000 years to the dawn of the Clovis era. In addition, "genetic work shows the antler tools were made of elk, a rare animal in the plains at that time," Waters said. The difference in age between the skeleton and the antler tools, as well as the fact that the antlers were from a rare animal, suggest the antler tools were "very special ritual objects passed down for generations."

The remains will be reburied.

"We're excited and honored to work with the tribes and plan a reburial ceremony to lay this child to rest with the respect such an important part of human history deserves," Anzick said. The ceremony is planned for late spring or early summer of this year.

"The genetic information provided by the Anzick boy is part of the larger story of modern humans," Waters said. "We know that modern humans originated in Africa and 50,000 years ago spread rapidly over Europe and Asia. The last continents to be explored and settled by modern humans were the Americas. In essence, the Anzick boy tells us about the epic journey of our species."

The scientists detailed their findings in the Feb. 13 issue of the journal Nature.


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