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Study Of Ancient DNA Sheds Light On The Earliest Human Residents Of The Americas

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A photo from an excavation site in Brazil. Researchers found the same distinctive DNA type of North America's Clovis culture in excavation sites in Central and South America. This offered a strong evidence that the early humans migrated south thousands of years ago.  ( Harvard University )

In an analysis of ancient DNA, an international team of researchers discovers new information about the history of the people in Central and South America.

The study titled "Reconstructing the Deep Population History of Central and South America" looked at ancient DNA data from 49 individuals — some of which are as old as 11,000 years. This is the first analysis of high-quality ancient DNA from South and Central America.

The findings were published in the journal Cell. The team included researchers from the Harvard Medical School, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Pennsylvania State University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Sao Paulo, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Ancient History Of People Of Central And South America

Scientists have long suspected that the Clovis culture of North America migrated farther down south thousands of years ago. Previous researches found spear points, known as Fishtail, in Central America that looked similar to the ones associated with the Clovis culture called Clovis Point.

Now, the international team of researchers found new evidence of this migration. A distinctive DNA type associated with the Clovis culture was also present in the remains that were dug up in excavation sites in Chile, Brazil, and Belize. They dated the ancient remains at about 11,000 years old.

"This supports the hypothesis that the expansion of people who spread the Clovis culture in North America also reached Central and South America," stated Cosimo Posth, co-lead author of the study.

Major Population Replacement In The Americas

However, something major happened around 9,000 years ago. The DNA type that was associated with the Clovis culture disappeared. A number of other individuals who lived in Belize to Patagonia between 9,000 and 3,000 years ago have a different genetic lineage.

There is, however, a genetic continuity between the people who lived in South America 9,000 years ago and in the present day, according to Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The identity of the group that replaced the Clovis culture in the Americas between 3,000 and 9,000 years ago remains a mystery, something the researchers hope to further explore in the future.

California-Peruvian Link

The research also revealed that ancient Californians from the Channel Island share the same ancestry as the groups that lived in the southern Peruvian Andes about 4,200 years ago. The researchers believe that this happened not because the people from the Channel Islands migrated from South America but people expanded, with some ending up in the north and others to the south.

To create a complete history of the movement of the people into Central and South America, the researchers said that they need to obtain DNA data older than 11,000 years. David Reich, the co-senior author of the study, added that the study also lacks ancient DNA data from Amazonia, northern South America, and the Caribbean.

"Filling in these gaps should be a priority for future work," he stated.

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