Back in March of last year the journal “Nature” reported that after 30 years of research on ancient DNA the results are beginning to upend our view of the past. Once AGAIN we discover that what we thought was, was NOT, and what we thought was not, WAS! If you are surprised by that you shouldn’t be. As more and more DNA evidence comes forth we are finding that our view of the prehistoric human past and the prehistoric world, in general, has been WRONG! For instance, there is the case of the Quagga, an equine oddity that had the head of a zebra and the ass of a donkey, with the last specimen having died out in 1883. About 100 years after that 200 nucleotides were sequenced from a 140 year old muscle from this animal and those scraps of DNA became the first ever genetic secrets to be pulled from a long dead/extinct organism. Those results revealed that the Quagga was distinct from the mountain zebra. But there was something even more significant about this first ever extinct organism sequencing and that was that suddenly finding and examining fossil remains was no longer the only way to probe prehistoric life. The science of DNA sequencing suddenly took to the stage and what it began to show us was how wrong we were in many cases and how right we were in a few cases!
Since then ancient DNA genome sequencing has hit an all time high. Last year the two oldest genomes ever recorded were sequenced one being from a horse that had been buried in the Canadian permafrost for 700K years and an ancient human relative dated at 400K years old whose remains were found in a cave in Spain. The Neanderthal genome was successfully sequenced and it is every bit as complete and accurate as the sequencing of modern human genomes today. And so has the Siberian child that connects Native Americans to Northern Europeans!
Sequencing ancient (prehistoric) DNA is literally a “race against time” because after an organism dies its long strands of DNA break down into shorter strands and time along with DNA eating enzymes help that process along until the strands become so short that they contain little to no genetic information. Low temps slow the process of this breakdown and high temps speed it up. Is it, then, any wonder so few fossil remains have been found in the tropics?
In Northern Spain is a famous cave known as Sima de los Huesos (Pit of the Bones) and that is where the 400K remains of an ancient human ancestor were found. In DNA research conducted by the infamous Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany it was revealed an unexpected relationship between those remains and the Denisovans, a species of ancient human first discovered at Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains. The sequencing was based on mtDNA which only comes from our mothers. Efforts are underway to extract nuclear DNA from this specimen which will tell us more.
With all of the advances in DNA research and sequencing that FACT of the matter is that it is just a matter of time WHEN, not if, some researcher will successfully sequence DNA from some Arctic animal over 1 million years old. New extraction techniques are being developed and extracting DNA from the limited fossils found in the tropics is now in view of being a great possibility.
A few years ago it was discovered that using the genomes of modern people from Europe revealed a connection between Northern Europeans and Native Americans! Scientists speculated that there had once been a now extinct population in northern Eurasia that must have interbred with both the ancestors of Europeans and a group of hominins in Siberia and the offspring must have later migrated across Asia and into what is today the Americas. Since we don’t know exactly who this mystery group was that did the interbreeding we refer to it as a “ghost population” because even though we don’t have fossils or bones we know they existed via DNA in modern people, in this case, Northern Europeans and Native Americans.
Ghost populations have also been found during analysis of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. For example, modern sub-Saharan Africans are more closely related to Neanderthals than they are to Denisovans but evidence from other genomes suggests that some ancient shared population was equally related to present-day Africans.
Today its been estimated that modern non-African humans have between 20%–40% Neanderthal DNA in their own DNA.
Back in 2012 a study was conducted that revealed that Eurasians are closer to Neanderthals and Papuans (New Guinea) were closer to the Denisovans. That study also revealed that two Sino-Tibetan populations from China are the closest to Neanderthals in terms of DNA and this find shocked the world of paleontology as it was previously believed Neanderthals mostly had contact with Europeans. So as this study came to light we had to begin to see that Neanderthals had more extensive contact with East Asians and Native Americans than we thought! Other studies have also concluded that not only are Native Americans closer to Neanderthals than Europeans but they are also closer to Denisovans than Europeans. Additionally, other studies have revealed that Melanesians, East Asians, and South American Indians are closer to Denisovans while all Native Americans (North, Central, and South America) are closer to Neanderthals in general.
What all this means is that DNA evidence shows that some American Indians are more closely related to Melanesians/Papuas more than previously thought. North American Indians have more Neanderthal alleles and lower Denisovan alleles than South American Indians! This does NOT fit the “Archaic Admixture Theory” as supposedly there were no Neanderthals of Denisovans in the Americas at any time!
So how do we account for Denisovan DNA in South American Indians? This is an “inconvenient fact” as it doesn’t fit our beloved “Archaic Admixture Theory.” Certainly, there must be a way to simply pass this fact off isn’t there? Well of course there is! We could say the study got “false positive” results or we could pass it off as “genetic drift” or “ascertainment bias.” But, wait, there’s more!!
I may NOT be coincidence that these signs of archaic admixture, these “anomalous facts,” are the highest EXACTLY where linguistic diversity is ALSO THE HIGHEST! And just where is that? THE NEW WORLD and PAPUA NEW GUINEA!! In fact, it was Johanna Nichols in 1992 in her work “Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time” that classified the NEW WORLD and the Sahul as linguistic “residual zones” that somehow have preserved the grammatical structures suggestive of what the EARLIEST HUMAN LANGUAGE might have been like! Further, STRIKING SIMILARITIES exist between South American and Papua New Guinea myths, rituals, and music. Haploid Genetics (mtDNA and Y-DNA) have NOT matched the unmistakable cultural and linguistic similarities and those genetics just happen to be more stronger prone to genetic drift. They may have simply lost their ancient allele pattern that once connected the New World to New Guinea.
So what are we to make of all this? It appears that the Denisovans were more widespread than just Siberia previously presumed. We’ve now found Denisovan remains in the cave in Spain, oddly enough. Previously, it was thought that southeast Asians only had Denisovan DNA in them but now we find that Native Americans also have Denisovan DNA with Indians of South America having more Denisovan DNA than North American Indians. How do we explain that?
It’s my theory that SOME Native American tribes did come across the Bering Land Bridge at various times but NOT all. Some came via the Pacific Ocean in boats from New Guinea and maybe even other places in southeast Asia landing in the Americas and maybe interbreeding with the Natives already there thus creating a different Native American in the south than what we find in the north. But, then again, where are the boats? Hey, LOL, as if they are going to last that long to be found today, give me a break as if this event happened then it was thousands and thousands of years ago.
Finally, I must note that the Paleoindian remains that we find are DIFFERENT from the Native American remains of today. They do NOT look the same! Many Paleoindian remains are found without faces/skulls and those we do find do not look like the Native Americans of today. Case in point? KENNEWICK MAN, for one, whose features are close to Europeans than today’s Native Americans or Asians. In fact, he looks a bit like actor Patrick Stewart from Star Trek!
And then there is Anzick Boy found near Livingston, Montana in 1968 which is the only known burial from the infamous Clovis Culture. This child was between 1 year old and 18 months old when he died of unknown causes. He was buried 12,600 years ago. Artifacts found with the body appear to be Clovis artifacts. The Clovis Culture existed in North America about 13K—12.6K years ago. The DNA of this boy indicates his ancestors did in fact come from Asia. His DNA also shows his people, the Clovis People, were direct ancestors of many of today’s Native Americans in North America but not all. However, ironically, his DNA also shows that he was more closely related to Native Americans found in Central and South America than to those found in Canada! What’s the reason? Who knows?
Anzick Boy was discovered in Montana in 1968 next to a rock cliff but only in recent years has it been possible to obtain DNA from the skeletal remains for analysis and sequencing. The results were reported in the journal “Nature.” How do we explain all of this?
Simply, there were two paths of migration. One the Bering Land Bridge crossed by peoples of Asian ancestry and the other by sea by people from southeast Asia. And, frankly, I think there was even a THIRD mans of crossing in prehistoric time that involved crossing an ice sheet that once existed between Europe and the eastern coast of the United States over which the Solutreans crossed and mixed with Native American tribes already there!