Who first settled America? DNA gives the answer

Recent discoveries have again raised the question of which people first set foot on the American continents. Comparing DNA samples of ancient and modern inhabitants of different parts of the world, scientists have proved that America was “discovered” by the inhabitants of the Baikal coast. The Vikings and Polynesians came after them.

On thin ice

It is generally accepted that people migrated from Siberia to North America during the last glaciation. Related artifacts are found even in the very South of the continent. The Clovis culture originated there 13.5 thousand years ago. Its representatives are the ancestors of the entire indigenous population of the Americas. However, until recently, researchers did not know how many migrations there were and whether anyone else lived on this land before the arrival of East Asians.

A team of scientists led by Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark demonstrated from DNA that there was only one wave of migration from Siberia. People were in Beringia (now the Bering Strait) no earlier than 23 thousand years ago and spent almost eight millennia in isolation there. Then they went to explore North America.

The Danes refuted the hypothesis of relict tribes of Paleoamericans, who were believed to be related to the population of Oceania. They have common DNA sites, but this is due to gene drift as a result of contacts between neighboring peoples.

From what part of Siberia are those who began the settlement of America-this question was answered by a group of researchers led by Johannes Krause (Max Planck Institute for the study of human history, Germany). They determined that DNA from a tooth found at the Ust-Kyakhta site South of lake Baikal belonged to the closest “cousin” of native Americans who lived 14,000 years ago.


In 1947, Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl and his friends made the famous voyage on the raft of Peruvian Indians “Kon-Tiki” across the Pacific Ocean. The hundred-day journey on the waves ended in the Tuamotu Islands. The brave traveler wanted to prove that the Polynesians are descendants of Native Americans.

This is not the case. The ancient homeland of the Polynesians is the Islands of Southeast Asia. With the inhabitants of South America, they contacted later, but in the pre-Columbian era, which is a lot of indirect evidence. For example, the stone idols of Easter Island or the American sweet potato Kumara discovered during archaeological excavations on the Islands of Eastern Polynesia. This theory was supported by geneticists led by Alexander Ioannidis from Stanford University. They found that the genomes of modern inhabitants of 17 Islands and representatives of 15 indigenous South American tribes have common areas. The question is when and where the meeting took place.

An ocean separates South America and Eastern Polynesia. The Polynesians are excellent navigators, and for the past three thousand years, they have inhabited island after island on catamarans. It is possible that in the XI century, they managed to reach the shores of the South American continent. The islanders imported elements of local culture and technology and brought “wives” or offspring from mixed marriages.

On the contrary, there is no evidence that Native Americans made long trips on rafts. Nevertheless, Ioannidis and colleagues assume that the Polynesians sailed to one of the Marquesas Islands and found their settlers from South America, more precisely, modern Colombia (their DNA is closest). Genetic studies will show which hypothesis is correct.

Scouting in America

Around the same time, in the year 1000, according to legend, a Viking boat headed west from Greenland under the leadership of Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red. They landed on the Labrador Peninsula and now Canadian Newfoundland. A few years later, following his footsteps, the ships of Thorfinn Karlsefni arrived on the shores of Vinland, as the Normans called the island.

Among the indigenous tribes, even in the time of Columbus, there were legends about the Kingdom of the white people. Still, archaeologists found confirmation only in the 1960s in the town of L’anse-AUX-meadows. The dugouts, smithy, and artifacts left no doubt that this was the work of the Vikings.

Archaeologists have found no evidence of animal husbandry — the economic basis of the Normans in Greenland and Iceland. Perhaps it was a transit point for the development of distant regions of the North American continent, or the Vikings stayed there for a short time. According to the chronicle, they left Newfoundland because of a conflict with local tribes.

Or maybe it was different. Recently, scientists from Canada and the UK studied peat near an archaeological site and were surprised to see the cultural layer of the Viking age. Researchers have cautiously suggested that visitors from Greenland have been here periodically for a century. If this is the case, it is worth waiting for discoveries of geneticists.

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Author: Julia Harris
Graduated from Stanford University. Previously, he worked in various free news media. Currently, it is a columnist of the economy section in the Free News editors.
Function: Reporter
Julia Harris

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