DNA from a prehistoric Siberian boy could reveal exactly where Native Americans - the people who occupied the American continents before Europeans crossed the Atlantic - actually came from.
Everybody's pretty clear that the Native Americans arrived across the ancient land bridge from Asia, the location of the present-day Bering Strait. But where the generations before that had lived on their way from the birthplace of humanity in Africa is far from certain, and is a hotly debated topic among scientists.
DNA samples taken from modern day Native Americans include genetic signatures known to originate from Western Eurasia - broadly speaking, European ancestry. But many scientists say that these must have been added to the mixture since Columbus arrived. They would say that the original Native Americans, moving through Siberia on their way to America, were not at all closely related to the groups who would one day become Europeans and then - many of them in the last few centuries - Conquistadores and colonists and huddled masses and so on, and thus the various flavours of European-American.
But now some new information has appeared. DNA analysis has sequenced the genome of a Siberian lad who died some 24,000 years ago when the land bridge was still there and the migration into what would become Alaska was in full flow. A full test has also been carried out on another Siberian of 17,000 years back. In both cases, it appears that the Siberians of the time had a much heftier dose of genetic signatures similar to proto-Europeans, and that in all likelihood they took those with them to America.
The investigating scientists write in hefty boffinry mag Nature:
Our findings reveal that western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Native Americans derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans.
So it appears that the Native Americans were in part merely an earlier wave of European colonisation, later to find most of their conquests taken away by Johnny-come-latelies from across the water. ®