The complete genome has recently been sequenced from 4 year old Russian boy who died 24,000 years ago near Lake Baikal in a location called Mal’ta, the area in Asia believed to be the origin of the Native Americans based on Y DNA and mitochondrial chromosome similarities. The map below, from Science News, shows the location.
This represents the oldest complete genome ever sequenced, except for the Neanderthal (38,000 years old) and Denisovan (41,000 years old).
This child’s genome shows that he is related closely to Native Americans, and, surprisingly, to western Asians/eastern Europeans, but not to eastern Asians, to whom Native Americans are closely related. This implies that this child was a member of part of a “tribe” that had not yet merged or intermarried with the Eastern Asians (Japan, China, etc.) that then became the original Native Americans who migrated across the Beringian land bridge between about 15,000 and 20,000 years ago.
One of the most surprising results is that about 30% of this child’s genome is Eurasian, meaning from Europe and western Asia, including his Y haplogroup which was R and his mitochondrial haplogroup which was U, both today considered European.
This does not imply that R and U are Native American haplogroups or that they are found among Native American tribes before European admixture in the past several hundred years. There is still absolutely no evidence in the Americas, in burials, for any haplogroups other than subgroups of Q and C for males and A, B, C, D, X and M (1 instance) for females. However, that doesn’t mean that additional evidence won’t be found in the future.
While this is certainly new information, it’s not unprecedented. Last year, in the journal Genetics, an article titled “Ancient Admixture in Human History” reported something similar, albeit gene flow in a different direction. This paper indicated gene flow from the Lake Baikal area to Europe. It certainly could have been bidirectional, and this new paper certainly suggests that it was.
So in essence, maybe there is a little bit of Native American in Europeans and a little bit of European in Native Americans that occurred in their deep ancestry, not in the past 500-1000 years.
What’s next? Work continues. The team is now attempting to sequence genomes from other skeletons from west of Mal’ta, East Asia and from the Americas as well.
You can read the article in Science Magazine. An academic article presenting their findings in detail will be published shortly in Nature.
A Podcast with Michael Balter can be heard here discussing the recent discovery.