Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have made some startling discoveries about the origins of Native Americans by using DNA analysis. Within this research, scientists examined mitochondrial DNA passed to females to trace an ancestral lineage that could connect East Asian Paleolithic populations to founding populations in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and California. They eventually discovered that humans migrated from northern China to Japan and America during the Ice Age. "The Asian origins of Native Americans are more complex than previously thought," explains lead author Yu-Chun Li, a molecular anthropologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "In addition to the previously described ancestors in Siberia, Australo-Melanesia, and Southeast Asia, we show that northern coast China also contributed to the Native American gene pool."
Studies have suggested that Native Americans are the descendants of the Siberians who crossed the makeshift land bridge over the Bering Strait. However, new data published in cell studied shows that these ancestors most likely landed on the Pacific coast. This was determined by analysing more than 100,000 modern and 15,000 ancient DNA samples from across Eurasia to eventually identify 216 modern and 39 ancient people belonging to this rare lineage. Based on genetic mutations, geographic location, and radiocarbon dating, it appears that these travellers must have here longer than expected. It appears they landed in America before the land bridge opened. In fact, they believe these fearless people came in two different waves. The first migration – or radiation took place between 19,500 and 26,000 years ago. Back then, the ice sheets in northern China made conditions inhospitable and forced people to seek a better climate.
The second radiation must have occurred between 11,500 and 19,000 years ago when the melting of these ice sheets led to a population boom. This fact, coupled with the better climate, may have encouraged people to explore new places.
Interestingly, the genetic study also showed a link between Native Americans and Japanese. Researchers suspect that during the deglaciation period, part of the population of northern China emigrated to Japan and the other part went to America. This theory is supported by archeology as these regions of China, Japan and America share similarities in arrowhead and spearhead making. "This suggests that the Pleistocene connection between the Americas, China, and Japan was not only about culture but also about genetics," says lead author Qing-Peng Kong, an evolutionary geneticist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
While the origins of several founding groups remain a mystery, these discoveries add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution. Researchers will continue to develop this knowledge as they continue to research other Eurasian lineages to better understand Native American origins.