Scientists studying human DNA are gaining new insights into the long history of human migration. NPR’s Christopher Joyce explains that the discover of two fossils in Alaska provide a window into the earliest migrations into North America:
David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard University who studies ancient DNA, says genetic material like this tells a more detailed story of how people came to America, but not the whole story. “There were presumably many related populations like this,” he says, “one of which split to form these two lineages that have diversified into Native Americans today.”
That group, the one that moved south, eventually spread far and wide: up into Canada, the East and throughout Central and South America. Their descendants are the Native Americans of today.
Two Native American groups cooperated with the researchers in the excavation in Alaska.
For the Beringians who stayed behind, Potter says, it would have been a rough living as the last ice age drew to a close. “They’re dealing with climate change that we can only imagine now — major changes from [the] ice age, to extinction of a wide range of mammal species, including mammoth,” he says. “And these are the people that adapted in this region.”