Monday, October 26, 2015

DNA Gives Clues to the Settling of the Americas

Hola darlings!

I'm still with you.  No time at present to blog due to pressing familial issues, but I wanted you to check out this article from The New York Times:

DNA of Ancient Children Offers Clues on How People Settled the Americas

Carl Zimmer
October 26, 2015

Researchers have long wondered how people settled the Americas, particularly the path they took to the new territory and the timing of their expansion. Until recently, archaeologists studying these questions were limited mostly to digging up skeletons and artifacts.

But now scientists have begun extracting DNA from human bones, and the findings are providing new glimpses at the history of the first Americans.  On Monday, researchers at the University of Alaska and elsewhere published an important addition to the growing genetic archive.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported that they had recovered DNA from two skeletons of children who lived in Alaska 11,500 years ago. The genetic material is not only among the oldest ever found in the Americas, but also the first ancient DNA discovered in Beringia, the region around the Bering Strait where many researchers believe Asians first settled before spreading through North and South America.

The archaeological site, near Upward Sun River, was discovered in 2010. Excavations there have revealed that between 13,200 and 8,000 years ago, people visited during the summer, catching salmon and hares. They built tentlike structures where they made fires and slept.

In 2011, archaeologists discovered cremated bones on a hearth at the site. Research revealed that the bones belonged to a 3-year-old child. Below the hearth, the team discovered a burial pit containing the skeletons of two other children.

One of the buried children was an infant who died a few months after birth; the other was likely a late-term fetus. After the baby and the fetus died, their bodies were carefully laid atop a bed of red ocher, surrounded by antlers fashioned into hunting darts.  “These things we hardly ever find — it’s a very rare window into the worldview of these people,” said Ben A. Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who has led the research at Upward Sun River.

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