The population history of Native Americans: Insight from ancient DNA analyses
Ripan Malhi, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
With the maturity of the ancient DNA field, an appreciation for the prevalence of exogenous contamination and biochemical processes that can prohibit accurate ancient DNA research has emerged. Accordingly, new techniques and methodologies have been developed to confirm the authenticity of results from ancient DNA. On this new solid foundation, ancient DNA research has regained significant attention in many fields because such research is able to address questions of evolutionary history and illuminate the behaviors of past populations and individuals in a unique and powerful manner. In addition, new avenues for source material of ancient human DNA hold potential to relax conflicts over prehistoric remains that are often considered sacred among indigenous groups.
This presentation illustrates how ancient DNA research has been used to test longstanding assumptions about the population history and behaviors of the ancestors of Native Americans. Specifically, we highlight recent results obtained from a prehistoric skeleton from On Your Knees Cave, Alaska dating to approximately 10,300 years before present and from fecal samples from Hinds Cave, Texas dating to approximately 2,000 years before present.
With new genomic sequencing techniques well suited to the specific attributes of ancient DNA, the development of large comparative population databases, and new genomic statistical tools, ancient DNA researchers are answering previously intractable questions about past species, populations, and individuals.
Further Recommended Reading:
Kaestle and Horsburgh (2002) Ancient DNA in Anthropology: Methods, Applications, and Ethics. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 45: 92-130.
Paabo et al. (2004) Genetic Analyses from Ancient DNA. Annual Review of Genetics 38: 645-679.