The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest have always claimed to have deep roots in the region. Now, an ancient mariner may be able to back that claim up. Scientists sequencing the DNA of 10,300-year-old human remains from On Your Knees Cave in Alaska have found that he was closely related to three ancient skeletons found along the coast of British Columbia in Canada. These three ancient people were in turn closely related to the Tsimshian, Tlingit, Nisga’a, and Haida tribes living in the region today. The new finding reveals a direct line of descent to these tribes, and it shows—for the first time from ancient DNA—that at least two different groups of people were living in North America more than 10,000 years ago.
Researchers gathered DNA from the 10,300-year-old skeleton known as Shuká Káa (“Man Ahead of Us”), initially focusing on maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). They didn’t find a match between its mtDNA and members of the tribe, but they discovered his seafaring ways because isotopes from his teeth showed he ate a marine diet.
Although Shuká Káa’s DNA was too damaged to sequence his entire genome, a team led by molecular anthropologist Ripan Malhi from the University of Illinois in Champaign was able to sequence markers that represented about 6% of his genome.
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