Ancient baby DNA recovered from a skeleton buried in Montana 126 centuries ago shows that the people who today call themselves Native Americans are in fact exactly that — descendants of the earliest human beings known to inhabit the North American continent.
The remains of a boy between one year and 18 months old were uncovered next to a rocky overhang in Montana (pictured) 46 years ago. But only with modern DNA mapping techniques have scientists been able to figure out where the ancient boy came from and who the baby’s present day relatives might be.
Even though the DNA from the bones recovered from the Ansick family property has degraded significantly over the past 12,600 years when the toddler died of a cause scientists have not been able to determine, using the latest methods and technology, researchers were painstakingly able to unravel the ancient baby’s entire DNA code.
According to findings published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, what the scientists found is astonishing. Approximately 80 percent of today’s Native American population — in both North and South America — is descended from the same family that likely buried their infant son almost 13 millennia ago.
The ancient baby DNA belongs a population believed by scientists to have crossed into North America through the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska possibly as long as 25,000 years ago, when the last ice age created a walkable bridge between Eastern Asia and the upper reaches of North America.
There is a controversy within archaeology over whether the continent’s earliest inhabitants were the people who migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait, or if they were actually the Solutreans, a European people who are thought to have arrived from what is now southwestern Europe in kayaks made of animal skins.
The “Solutrean hypothesis” was long disputed by Native American tribes who feared that it invalidated their long-held beliefs about their origins. But the new DNA findings from the ancient baby skeleton would appear to confirm their origin stories.
“This discovery basically confirms what the tribes have never doubted. We’ve been here since time immemorial, and the objects in the ground are from our ancestors,” said Shane Doyle, who is both one of the Nature study’s authors and a member of the Crow tribe.
But some researchers still believe that this ancient baby’s DNA does not mean that the original Americans did not come from Europe.
“They haven’t produced evidence to refute the Solutrean hypothesis,” said Oxford University geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer of the ancient baby DNA findings. “In fact, there is genetic evidence that only the Solutrean hypothesis explains.”