Scientists Studying 11,500-Year-Old DNA From Alaska Discover Completely New Native American Population

Three LionsGetty Images

11,500-year-old DNA has been extracted from a girl that lived to just six weeks of age and her ancient DNA has revealed a brand new society of Native Americans living in Alaska that scientists had never known existed up until now.

The child’s given name is Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay, which translates to “sunrise girl-child.” University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropologist Ben Potter has described this momentous event as being one that took even scientists by surprise.

“We didn’t know this population existed. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas.”

Along with Gaay, another infant known as “dawn twilight girl-child” was also discovered among the ruins of a site in Alaska known as Upward Sun River. While the discovery of these two children was in 2013, a new study has just been published which outlines the history of the Native American people known as Ancient Beringians.

This is groundbreaking DNA work as previously there were only known to be two distinct groups of early Native Americans. However, scientists studying the DNA of these two 11,500-year-old infants found that they belonged to neither the Northern nor the Southern branch of Native Americans and must have belonged to an unknown society of people, according to Science Alert.

Scientists used demographic modeling while studying the DNA to determine that about 35,000 years ago there had been a major split between a group of Native Americans and East Asians and then around 20,000 years ago Ancient Beringians are believed to have separated from the first Native Americans of the country, as Frontline Genomics report.

Temple University geneticist Joshua Schraiber explained that this DNA work has given scientists a vast wealth of information to study about the previously unknown group of people known as Ancient Beringians.

“If you could ask for ancient DNA for Christmas, this is what you would ask for. It gives you a much better window into population structure back then.”

Interestingly, the six-week-old infant was found to share half of her DNA with that of the north Eurasian society of people who currently reside in Siberia. The other half of her DNA pointed to North and Southern Native Americans.

Featured image credit: Mark ThiessenAP Images

The researched conducted on the infant children’s DNA showed scientists that there were groups of people living in Alaska over 20,000 years ago, and crucially proved that one main group of people migrating were responsible for the current Native American population, as University of Cambridge geneticist Eske Willerslev revealed.

“We were able to show that people probably entered Alaska before 20,000 years ago. It’s the first time that we have had direct genomic evidence that all Native Americans can be traced back to one source population, via a single, founding migration event.”

The new study detailing the DNA analysis of the 11,500-year-old infant from Alaska which led scientists to discover the new group of Native Americans known as Ancient Beringians can be read in the journal Nature.