Genetics research has transformed our understanding of human history, particularly in the Americas. The focus of the majority of high profile ancient DNA papers in recent years has been on addressing early events in the initial peopling of the Americas. This research has provided details of this early history that we couldn’t access though the archeological record.
Collectively, genetics studies have shown us that the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas are descended from a group that diverged from its Siberian ancestors beginning sometime around 23,000 years before present and remained isolated in Beringia (the region of land that once connected Siberia and North America) for an extended period of time. When the glaciers covering North America melted enough to make the Pacific coast navigable, southward travel became possible, and patterned genetic diversity across North and South America reflects these early movements.
Recent ancient DNA studies indicate that approximately 13,000 years ago, two clades (genetic groups) of peoples emerged; one exclusively consisting of northern Native Americans, and one consisting of peoples from North, Central, and South America, including the 12,800 year old Anzick child from a Clovis burial site in Montana. All genetics research to date has affirmed the shared ancestry of all ancient and contemporary indigenous peoples of the Americas, and refuted stories about the presence of “lost tribes”, ancient Europeans, and (I can’t believe that I actually have to say this) ancient aliens.
Events that occurred after people first entered the Americas – how they settled in different parts of the continents, adapted to local environments, interacted with each other, and were affected by European colonialism – have received somewhat less attention in the press, but as can be seen in the links above, there have been some very significant research papers published on these topics. One such paper that I’ve recently found very interesting (in fact, I wrote up a short article for Current Biology that discusses its significance), Genetic Discontinuity between the Maritime Archaic and Beothuk Populations in Newfoundland, Canada by Duggen et al. (2017), explores the genetic diversity within three different ancient groups who lived in Newfoundland and Labrador.
One reason this region is of particular interest is that it’s on the furthest northeastern margin of North America and so was one of the last areas in the…