The debate over who arrived in the New World first is a contentious one. Their identities aside, nobody can quite decide how those first Americans traveled or how they dispersed once they arrived. But now, a new study published in Cell, illuminating the genetic history of some of those early travelers, reveals a unifying thread.
An international team of scientists announced recently that the majority of people in Central and South America can be linked to a single ancestral lineage of humans who journeyed across the Bering Strait at least 15,000 years ago. After their journey southward into the new world, this source population broke into at least three branches, which diversified and spread, some of them back toward the north.
Two of those branches are new to science. One is unexpectedly connected to the Clovis people — who were thought to be the first Americans until the early 2000s — whereas the other links ancient North Americans to people who lived in Southern Peru and Northern Chile at least 4,200 years ago.
“These [findings] are fascinating as they open new gateways into archeological and genetic research,” explains co-author and Harvard Ph.D. candidate Nathan Nakatuska to Inverse. “It was previously not known that the Clovis culture extended into South America, and it is incredible that these people were able to migrate all the way through North, Central, and South America. In addition, the new migration into the Southern Andes was not previously known, and we are unsure what historical events led to this.”