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New research on 24,000-year-old boy upsets notions of how the first Americans arrived

A 4-year-old Siberian boy who died 24,000 years ago has DNA with strong links to today’s Native Americans, upending some long-held assumptions about the ancestors of indigenous Americans, Science magazine reported Friday.

Analysis of the child’s DNA shows no links to modern East Asians. Up to now, most scientists have assumed that Native Americans’ ancestors were East Asians who migrated across the Bering Land Bridge, but the Siberian child indicates that indigenous Americans also have western Eurasian ancestry, the article says.

The little boy’s burial site, near Russia's massive Lake Baikal, was discovered in the 1920s by archaeologists. In the grave, he was adorned with "flint tools, pendants, a bead necklace, and a sprinkling of ochre,” the Science article says.

Now scientists have extracted, from one of his arm bones, the oldest complete human genome sequence ever discovered. The startling link suggests that the “deep ancestors” of aboriginal Americans include ancient people from western Eurasia – the area where Russia, China and Mongolia meet -- or even possibly farther west, in Europe.

Up to now, it had been assumed that all European ancestry of Native Americans came after European colonization.  The new DNA discoveries suggest that possibly a third of indigenous Americans' ancestry is actually derived from ancient people in western Asia or Europe, and that those western Eurasian people eventually mixed with Eastern Asians long after the Siberian boy's lifetime, Science reports.

Findings about the boy’s DNA were presented by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen at a meeting last week in Santa Fe, N.M.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth(at)alaskadispatch.com