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Late Pleistocene Human Skeleton and mtDNA Link Paleoamericans and Modern Native Americans

Science  16 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6185, pp. 750-754
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252619

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American Beauty

Modern Native American ancestry traces back to an East Asian migration across Beringia. However, some Native American skeletons from the late Pleistocene show phenotypic characteristics more similar to other, more geographically distant, human populations. Chatters et al. (p. 750) describe a skeleton with a Paleoamerican phenotype from the eastern Yucatan, dating to approximately 12 to 13 thousand years ago, with a relatively common extant Native American mitochondrial DNA haplotype. The Paleoamerican phenotype may thus have evolved independently among Native American populations.

Abstract

Because of differences in craniofacial morphology and dentition between the earliest American skeletons and modern Native Americans, separate origins have been postulated for them, despite genetic evidence to the contrary. We describe a near-complete human skeleton with an intact cranium and preserved DNA found with extinct fauna in a submerged cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This skeleton dates to between 13,000 and 12,000 calendar years ago and has Paleoamerican craniofacial characteristics and a Beringian-derived mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup (D1). Thus, the differences between Paleoamericans and Native Americans probably resulted from in situ evolution rather than separate ancestry.

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