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An infant who lived at the end of the last ice age in present day Alaska belonged to a previously unknown group of ancient humans most closely related to modern day white Europeans.
In 2013, during excavations of an 11,500-year-old residential camp in Central Alaska, researchers discovered the remains of a six week old girl, but full DNA testing only now became available.
The results revealed the child had a distinct genetic makeup from northern and southern Native Americans and was part of a group of early humans called the Beringians, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
The Beringians split from Europeans around 20,000 years ago and came to North America over an ice bridge connecting Eurasia to Alaska via the Bering Strait. As the ice caps melted at the end of the last ice age, the Beringians moved southward and mixed with other Native American populations, according to researchers.
According to the University of Copenhagen’s Eske Willerslev, who worked with scientists at the University of Alaska, nearly half of the ancient girl’s DNA came from the north Europeans who lived in present day Scandinavia. The rest of her genetic makeup was an even mix of that carried by the northern and southern Native Americans.
Reports Raw Street Journal,
Using evolutionary models, the researchers showed that the ancestors of the first Native Americans started to emerge as a distinct population about 35,000 years ago. About 25,000 years ago, this group mixed and bred with ancient north Asians in the region, the descendants of whom went on to become the first white Europeans to settle the New World.
One theory, supported by Willerslev, states white Europeans traveled to North America in a single wave of migration 20,000 years ago. While those who settled in the north became the Beringians, others moved south some 15,700 years ago and split into the northern and southern Native Americans.
Another theory states that white Europeans mixed with Asians before crossing the Bering Strait over the frozen land bridge.
The remains of the girl, named Xach’itee’aanenh t’eede gaay or “sunrise child-girl” by locals, were found alongside two other children, a younger child whose DNA could not be tested and a third who had been cremated. At the burial site at least three tent structures were found and an ancient hearth probably used for cooking salmon caught in a nearby river.
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