The evidence shows the living woman, a Tsimshian from the Metlakatla First Nation in British Columbia, is descended from the women who died centuries ago or from one of their close female relatives, PostMedia News reported. All three had the same mitogenome or mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child.
The research conducted by Canadian and U.S. scientists was published this week in PLoS ONE, one of the journals produced by the Public Library of Science in the United States.
The scientists also established a genetic link between two skeletons from Alaska and British Columbia, one more than 10,000 years old and the other 6,000 years old.
In that case, they found no living link to the genetic line.
The most famous use of mitochondrial DNA is the recent identification of a man buried in what is now a carpark in Leicester, England, as King Richard III, killed at Bosworth Field in 1485. Scientists matched the king's DNA with a Canadian furniture maker descended in the direct female line from Richard's sister.
But scientists say the British Columbia findings are more startling because they cross 200 generations, while Richard preceded his remote relative by only 17.
"This is the beginning of the golden era for ancient DNA research because we can do so much now that we couldn't do a few years ago because of advances in sequencing technologies," Ripan Malhi, one of the leaders of the study and a professor of genomic biology at the University of Illinois, said in a research summary. "We're just starting to get an idea of the mitogenomic diversity in the Americas, in the living individuals as well as the ancient individuals."