CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Nov. 18 (UPI) -- DNA studies are revealing insights into how ancient humans first came to the Americas and what happened to them once they were here, a U.S. anthropologist says.
Ripan Malhi at the University of Illinois' Institute for Genomic Biology says the findings have grown out of his work with present-day American Indians on studies of their genetic history.
"The best opportunity to infer the evolutionary history of native Americans and to assess the effects of European colonization is to analyze genomes of ancient native Americans and those of their living descendants," Malhi said.
Working with collaborators from the Tsimshian nation on the northwest coast of British Columbia, for example, Malhi recently found a direct ancestral link between ancient human remains in the Prince Rupert Island area and the native peoples living in the region today.
The genetic studies "focus not only on the initial peopling of the Americas but also what happened after the initial peopling," Malhi said. "How did these groups move to new environments and adapt to their local settings over 15,000 years?"
In addition to his work in British Columbia, Malhi is setting up genetic study sites in California, Guatemala, Mexico and Illinois.
"What's interesting about the northwest coast and California is that these communities were complex hunter-gatherer societies, whereas in Mexico and Guatemala, it's more communities that transitioned to farming and then experienced the effects of European colonization," he said.
Genetics are a vital tool, he said, helping researchers avoid drawing wrong conclusions about human history when looking only at artifacts and language.