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Milk teeth reveal previously unknown Ice Age people from Siberia

By Brooks Hays
Milk teeth reveal previously unknown Ice Age people from Siberia
DNA extracted from a pair of 31,000-year-old milk teeth found at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site in Russia allowed scientists to reconstruct the genome of an ancient people living in northern Siberia. Photo by Russian Academy of Sciences

June 5 (UPI) -- Siberia has been inhabited by humans for some 40,000 years, and new genomic analysis made possible by the recovery of ancient baby teeth is shedding light on the ancient humans who lived there.

For the new study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, researchers analyzed DNA samples from 34 individuals recovered from Russia's Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site, an archaeological site in northeastern Siberia. The oldest human remains, two children's baby teeth, were dated to 31,000 years ago up. Scientists also analyzed DNA from the 10,000-year-old remains of a young man.

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The analysis suggests the ancient people of northern Siberia endured extreme cold and survived by hunting woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and bison.

"These people were a significant part of human history, they diversified almost at the same time as the ancestors of modern-day Asians and Europeans and it's likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere," Eske Willerslev, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release.

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Scientists also used DNA from modern populations to analyze the evolutionary history of the ancient remains. Analysis of the modern and ancient DNA suggests the people of northern Siberia were more closely related to Europeans than Asians. The hardy and adaptive population migrated to the region from Eurasia around 40,000 years ago, shortly after European and Asian lineages diverged.

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According to authors of the new study, the genome of the ancient Siberians represents a "genetic mosaic" of people from across northern Eurasia and the Americas. Scientists estimate North America's earliest native groups were descendants of the people of northeastern Siberia.

"The remains are genetically very close to the ancestors of Paleo-Siberian speakers and close to the ancestors of Native Americans," said Willerslev, director of the Lundbeck Foundation Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. "It is an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the ancestry of Native Americans as you can see the Kolyma signature in the Native Americans and Paleo-Siberians. This individual is the missing link of Native American ancestry."

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