The genome of the Anzick boy
February 13, 2014 3:37 AM   Subscribe

The genome of the Anzick child, who died 12,600 years ago at the age of three and was buried with ceremony in the American Rockies, has been fully sequenced. The results shed an incredible light on the history of the peopling of the Americas: his people seem to have been direct ancestors to most tribes of Central and South America, and close relatives of the Canadian tribes. The discoveries have had an emotional impact on Native Americans, and the boy's remains will be reburied with great respect. Still, tribal belonging is about much more than genetics, as anthropologist Kim Tallbear reminds us. You can see replicas of the heirloom artefacts left in the boy's grave here, or visit the collection at the Montana Historical Society if you're in the area.
posted by daisyk (24 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite


"Finding someone who is directly ancestral to the entire population of a continent ..."

Damn. He must have gotten a lot of action, particularly for a three year old.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:02 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]

Yeah, that's a terrible howler. :( The rest of the article is good, though! (Directing this towards mefites reading the thread before RTFA more than you, Mayor Curley.)
posted by daisyk at 4:09 AM on February 13

posted by JHarris at 4:26 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I was surprised to read that this was the first full genetic analysis. I guess I had (perhaps ignorantly) assumed that it had been done long ago to trace those interconnections.

The "tribal belonging is about much more than genetics" article was the most interesting to me, capturing the ways in which people can be conflicted about this kind of research and the complexities of identity.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:07 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

With respect to how important it was for the author to find out his ancestors had been in North America for at least 12,600 years....

You know, some people may have been a little too fascinated by the idea that there were older waves of immigration to the Americas and the modern Native Americans were relative newcomers (which is I guess what people thought when looking at it through the lens of archaeology rather than genetics).... the idea that hey, you know, it's not like Native Americans had been here *forever*, they're just one more group that migrated here, there were way older groups.

Kind of like (in a much more blatant/obvious example) the way that white people who know *nothing else* about the history of Africa know that some Africans sold other Africans to white people as slaves.

When a bit of history becomes culturally loaded against an oppressed people like that, of *course* it can be meaningful to see it blown apart like this.

And then as a person who's not in that group looks on and says "oh my, it's interesting how people get all emotional about these bits of science and history, how people get personally invested in simple matters of empirical fact"... well... not everyone has the privilege of being *unaffected* by these things.
posted by edheil at 5:50 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]

Yeah, that's a terrible howler.

I wouldn't have said so. Under law an heir can inherit from unmarried aunts or uncles. What are they if not ancestral?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:14 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

"Our whole life experience has been: "You are not important, you have no culture, you're cavemen."

posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:36 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]

Can someone put this is context for us? I thought the hypothesis of a 12-20 thousand year old migration from Asia was consensus now; does this genome confirm it or does it shed we light? And does this study rule out an earlier wave of migration?
posted by Nelson at 6:45 AM on February 13

Nelson: I think this ties into discussion about The Clovis Theory, which some people seemed to believe implies that an earlier, separate migration to the Americas happened.

The Clovis theories looked at some of the specific artifacts from the period - the Clovis spear points - and how they compared more closely to spear points from Europe than from Asia. So there have been a few theories to try to explain how artifacts with a perceived European-area origin ended up in an area that was supposedly settled via an Asian land bridge. Lots of the theories speculated that there were two different migrations that happened at two different times, and maybe the Clovis people were here already when the Asian-land-bridge people came, and they intermarried (lots of those theories speculated that that happened up in Canada, and the people who moved down through to South America were part of the Asian land bridge wave). I once saw a History/Discovery channel documentary that proposed that the Clovis wave actually from the East, by boat, by following a glacier that covered the North Atlantic.

This discovery links the two - the boy was buried with Clovis spearpoints, but his genome links to every Native American one, so it seems to put lie to the theory that the Clovis wave of migration was "different".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]

I *just* finished 1491 by Charles Mann this past week.

It is easily one of the most mindbendingest "Everything you thought you knew is probably wrong" books I've read in a long time. It also makes me wonder how you SHOULD teach history/science with as many really huge holes, and fundamental upheavals as Archaeology/Anthropology to kids. Researchers can handle uncertainty. The Texas School board can not.
posted by DigDoug at 7:15 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]

Under law an heir can inherit from unmarried aunts or uncles. What are they if not ancestral?
I'm not sure what inheritance law has to do with anything, and I'm not even sure what jurisdiction you're talking about. But anyway: Your relatives who are not your ancestors and not your descendants are your collateral relatives.
posted by Flunkie at 8:04 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]

So not really "the Anzick boy" now is he?

Whole article is a reach. To say one set of genomic connections can articulate the whole comings and goings of all the nomadic peoples across three continents is bad science as bad science gets.

All that's missing is some patched together explanation of the Easter Island Poly genomic divergence in the peoples of Chile and Peru.
posted by Colonel Panic at 8:16 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

Whole article is a reach.

Which one - there are 4 linked.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:03 AM on February 13

BTW I was blown away by the idea of hunter-gatherers with stone tools carrying around the same stone tools for many generations, handed down, presumably, from parent to child.

I had to ask myself why that was strange to me, and I guess it was that I think of chipped stone tools as an ad hoc kind of thing, just because they're chipped and made of stone. Not a precious thing. But I *did* know they take a long time and a lot of skill to make, so it was kind of silly for me to be surprised at this. It probably points to a whole bunch of assumptions about ancient hunter-gatherer life that I had that are unwarranted and that I was unconscious of.

it's good to have your brain bonked like that once in a while.
posted by edheil at 9:11 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]

Fascinating, especially (for me) as it pretty clearly positions the Clovis People as ancestors to modern Native Americans.

And the pedantic derail about the exact definition of "ancestor" is worthless. He is part of the ancestral group of Central American, South American, and Canadian NAs. Everyone knows that this is what they meant, and it was communicated quite clearly.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:27 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]

Which one - there are 4 linked.

The one with the silly conclusions
posted by Colonel Panic at 11:18 AM on February 13

I *just* finished 1491 by Charles Mann this past week. It is easily one of the most mindbendingest ...

Can you say a little more, please?
posted by msalt at 12:23 PM on February 13

These articles have so much interesting stuff in them. Wow. I didn't know about this find at all. I didn't realize the Clovis points are so big -- somehow I'd always envisioned them as arrowhead sized, but they have a wide range and seem to average something like meat cleaver size.

It's really interesting that they're going to rebury him (how far we've come). When they rebury him (and all the points?) I wonder if they'll include a plaque or some other indication/explanation that the site has been disturbed.

It's just incredible to think about really ancient history like this, to try to think about what the lives and understanding of the people must have been like, and whether it's better to emphasize how similar they must have been to us or how different. (For example, by way of understanding what the purpose or meaning of the burial cache was.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:56 PM on February 13

I once saw a History/Discovery channel documentary that proposed that the Clovis wave actually from the East, by boat, by following a glacier that covered the North Atlantic.

Solutrean hypothesis
posted by XMLicious at 1:52 PM on February 13

The Solutrean article links to Settlement of the Americas, which gives the overview I was asking for up above. Long story short the mainstream view is humans came to the New World across the Bering Straight and the main question is when and how often. Some folks believe there's one wave of migration to North America leading to Clovis. Others think there's evidence of a second wave much earlier that came first. The genome being discussed in these articles is taken to be evidence supporting the one-colonization hypothesis. (There are minority views for European (Solutrean) colonization, East Asian, Polynesian, etc. The consensus is Northeast Asian / Bering Straight only.)
posted by Nelson at 3:28 PM on February 13

But, but. . .with the sea levels so much lower than they are today, it just seems to (uninformed) me that there must be a lot of potential sites which were lost to the rising Pacific. And the other question I have is how sites like Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania, and Monte Verde in Chile, both of which predate any Clovis-related sites. So how do those fit in?
posted by Danf at 7:31 PM on February 13

This article in Spiegel has some interesting details about the research and how researchers were able to work with representatives of Native American groups to get their support for publishing the results.
posted by flug at 7:10 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

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