Join 3,430 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Two recent studies support Beringian origins for first Americans
May 15, 2014 1:50 PM   Subscribe

"Because of differences in craniofacial morphology and dentition between the earliest American skeletons and modern Native Americans, separate origins have been postulated for them, despite genetic evidence to the contrary." The 12,000-year-old skeleton of a girl with these features, however, confirmed a Beringian origin. "Thus, the differences between Paleoamericans and Native Americans probably resulted from in situ evolution rather than separate ancestry."

According to another theory, similarities between Solutrean tools found in Europe and arrowheads of the American Clovis culture indicate a possible Ice Age migration from Europe via the Atlantic. But earlier this year, the remains of Anzick boy, a member of the Clovis culture, were analyzed and also confirmed a Beringian origin, suggesting the independent development of similar technologies in Europe and the Americas.

The possibility of partial proto-European ancestry still exists, however, via mingling that occurred in Siberia prior to a Beringian crossing.
posted by ChuckRamone (21 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's interesting to me that modern Native Americans seem to have an interest in hampering this research.

For example, Chatters—who discovered the scientific importance of the ~9000-year-old Kennewick Man in 1996—could not further analyze those remains due to local tribes claiming the body as an ancestor under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990.

Is it that they don't want the research to happen at all, or is it a belief that non-Native scientists can't perform the research respectfully?
posted by sparklemotion at 2:21 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


One issue that was brought up in 1491 is that some Native Americans see establishing an earlier entrance of people into the Americas as a way to paint Native Americans as invading usurpers as well. So, in a sense, they may see it as defending themselves against racism, although the Kennewick Man issue may involve other factors than that.

1491 is quite an eye-opener at how standard portrayals of Native Americans in US culture stem from some pretty racist assumptions.
posted by LionIndex at 2:29 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


Is it that they don't want the research to happen at all, or is it a belief that non-Native scientists can't perform the research respectfully?

I believe the Native Americans view the research as desecrating the remains, not so much that white people were bungling the science.
posted by efalk at 2:36 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


This is a cool story. The thing that fascinates me the most is this cave. It sounds cool. It has Sabertooth tigers, bears, some elephant thingy. It must be a fascinating place to swim. It makes me wish I didn't have the claustrophobic fear of going into tunnels that seem like they might be hard to get out of.
posted by dios at 2:39 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Is it that they don't want the research to happen at all, or is it a belief that non-Native scientists can't perform the research respectfully?

That can be a reason, and efalk has another common response, but there are also cultural histories that say their people have been there since creation and that comes into direct conflict with the Beringian origin. There are debates about teaching evolution in Nunavut schools for example.

Just like everywhere else there are people who see their origin stories as myth and legend, and people who see it as the gospel truth and view any science that conflicts with that as a threat.
posted by thecjm at 2:45 PM on May 15 [9 favorites]


One issue that was brought up in 1491 is that some Native Americans see establishing an earlier entrance of people into the Americas as a way to paint Native Americans as invading usurpers as well

I would really like to think 12,000 years is beyond the statute of limitations on something like that.
posted by Hoopo at 3:21 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I remember another post on here awhile back about some scientists who asked a tribe if they could study them to find out why they were all getting sick so much. The tribe agreed, but instead of answering that question of why they were sick, the scientists pursued an experiment that found out that the tribe hadn't always lived on it's claimed ancestral land. The tribe responded by ceasing to cooperate with the study. Because why shouldn't they assume this could be used to take their land? I don't blame them at all. It's more pragmatic than not accepting science over mythology. It's that Native Americans have rightly learned that if they give an inch, we literally take a mile, so there's no sense giving an inch. They don't benefit, and if they don't look out for themselves then no one will. They don't owe science or anyone else their cooperation.
posted by bleep at 3:57 PM on May 15 [18 favorites]


So these earliest people have a genetic heritage in common with modern native Americans. But while modern Native American skull shapes resemble those on the other side of the Bering straits, these earliest people had evolved a different skull shape after their arrival, one that for some reason is no longer extant among modern populations? That's odd.
posted by Segundus at 8:03 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


The entire progress of science stems from somebody looking at something and saying, "Hmm, that's odd..."
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:15 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I can't find the original articles on this, but here's a good summary, Commemoration vs Exploitation: "Because of the huge sums of money involved in litigation over compensation for tribal lands taken by European nation-states, the ancient human history of the continent before European arrival is of new interest and takes on a high political significance."

There are current and historical reasons to delay research into indigenous bones and artefacts. By waiting, less destructive methods can be developed, and also ownership of those artefacts is often contested. And there is a serious ethical question over scientific research and cultural beliefs - the Hopi mask auction is a good example of a related conflict recently. Where do a person or community's choices come up against the interests of academic and scientific research?
posted by viggorlijah at 10:24 PM on May 15


A new liver enzyme that detoxifies a substrate will take a very very long time to evolve. The morphology of a doberman versus a pug? Not so hard to select for over a few hundred years. Morphological differences that seem like a big deal to us visually (big vs. small) may boil down to a only a few nucleotide changes in key regulatory regions.
posted by benzenedream at 11:17 PM on May 15


What an amazing find. What a sad and a lonely way to die.
posted by barnacles at 11:28 PM on May 15


Sparklemotion, I would think bleep's got it. They're well beyond the "fool me once" stage.
posted by skyscraper at 11:58 PM on May 15


The Anzick child was discussed here back in February, as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 AM on May 16


I'm enjoying the post and the discussion, and I want to apologize ahead of time for saying the following, which can sound really cynical, but I also often find some people nodding their heads in recognition when I say it. (My day job sometimes involves bridging the gaps between scientific researchers and the general public.)


In the US, there's a strain of belief and faith in pursuing "knowledge for knowlege's sake." Its assumed to be noble, romantic even.

But average people often get interested in science and research because of its potential to solve problems. Real problems. Problems that are happening and hurting right now.

The idea that money is spent to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake, while people are suffering with solvable problems, gives the impression that the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake is something of a job's program for well-educated people, and that the mythos of how noble and important and laudable the work is, is a giant self-esteem infrastructure for said educated people.

I personally love to read about these kinds of discoveries -- I like to imagine the lives of earlier people and it's romantic to me to ponder the family connections to me and mine today. For me, the science provides the anchor for the narrative.

And that's the rub, really, because science without a narrative isn't anything. But the narratives that are disseminated are almost always the dominant narratives -- the same narratives used against whole groups of people to justify shitty, inhumane actions. Over and over and over again. (And not just in the past; today too! -- No Child Left Behind and Common Core, I'm looking at you.)

So, yea. A lot of people are very wary.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:30 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


What an amazing find. What a sad and a lonely way to die.

I read yesterday that based on her injuries, it's believed the girl died almost instantly. So her suffering was quite short, what, not counting the whole dying thing.
posted by Atreides at 6:41 AM on May 16


So these earliest people have a genetic heritage in common with modern native Americans. But while modern Native American skull shapes resemble those on the other side of the Bering straits, these earliest people had evolved a different skull shape after their arrival, one that for some reason is no longer extant among modern populations? That's odd.

I think there was quite a diversity of groups coming out of Beringia. They were all generally related to each other, but had varying skull morphologies. These peoples were Siberian, or "Asian," in the vast collective sense. Today's Native Americans evolved to be somewhat more analogous to today's Asians but they are by no means the same, and I don't think the study says they are similar, only that the skull morphology of Paleoamericans is different from modern Native Americans. Like benzenedream pointed out, morphological change can happen fairly rapidly in terms of evolution.

Maybe some of the ancestors of people in Asia today even looked more like the Paleoamerican skulls. The Ainu, for example, are not Caucasoid, as some people have surmised, but related to other Asians in the region. They just evolved a different morphology. Basically, morphology is not a very trustworthy indicator of genetic relatedness.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:57 AM on May 16


My question regarding this is whether there is actually science behind Morphology? Are accurate measurements made? Have specific ratios been calculated that actually show a genetic significance? It all feels wildly unscientific (perfect for Smithsonian magazine). Are there actually scientists making hay over this? With such tiny sample sizes and no actual ancient flesh to observe, this feels ripe for supporting whichever theory a researcher may choose. Why are morphology-based theories still being discussed? Feels like a strawman.
posted by Locobot at 9:34 AM on May 16


This was genetic analysis. The people making claims based on morphology were just wishful thinkers.
posted by ChuckRamone at 10:31 AM on May 16


Atreides: "What an amazing find. What a sad and a lonely way to die.

I read yesterday that based on her injuries, it's believed the girl died almost instantly. So her suffering was quite short, what, not counting the whole dying thing.
"

Phew. I know it's 13k years away, but that relieves me for some reason.

I absolutely cannot google it, but in the introductory textbook for my first archaeology class ever there was a little sidebar thing about a Palaeoindian site in (I think?) the US Southeast where they found a skeleton down a sinkhole, near a hearth and dead turtle. The researchers said that the poor guy had apparently fallen into the sinkhole and couldn't climb out, but that he was able to survive for a while by killing and eating the turtle, at least.

And lordy, has that stuck with me. I don't really remember many of the other specifics of that course, but that! There's a reason I don't care that I never get onto digs with human skeletal material; too sad. I once spent a few weeks sharing a guest house room[1] with the partially cremated remains of a 3000 year old kid, and that's enough for me. The "objective" approach we take now means he/she is just a jumble of ash, bone, and artefacts for analysis, but I can't help but see it and start imagining the grief and pain for a community that such a relatively nondescript burial represents.

Gimme a plain-ole house site any day!

[1] Remote fieldwork and my room was the only one with a lock, so it was the most secure.
posted by barnacles at 9:05 PM on May 18


sparklemotion: "It's interesting to me that modern Native Americans seem to have an interest in hampering this research.

... the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) ...

Is it that they don't want the research to happen at all, or is it a belief that non-Native scientists can't perform the research respectfully?
"

In some respects it's a minefield of a discussion to get into, but the NAGPRA debate (and similar types of debates from outside the US) would probably really benefit from its own FPP. I wouldn't want to wade into it here because I don't know that it would benefit from my own perspective on the issue, which is not necessarily representative of most other archaeologists.

Maybe I'll see about putting one up after the end of the semester. Between the handful of archaeologists on MeFi (I'm contacts with 5) and the anthropologists like spitbull hanging around (where is he these days, anyways?) and everyone else with their thinkin' caps, could be an interesting chat.
posted by barnacles at 9:14 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


« Older Two Weeks Ago, I Almost Died in the Deadliest Plan...  |  Michael Jackson has a new albu... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments