When were the Americas settled – debate over?

by Paul Cardwell on September 18, 2012

For many years there has been heated debate between historians, scientists and archeologists regarding the when, the how and the who of the settlement of the Americas. Our current understanding of how human migration to and ultimately throughout the continent began comes from advances in several interconnected disciplines, the combination of which has lead to exciting new findings, published in the scientific journal Nature and summarised in a great article on the BBC may definitively answer one of the most hotly debated topics in science, which is when did people first arrive in the Americas.

Quecha descendents in the Sacred Valley, Peru

There are many conflicting and sometimes adversarial views on the subject of when the America were settled with the date of the first arrivals from Asia being set as early as 40,000 years ago, although they are only theorised to have gotten as far as Alaska, to the widely accepted version of events where they got here between 13,000 and maybe as long as 19,000 year ago. Let’s also not forget the possibility of groups who may have arrived but didn’t flourish as the later migrants did. Thanks to the huge popularity of the hit show “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel there are the growing number of theorists who have some pretty outlandish theories on the history of the continent. For better or worse this has sparked a lot of interest in ancient man made structures around the world with a lot of attention focused on the Maya and Inca Empires Latin America in particular and as long as the inevitable increase in traffic is handled properly,  it opens up these magnificent feats of our ancestors to a new generation of admirers. One of the major interests in the current resurgence in interest in the Maya is of course the so-called Doomsday Calendar which has seen people flocking to sites such as Chichen Itza and Palenque in Mexico and Tikal and Copal in Guatemala before it’s too late!

Chukchi Anadyr residents of Siberia taken circa 1906

The initial wave of people populated the continent in a southerly direction with the aid of the coastline and a sequential population split is apparent with little gene flow after divergence. This is most striking in South America where there was virtually none with a major exception found on the Panama isthmus with the Chibchin people who have both North and South American ancestry. Proof of the second and third waves is found only in the Alaska and Canada according to co-author David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, “There are at least three deep lineages in Native American populations. The Asian lineage leading to First Americans is the most anciently diverged, whereas the Asian lineages that contributed some of the DNA to Eskimo-Aleut speakers and the Na-Dene-speaking Chipewyan from Canada are more closely related to present-day East Asian populations.”. While it also transpires that the Nauken & Chukchis of Siberia carry distinctive First American DNA therefore the Eskimo-Aluet speakers migrated back to Asia at some point bringing Native American genes with them.

The University of Tel Aviv in conjunction with UCLA have published a study on DNA findings recently which may give us further insight into human migration by being able to genetically map your past and has the potential to accurately determine ancestry, origins going back many generations and the migration patterns your ancestors took. This new method will also help scientists to learn more about the human genome and will hopefully give us even greater insight to the paths taken by the early arrivals in the Americas and eliminate any remaining doubt!

Should you wish to join us in Latin America to search for any possible ancestors who made the original trip all those aeons ago then look no further.

Migration patterns of American Settlers

Migration patterns of American Settlers (Source BBC)

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