DNA Testing Reveals A Surprising Origin Of World’s Oldest Mummy

Posted: Nov 11 2018, 11:52am CST | by , Updated: Nov 11 2018, 11:59am CST, in Latest Science News


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DNA Testing Reveals a Surprising Origin of World’s Oldest Mummy
Credit: Natural History Museum of Denmark

Genome analysis confirms that 10,000-year-old ancient skeleton was Native American.

Scientists have completed genetic analysis of a 10,600 year old skeleton known as 'Spirit Cave Mummy' and results show that the world's oldest natural mummy is related to a Native American tribe. The study debunks a longstanding theory that the skeleton was connected to a group called Paleoamericans existed in North America before Native Americans.

Spirit Cave Mummy was discovered in 1940 in Spirit Cave site of Nevada and belonged to a man in his forties. The debate over its origin and ancestry has split scientists for decades, mainly because its skull features looked different from modern Native Americans. To confirm the skeleton's ancestry, researchers eventually turned to DNA analysis.

The ground-breaking DNA study not only discovered that the Spirit Cave was a Native American but also helped researchers find clues of a puzzling Australasian ancestry signal in 10,400 year old Lagoa Santa remains from Brazil revealing a previously unknown group of early South Americans.

“Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were very controversial because they were identified as so-called 'Paleoamericans' based on craniometry – it was determined that the shape of their skulls was different to current day Native Americans. Our study proves that Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were actually genetically closer to contemporary Native Americans than to any other ancient or contemporary group sequenced to date." Lead author Professor Eske Willerslev from University of Cambridge said in a statement.

A Native American tribe, The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, based in Nevada near Spirit Cave submitted a claim to acquire the ancient remains, but the request was denied by anthropologists as there was no evidence to connect the skeleton to any existing tribe. The dispute continued until both sides agreed to carry out genome sequencing of Spirit Cave.

“I assured the tribe that my group would not do the DNA testing unless they gave permission and it was agreed that if Spirit Cave was genetically a Native American the mummy would be repatriated to the tribe.” Professor Willerslev said.

Genetic evidence determined the remains were closely related to modern Native Americans and that the man's ancestors did not come from somewhere else. As a result, Spirit Cave was returned to the tribe and its private reburial ceremony took place earlier this year.

The DNA analysis of the Spirit Cave skeleton has wider significance because it not only settled a dispute between the tribe and the Government but also helped reveal how ancient humans moved and spread across the Americas.

“A striking thing about the analysis of Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa is their close genetic similarity which implies their ancestral population traveled through the continent at astonishing speed,” said Dr. David Meltzer, from the Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. “That's something we've suspected due to the archaeological findings, but it's fascinating to have it confirmed by the genetics. These findings imply that the first peoples were highly skilled at moving rapidly across an utterly unfamiliar and empty landscape. They had a whole continent to themselves and they were travelling great distances at breath-taking speed."

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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