THE PEOPLING OF THE NEW WORLD: Perspectives from Molecular Anthropology

A number of important insights into the peopling of the New World have been gained through molecular genetic studies of Siberian and Native American populations.

These data indicate that the initial migration of ancestral Amerindian originated in south-central Siberia and entered the New World between 20,000–14,000 calendar years before present (cal yr BP).

These early immigrants probably followed a coastal route into the New World, where they expanded into all continental regions.

A second migration that may have come from the same Siberian region entered the Americas somewhat later, possibly using an interior route, and genetically contributed to indigenous populations from North and Central America.

In addition, Beringian populations moved into northern North America after the last glacial maximum (LGM) and gave rise to Aleuts, Eskimos, and Na-Dené Indians.

The specifics of Paleo-Indian migration to and throughout the Americas, including the exact dates and routes traveled, are subject to ongoing research and discussion.

The traditional Western theory has been that these early migrants moved into the Beringia land bridge between eastern Siberia and present-day Alaska around 40,000—16,500 years ago,when sea levels were significantly lowered due to theQuaternary glaciation.

NSRW Natives of North America.png


These people are believed to have followed herds of now-extinct Pleistocene megafaunaalong ice-free corridors that stretched between the Laurentideand Cordilleran ice sheets.Another route proposed is that, either on foot or using primitive boats, they migrated down the Pacific Northwest coast to South America.

Evidence of the latter would since have been covered by a sea level rise of hundreds of meters following the last ice age.

The time range of 40,000—16,500 years ago is a hot topic of debate and will be for years to come. The few agreements achieved to date are the origin from Central Asia, with widespread habitation of the Americas during the end of the last glacial period, or more specifically what is known as the late glacial maximum, around 16,000 — 13,000 years before present.

Stone tools, particularly projectile points and scrapers, are the primary evidence of the earliest human activity in the Americas. Crafted lithic flaked tools are used by archaeologists and anthropologists to classify cultural periods.Scientific evidence links indigenous Americans to Asian peoples, specifically eastern Siberian populations. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have been linked to North Asian populations by linguistic factors, the distribution of blood types, and in genetic composition as reflected by molecular data, such as DNA.

Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americasprimarily focus on Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups and Human mitochondrial DNA haplogroupsAutosomal“atDNA” markers are also used, but differ from mtDNA or Y-DNA in that they overlap significantly.

NSRW Natives of South America.png


he genetic pattern indicates Indigenous Amerindians experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas.

The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages, zygosity mutations and founding haplotypes present in today’s Indigenous Amerindian populations.

Human settlement of the New World occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial layover on Beringia for the small founding population.

The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region.

The Na-DenéInuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q (Y-DNA); however, they are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA and atDNA mutations. 

This suggests that the peoples who first settled the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later migrant populations than those who penetrated further south in the Americas. 

Linguists and biologists have reached a similar conclusion based on analysis of Amerindian language groups and ABO blood group system distributions.

A genetic tree showing some neighbour-joining relationships within Amerindian language groups; image wikipedia

The X and Y human chromosomes are thought to have originated from a pair of identical chromosomes (300 – 166 million years ago , termed Allosome, when an ancient ancestral mammal developed an allelic variation, a so-called ‘sex locus‘ – simply possessing this allele caused the organism to be male.

A single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is a change to a single nucleotide in a DNA sequence. image wikipedia

The chromosome with this allele became the Y chromosome, while the other member of the pair became the X chromosome.

Over time, genes which were beneficial for males and harmful to (or had no effect on) females developed specifically on the Y chromosome, or were acquired through the process of translocation.

The Y chromosome is passed down exclusively from father to son, all male humans (Y chromosomes) today trace back to a single prehistoric father termed “Y chromosomal Adam” originating from Africa.

The Y chromosome spans about 60 million base pairs (the building blocks of DNA) and represents about 2 percent of the total DNA in all human cells.

The original “Y chromosomal Adam” DNA sequencing has mutated rarely over the 20,000 generations, but each time a new mutation occurs there is a new branch in a haplogroup resulting in a new subclade (single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)).

MtDNA mutations are also passed down relatively unchanged from generation to generation; so all humans share the same mtDNA-types, the logical extension of this is that all humans ultimately trace back to one woman, who is commonly referred to asMitochondrial Eve.

Both females and males inherit their Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) only from their mother.

This line of biological inheritance, therefore, stops with each male. Consequently, Y-DNA is more commonly used by the general public for tracing genetic heritage.

An autosome (atDNA) is a chromosome that is not a sex chromosome – that is to say there are an equal number of copies of the chromosome in males and females.

Autosomal DNA testing is generally used to determine the “genetic percentages” of a person’s ancestry from particular continents/regions or to identify the countries and “tribes” of origin on an overall basis. Genetic admixture tests arrive at these percentages by examining (SNP), which are locations on the DNA where one nucleotide has “mutated” or “switched” to a different nucleotide

One way to examine the support for particular colonization routes within the American landmass is to determine if a closer relationship between zygosity and geography is observed when “effective” geographic distances are computed along these routes, rather than along shortest-distance paths.

Spread of Haplogroup Q in Indigenous populations.

For more details on individual Amerindian groups by Y-DNA, see Y-DNA haplogroups in Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Spread of Haplogroup R in Indigenous populations.

For more details on this topic, see Haplogroup R1 (Y-DNA).
For more details on this topic, see Haplogroup C3 (Y-DNA).
mtDNA; For more details on mtDNA in general, see Mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial Eve is defined as the woman who was the matrilineal most recent common ancestor for all living humans. Mitochondrial Eve is generally estimated to have lived around 200,000 years ago.

Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common matrilineal ancestor, not the most recent common ancestor.

FMap of gene flow in and out of Beringia
 Schematic illustration of maternal (mtDNA) gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present.
When studying human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups, the results indicate that Indigenous Amerindian haplogroups, including haplogroup X, are part of a single founding east Asian population.
 It also indicates that the distribution of mtDNA haplogroups and the levels of sequence divergence among linguistically similar groups were the result of multiple preceding migrations from Bering Straits populations.
 All Indigenous Amerindian mtDNA can be traced back to five haplogroups, ABC,D and X.
Nordamerikanische Kulturareale
Cultural areas of North America at time of European contact
Old world genetic admixture
For more details on genetic admixture in the Americas, see Miscegenation#Genetic studies of racial admixture.
Interracial marriage and interracial sex and, more generally, the process of racial admixture, has its origins in prehistory.
Racial mixing became widespread during European colonialism in the Age of Discovery.
Genetic exchange between two populations reduces the genetic distance between the populations and is measurable in DNA patterns.
 During the Age of Discovery, beginning in the late 1400s CE, European explorers sailed the oceans, eventually reaching all the major continents.
During this time Europeans contacted many populations, some of which had been relatively isolated for millennia.
The genetic demographic composition of the Eastern Hemisphere has not changed significantly since the age of discovery. However, genetic demographics in the Western Hemisphere were radically altered by events following the voyages of Christopher Columbus
The European colonization of the Americas brought contact between peoples of Europe, Africa and Asia and the Amerindian populations. As a result, the Americas today have significant and complex multiracial populations.
Many individuals who self-identify as one race exhibit genetic evidence of a multiracial ancestry
Frequency of O group in indigenous populations. Note the predominance of this group in Indigenous Americans.
Blood groups; Further information: ABO blood group system

Prior to the 1952 confirmation of DNA as the hereditary material by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase, scientists used blood proteins to study human genetic variation.

The ABO blood group system is widely credited to have been discovered by the Austrian Karl Landsteiner, who found three different blood types in 1900.[Blood groups are inherited from both parents. The ABO blood type is controlled by a single gene (the ABO gene) with three allelesiIA, and IB.

Research by Ludwik and Hanka Herschfeld during World War I found that the frequencies of blood groups A,B and O differed greatly from region to region.

The "O" blood type (usually resulting from the absence of both A and B alleles) is very common around the world, with a rate of 63% in all human populations.

Type "O" is the primary blood type among the indigenous populations of the Americas, in-particular within Central and South America populations, with a frequency of nearly 100%.

In indigenous North American populations the frequency of type "A" ranges from 16% to 82%.

This suggests again that the initial Amerindians evolved from an isolated population with a minimal number of individuals.

 Distribution of ABO blood types in various modern Indigenous Amerindian populations

European colonization

Main article: European colonization of the Americas

The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives, bloodlines and cultures of the peoples of the continent. The population history of American indigenous peoples postulates that infectious disease exposure, displacement, and warfare diminished populations, with the first the most significant cause.

500 Years Ago, The Number Of Native Americans Plummets By Half

The first indigenous group encountered by Columbus were the 250,000 Taínos of Hispaniola who were the dominant culture in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. In thirty years, about 70% of the Taínos died.They had no immunity to European diseases, so outbreaks of measles and smallpox ravaged their population.

The increased ignorance towards the practice of punishing the Taínos for revolting themselves from forced labour, despite the measures brought by the encomienda which included religious education and protection from warring tribes,eventually helped conceive the last great Taíno rebellion.

Mistreated, the Taínos began to adopt suicidal behaviors, with women aborting or killing their infants, men jumping from the cliffs or ingesting manioc, a violent poison.

Eventually, a Taíno Cacique named Enriquill omanaged to hold out in the mountain range of Bahoruco for thirteen years conducting serious damage to the Spanish, Carib-held plantations and their Indian auxiliaries.

After hearing of the seriousness of the revolt,Emperor Charles V sent captain Francisco Barrionuevo to negotiate a peace treaty with the ever increasing number of rebels. Two months later, with the consulting of the Audencia of Santo Domingo, Enriquillo was offered any part of the island to live in peace.

The Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513 were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in America, particularly with regards to native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism. The Spanish crown found it difficult to enforce these laws in a distant colony.

Reasons for the decline of the Native American populations are variously theorized to be from epidemic diseases, conflicts with Europeans, and conflicts among warring tribes.

Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives. 

After first contacts with Europeans and Africans, some believe that the death of 90 to 95% of the native population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases.

 Half the native population of Hispaniola in 1518 was killed by smallpox.

Within a few years smallpox killed between 60% and 90% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. 

Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618—all ravaged the remains of Inca culture. Smallpox had killed millions of native inhabitants of Mexico. Unintentionally introduced at Veracruz with the arrival of Pánfilo de Narváez on April 23, 1520, smallpox ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, possibly killing over 150,000 in Tenochtitlan alone (the heartland of the Aztec Empire), and aided in the victory of Hernán Cortés over the Aztec empire at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) in 1521.

Over the centuries, the Europeans had developed high degrees of immunity to these diseases, while the indigenous Americans had no such immunity. Europeans had been ravaged in their own turn by such diseases as bubonic plague and Asian flu that moved west from Asia to Europe.

In addition, when they went to some territories, such as Africa and Asia, they were more vulnerable to malaria.

The repeated outbreaks of influenza, measles and smallpox probably resulted in a decline of between one-half and two-thirds of the Aboriginal population of eastern North America during the first 100 years of European contact.

  •  In 1617–1619, smallpox reportedly killed 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Native American residents.
  •  In 1633, in Plymouth, the Native Americans there were exposed to smallpox because of contact with Europeans. As it had done elsewhere, the virus wiped out entire population groups of Native Americans.
  • It reached Lake Ontario in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679.
  • During the 1770s, smallpox killed at least 30% of the West Coast Native Americans.Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic population depletion among the Plains Indians.

In 1832, the federal government of the United States established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832).

Lewis Cass and the Politics of Disease_The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832.pdf

In Brazil, the indigenous population has declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated three million to some 300,000 in 1997.

Later explorations of the Caribbean led to the discovery of the Arawak peoples of the Lesser Antilles.

The culture was destroyed by 1650.

Only 500 had survived by the year 1550, though the bloodlines continued through the modern populace.

In Amazonia, indigenous societies weathered centuries of colonization.

The Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild.

The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America and of Patagonia in South America.

By domesticating horses, some tribes had great success: they expanded their territories, exchanged many goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily captured game, especially bison.

While some indigenous peoples of the Americas were historically hunter-gatherers, many practiced aquaculture and agriculture.

  • The impact of their agricultural endowment to the world is a testament to their time and work in reshaping and cultivating the flora indigenous to the Americas.

Some societies depended heavily on agriculture while others practiced a mix of farming, hunting, and gathering. In some regions the indigenous peoples created monumental architecture, large-scale organized cities, chiefdoms, states, and empires.

  • Many parts of the Americas are still populated by indigenous Americans; some countries have sizable populations, especially Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ecuador.

At least a thousand different indigenous languages are spoken in the Americas. 

Some, such as Quechua languages, Aymara,Guaraní, Mayan languages, and Nahuatl, count their speakers in millions.

Many also maintain aspects of indigenous cultural practices to varying degrees, including religion, social organization and subsistence practices. Some indigenous peoples still live in relative isolation from Western society, and a few are still uncontacted peoples.

Indian Justice
The Indian had no law books. He had the unwritten law. It worked. For instance a man accused of adultery was tried by members of the tribe and if found guilty, he was publicly flogged. If the crime was, repeated he was given a heavier dose and the third time banished.

The methods of dealing with law violators varied greatly among the different tribes.


Annual Review of Anthropology

Vol. 33: 551-583 (Volume publication date October 2004)
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.143932

 O Great Creator,
I come before you in a humble manner
and offer you this sacred pipe.
With tears in my eyes and an ancient
song from my heart, I pray.

To the four powers of Creation,
To the Grandfather Sun,
To the Grandmother Moon,
To the Mother Earth,
And to my ancestors.

I pray for my relations in Nature,
All those who walk, crawl, fly, and swim,
Seen and unseen, To the good spirits
that exist in every part of Creation.

I ask that you bless our elders and
children and families and friends,
And the brothers and sisters in prison.
I pray for the ones who are sick on
drugs and alcohol,
And for those homeless and forlorn.
I also pray for peace among the four races of humankind.

May there be good health and healing for this Earth,
May there be Beauty above me,
May there be Beauty below me,
May there be Beauty in me,
May there be Beauty around me.
I ask that this world be filled with Peace, Love and Beauty.

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Speak truth in humility to all people. Only then can you be a true man.
—Native American Proverb

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